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Initial Reaction to the Breast Cancer Diagnosis

When you hear the big ‘C’ word, your heart skips a beat and all at once, your life is changed. No matter what your first thought is, you need to understand that you are not alone. Your journey will be unique.

Common Emotions

The grieving process has five major steps. The order in which a person journeys through them is quite variable. These steps in no particular order are:

  • Denial – refusing to believe what has happened
  • Anger – directed at a person, diagnosis or event
  • Bargaining – “why me”, “if only you will make this go away, I will…”
  • Depression and guilt – “I caused this”, “I am going to die”
  • Acceptance – It is time to move forward

Depression can be very serious and has several recognizable symptoms.

  • Sleep disturbance – too much, too little or interrupted sleep
  • Fatigue – often due to sleep disturbance
  • Pain – physical manifestations of emotional pain
  • Weight loss or gain

Expressing Your Emotion

However you decide to express your emotions is your choice. But keep in mind that what you choose can affect your treatment. In a review of 31 different studies, 25 showed a “statistically significant” association with certain psychosocial factors and treatment outcomes.[1] These psychosocial factors included a healthy marriage, strong social support and a minimal period of denial.

After the diagnosis has been made, try some of the following things to help you cope:

  • Stay in touch with friends and family members
  • Continue to be intimate with your partner
  • See a counselor or psychologist
  • Talk to your spiritual leader
  • Join a breast cancer support group
  • Exercise
  • Keep a journal or find a new hobby
  • Learn more about breast cancer
  • Never be afraid to ask for help

A Whole New Way to Look at Life

The first thing that will change is the way you look at life. Even if you have a very early stage cancer with a high survival rate, parts of you feels like you are planning your funeral.[2]  Suddenly, things that you thought were important have no place in your life and the things and people that you love become much more dear. Remember, you do not have to be happy all the time. It is alright to be angry, to cry and to grieve, these are healthy emotions. But just like most things in life, they are only healthy in moderation.

One Day at a Time

Life can only be lived one day at a time. You will feel like you have to plan and prepare everything in your future. But the truth is, the future is not guaranteed to any of us. As a cancer patient, you understand this better than most. Worry leads to nothing but more worry. So embrace each day, strive to make each day better than the last, and understand that sometimes, it is OK to have a bad day. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It is your unique journey…live it!

1 Matthew Falagas, E. Z. (2007). The Effect of Psychosocial Factors on Breast Cancer Outcome: A systematic Review. Breast Cancer Research , 44.

2 Deborah A. Cohen, R. M. (2000). Just Get Me Through This The Practical Guide to Breast Cancer. New York City: Kensington Publishing Corporation

This article was originally published on July 27,2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/2/2015.