When You Hear the Words… “You have breast cancer”
One you’ve been handed a breast cancer diagnosis, it’s common to wonder, “Why me? How did I get breast cancer?” It’s natural to want to pinpoint what caused any illness to develop in the first place, especially if you feel like you’ve done everything in your power to avoid it. There are many different factors that can come together to cause breast cell changes that give rise to the disease, making it difficult to determine the exact cause.
Researchers know there is a genetic component involved, yet the majority of breast cancers are not hereditary. Experts have also discovered that certain lifestyles factors, such as obesity and alcohol consumption, can increase the risk of developing breast cancer. However, no one of these factors causes the disease and there are many women who have these risk factors but never develop breast cancer.
While it may be frustrating not to understand why exactly it developed, the important things to remember is that it is not your fault. You are NOT responsible for your breast cancer. What you ARE responsible for is how you react to it. At this point, the best thing you can do is focus on looking forward rather than backward. Instead of concentrating on why you became ill, put your energy into learning about your breast cancer and becoming an active participant in your treatment and recovery. You can not only be a survivor, but with breast reconstruction you can even regain your full feeling of femininity at the end of your journey.
Understanding Your Emotions
Finding out you have breast cancer can be a whirlwind of emotions and feelings. Many women experience shock initially. In fact, for most people who have just heard these words, it can be really difficult to hear or remember anything your doctor says after this. Once home, you may find you have difficulty with thinking clearly, sleeping and eating as you struggle with this new information. Feelings of numbness and confusion during this initial period are quite common responses.
Every individual will handle the news that they have breast cancer differently. The first few weeks after your diagnosis may feel like a roller coaster of emotions that change day by day. One day you might be feeling quite hopeful and coping well with the situation, only to feel overly anxious and sad the next. These emotions are all very normal experiences, and there is no right or wrong way to feel. Everyone deals with distressing events in their own way. The important thing is to realize that these feelings won’t last forever.
We understand that the first few weeks after learning about your diagnosis can be the most psychologically distressing. Many women report feeling frozen by fear at first, followed by an array of negative emotions, including anger, stress, anxiety and depression. Many women may feel betrayed by their bodies. Others may become distant and withdrawn from friends and family who might not understand what they’re going through. Further adding to the stress is the myriad of important yet confusing treatment decisions that a woman must grapple with during this difficult time.
Understanding the Diagnosis
One or more tests will be performed to determine what type of breast cancer you have. Accurately diagnosing your breast cancer is very important, since this will decide your treatment options moving forward. Characteristics of the tumor such as its size and how far it has progressed will affect your personal treatment plan.
Some tests, like a mammogram or ultrasound, examine your breast tissue from outside of your body, whereas other methods such as biopsies extract a small sample of breast tissue or fluid to analyze cells underneath a microscope. Each test evaluates something different. Do not hesitate to ask your nurse or doctor why a certain test is being recommended.
Once the tests have been completed, you will most likely see a surgeon. Make sure to bring the results of all of your diagnostic testing to the appointment, as well as any films or written reports you may have.
Visit our Breast Cancer Screening Explained page for a more in-depth look at the possible breast cancer tests you may undergo.
Where to Begin…
While this is an emotionally taxing time, it is helpful to realize that there are proactive measures you can take to feel more calm and in control as you embark on this new chapter of your life.
Get the Facts
Knowledge can be your greatest ally at this point. Fear often emanates from the unknown, but when we educate ourselves and understand what it is we are facing, our fears become more manageable. There are a number of great online resources available to you as you begin educating yourself on your type of breast cancer and the treatment options available to you. Some helpful resources include:
As you do research and explore your options, begin to write down any questions and concerns that arise as you learn more about your situation. Bring this list of questions with you to appointments to ask your doctor. Consider bringing a friend of family member along with you to your first few appointments so that you have an extra set of ears to collect information.
Do not hesitate to address all aspects of your treatment, both physiological and emotional. Physicians understand that the concerns of today’s breast cancer patient go far beyond just surviving the disease. Thanks to improved treatments and therapies, more women than ever are surviving their breast cancer diagnosis. Therefore, many women are understandably concerned about survivorship issues that involve emotional components such as how they will look after treatment, how this will affect their sexual lives, having children, living an active lifestyle and so on.
Obtaining as much information as possible about your disease and your options will gradually bring you more clarity and a sense of empowerment. View yourself as an integral part of your treatment team and feelings of uncertainty, helplessness and fear will begin to diminish as you take on an active role.
Seek Support and Communicate Openly
For some women, after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, feelings of isolation may arise and she may find herself withdrawing from those around her. Do not be afraid to ask friends and family for help during this time, and learn to accept help when it is offered. Seek out supportive environments to combat these feelings. Cancer support groups can be particularly helpful in this area. Even online communities (such as BreastCancer.org Discussion Boards) can provide tremendous emotional support and valuable advice from others facing the same difficulties as you. Do not shy away from sharing your feelings and thoughts with loved ones. Communication can go a long way in lessening the negative effects of anxiety and fear that often accompany a cancer diagnosis.
Maintain a Sense of Normalcy and Concentrate on Hope
Don’t limit the things you enjoy to do just because you have breast cancer. Plan your days just as you always have, but be open to modifying your routine as necessary. Maintain a healthy lifestyle and get adequate rest to help better manage stress and fatigue. Continue to walk and exercise, just be sure to discuss plans to start any new exercise regime or activity with your doctor.
It may be tough to feel positive and upbeat at the beginning of breast cancer treatment, but focusing on what you can do rather than what you can’t will help you cope with negative emotions. As cure rates for breast cancer continue to improve and new treatments and medicines emerge, there is a lot to be hopeful about. Once you have gotten past the shock of learning that you have breast cancer, it can be helpful to realize that there is a new beginning ahead of you, an opportunity to put life into perspective and grow closer to those you love.
Start the Conversation on Breast Reconstruction Early in the Process
Discussing your options for breast reconstruction at the start of treatment is another way to focus on hope while engendering a sense of optimism for the future. Realizing that you can emerge from breast cancer healthy and happy is significant to inspiring positive feelings, and knowing that you can return to a sense of normalcy afterwards provides a light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s never too early in the process to start the conversation about breast reconstruction. Please feel free to browse some of the resources available on our website if you are interested in learning more about your options. We offer the most natural and complete form of breast reconstruction here at the Center for Breast Restoration, including the DIEP and SIEA flap procedure. If you are considering breast reconstruction, we would be more than happy to speak with you about your available options.