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Tuesday Sep. 26, 2023
breast cancer survivor
The Psychological Toll of Breast Cancer: Navigating the Emotional Journey

8 Minute Read

Reviewed By: Dr. Alia Abdulla


Breast cancer is a disease that affects tens of thousands of people around the world. It is more than just a physical illness; it also leaves a lasting psychological mark on those who have it. Getting a diagnosis, going through treatment, and living with the uncertainty can make people feel a lot of different things, from fear and worry to depression and a sense of being alone. Even though this part of the journey is not as obvious as the physical symptoms, it is just as important and needs care and attention. By looking into and talking about how breast cancer affects a person's mind, we hope to encourage a more whole-person approach to cancer care, one that puts equal value on mental recovery as well as physical recovery. 

Understanding the Diagnosis 

When a person is told they have breast cancer, they often feel shocked and confused. It's common to question the diagnosis or feel detached from the reality of the situation. This is a normal reaction to news that comes out of the blue and changes your life. After being shocked, you might feel afraid. Patients may worry about how they will be treated, how their bodies will change, and their future health. 

Living with Uncertainty 

Living with uncertainty after a breast cancer diagnosis can feel like you're stuck in a fog. Things that once seemed clear may now feel uncertain, like what the future holds or how your health might change. This uncertainty can be quite scary and may lead to feelings of anxiety or restlessness. It's like waiting for the other shoe to drop—you're always bracing yourself for what might come next. Remember, it's perfectly normal to feel this way. During such times, it can be helpful to stay in touch with your doctors and loved ones and seek support from therapists or support groups. They can provide comfort, share experiences, and help navigate through this fog of uncertainty. 

Navigating Treatment 

Exploring Treatment Options 

Breast cancer treatment options are as unique as the individuals they serve. Depending on the type and stage of cancer, doctors may suggest surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or even a combination of these. Surgery may involve removing the tumor or, in some cases, the entire breast. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to eliminate cancer cells, while chemotherapy uses drugs to kill or slow the growth of these cells. Hormone therapy, on the other hand, aims to block hormones that certain types of breast cancer need to grow. 

Emotional Challenges During Treatment 

Undergoing treatment can be an emotionally challenging process. Physical changes from surgery or side effects from other treatments, such as hair loss, fatigue, and changes in body image, can profoundly affect one's mental well-being. These changes can be tough to handle, leading to feelings of sadness, fear, or frustration. 

Coping Strategies and Support 

Remember, it's okay to ask for help and lean on others during this challenging phase. Strategies such as practicing mindfulness, engaging in regular physical activity, or expressing your feelings in a journal can help manage emotional stress. Additionally, support networks such as medical professionals, therapists, family, friends, or cancer support communities can play a key role in providing encouragement, reassurance, and practical advice. These resources can help you feel less alone, more understood, and better equipped to navigate treatment. 

The Role of Family and Friends 

Family and friends play a crucial role in supporting someone on their breast cancer journey. Their constant presence and support can give you the mental power you need to get through this hard time. It's important for family and friends to know that their role isn't just to help in a practical way, like going to doctor's visits or doing chores, but to also offer emotional support. 

Family and friends can help their loved ones talk about how they feel and what worries them without being judged. This can make them feel less alone and anxious. They can help restore normalcy to their loved ones lives by doing regular activities or hobbies with them, which can be a nice break from the hard work of treatment. 

Family and friends should also learn as much as they can about breast cancer and how to treat it. This can help them understand what the person is going through and give them better information or help. But it's important to accept the person's need for privacy and control, especially when it comes to making decisions about their health care. 

Lastly, patience and understanding are very important. It's important to realize that there will be good days and bad days, and that the best thing friends and family can do is to be there and give constant love and support. 

Looking Ahead

The journey with breast cancer can be a long one, and it will require courage, patience, and inner strength. As you continue on your journey, remember to take time for yourself and stay connected to those who love you. By finding ways to cope with the psychological effects of breast cancer, you give yourself the best opportunity to move forward in life with optimism and resilience. 

Taking Care of Yourself 

Living with a serious illness like cancer can be overwhelming, but finding ways to care for yourself—both physically and mentally—can help you face the challenges ahead. Eat healthy foods, try to stay active, get enough sleep, and make time for relaxation and hobbies that bring joy. Stay connected to your support system, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Together, these steps can make the journey much more manageable. 

No one should have to face cancer alone. If you or someone you know is struggling with the psychological effects of this disease, there are resources available to provide emotional support and guidance. Reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional for more information. With the right support and care, you can find a path forward that works for you. 

Embracing Life After Breast Cancer 

Group of women with silk ribbons on color background. Breast cancer awareness.Life after breast cancer is a new chapter, filled with possibilities and hope. During this phase, you're not just surviving; you're thriving, learning to embrace a life that's been profoundly changed by your experiences. This period might bring its own set of challenges, but it also carries great potential for personal growth. 

You may find a renewed appreciation for the simple joys of life, cherishing moments of peace and happiness more than ever. It's a time to celebrate your resilience, your strength, and the fact that you've weathered the storm. Remember, it's okay to give yourself a pat on the back and take pride in your journey. 

Recovery isn't just about healing physically; it's also about rediscovering yourself after cancer. It's about finding new passions or rekindling old ones, maybe taking up a hobby you've always wanted to try, or even changing careers. See this as a chance to recreate yourself in the image of who you want to be moving forward. 

Don't forget to continue maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and a balanced diet, as this will greatly contribute to your wellbeing. Staying connected with your support network, continuing routine checkups, and reaching out to professionals if you need help are also key elements of this stage. 

Finally, remember, every person's journey with breast cancer is unique, and there's no 'right' way to live life after it. It's about finding your own path, at your own pace, and shaping the life that feels best for you. You've come this far, and this is just the beginning of a new, hopeful chapter. So embrace it, cherish it, and live it fully. Because life after breast cancer is about thriving, not just surviving. 

Final Thoughts 

No two stories of breast cancer are the same; each person will experience this diagnosis differently. It's important to remember that everyone’s journey is unique and worthy of respect. Finding ways to manage the emotions associated with this disease is a key part of the healing process. With the proper care and support, it is possible to find strength, inner peace, and hope for the future. 

Whatever stage of the journey you are on—from diagnosis to recovery—remember that you're not alone. There are people in your corner who understand what you're going through and have resources to help manage emotional struggles. Reach out to them and find comfort in the hope that you will get through this time together. With patience, strength, and care, it is possible to move forward with optimism and resilience. 

Broward Health, providing service for more than 85 years, is a nationally recognized system in South Florida that offers world-class healthcare to all. The Broward Health system includes the statutory teaching hospital Broward Health Medical Center, Broward Health North, Broward Health Imperial Point, Broward Health Coral Springs, Salah Foundation Children’s Hospital, Broward Health Weston, Broward HealthPoint, Broward Health Physician Group, Broward Health Urgent Care, Broward Health International, and Broward Health Foundation. For more information, visit BrowardHealth.org.