The emotional stresses of breast cancer affect not only those diagnosed with the disease, but also their friends and family. On this page, we have compiled some coping advice for both breast cancers survivors and their allies in an effort to make the path to recovery as gentle as possible.
Coping Tips for Breast Cancer Survivors
With so much focus on improving your physical health and wellness after treatment for breast cancer, your emotional health may not seem like your top priority. However, regaining and/or maintaining a comfortable sense of self is a crucial part of coping with breast cancer. It is important that your learn to recognize common feelings experienced by breast cancer survivors, express your emotions in a constructive way, and know where to find additional support when you need it.
Accept New Emotions
The recovery period can be a time of new, unfamiliar emotions for many breast cancer survivors. One of the most common feelings reported by survivors is the fear of recurrence. The worry that your cancer will return can be triggered by small or seemingly unrelated events and may interfere with your efforts to maintain a positive mindset. Awareness is your best defense against the fear of recurrence. Talk to your doctor to learn about the signs of recurrence, be present at your follow-up visits, and most importantly recognize and express your concerns in a safe, comforting environment. There are many women who have experienced similar feelings after treatment for breast cancer; you should not feel isolated by your emotions.
Also common among breast cancer survivors is fear or anxiety surrounding intimacy. It is not uncommon to be sensitive about your body after major surgery, and sharing your body with another person can make you feel vulnerable. If returning to your pre-cancer sex life is something that is worrying you, remember that being open and honest with your partner is essential to achieving intimacy. There are many small adjustments you can make until you feel confident again: keep the lighting low, wear a pretty bra or camisole, or simply ask your partner to refrain from touching the affected breast until you’re ready. Many breast cancer survivors are able to regain a satisfying sex life given time after treatment and/or breast reconstruction.
Being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer is an understandably stressful event. At times you may feel like you need a shoulder to cry on. Expressing your emotions in a constructive fashion is a positive and active way of coping with breast cancer. It is important that you find someone with whom you feel completely safe - whether a partner, friend, sibling, counselor, or spiritual leader - and allow yourself to just let it all out. Avoiding or suppressing your emotions may lead to impulsive lashing out at friends and family and is usually considered an unhealthy way of coping with cancer.
No matter how present and thoughtful your friends and family, at times you may feel like you need a little extra support and guidance - perhaps from others who have been diagnosed with or are familiar with breast cancer. It is important to recognize that you are not alone; many women have taken this journey before you. Cancer support groups exist in many cities to provide comfort, teach coping skills, and create a safe forum for discussing your concerns. One such group is the Cancer Support Community, an international nonprofit dedicated to offering professional programs of emotional support, education, and hope for people affected by cancer.
Coping Tips for Family and Friends of Breast Cancer Survivors
When someone close to you has been diagnosed with breast cancer, news that she is on the path to recovery may seem like the light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, many breast cancer survivors will experience the emotional effects of a cancer diagnosis long after successful treatment has begun. It is critical that you understand that your friend or loved one may continue to need your emotional support for some time.
There is no one perfect thing to say or do for your friend that will make her feel better. All you can do is be there for her when she needs you, in whatever way you can be.
- Listen attentively when she wants to express any fears or concerns.
- Realize that her feelings are valid; do not try to correct or downplay her emotions.
- Tell her how much you care - if not with words, then through your actions.
During this phase of breast cancer recovery, your friend may feel weak and tired from a combination of procedures, treatments, and visits to her doctors. Now is the perfect time to bring her flowers, offer to make dinner, or pick up some groceries. Remember that any kind word or gesture will be welcomed on the road to recovery.