This week, someone I know told me her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer a few weeks ago. She described this experience as a rollercoaster, a very fitting metaphor, and then asked for my advice. My first thought was, “Damn, another person diagnosed with this beastly disease.” My second thought was to offer some advice she and her mother would find helpful.
So I gave some advice.
And that got me thinking that I should write a post to address this very important topic. I remember being a breast cancer newbie as if it were yesterday, and I experienced so much confusion and emotions.
I’m hoping this post helps those who are newly diagnosed and I’m hoping that others reading this post will add their advice in the Comments section. After all, the breast cancer community is a community where we help each other.
That being said, here are just some of my tips for coping with a new breast cancer diagnosis.
You can experience a wide array of emotions — such as grief, fear, panic, anger, depression, disbelief, and sadness. This is normal. Any emotions you are going through are normal considering the heavy weight of diagnosis. Don’t pressure yourself to feel or react a certain way or to react to your diagnosis the way others expect you to. Let yourself scream, cry, punch a pillow, and so on. There’s no right way to handle cancer.
Don’t feel you must rush hastily to make medical decisions. Newly diagnosed people often feel pressured to decide a treatment plan immediately. While you want to address your illness promptly, you have time to consider your options. In addition, you need to make the decision that is best for you.
Choose doctors you feel comfortable with. Too often we don’t speak up regarding our own health care. Seize the reins of your own medical care and advocate for yourself. Feel free to get a second or even third opinion. If you are uneasy with a doctor, following your gut instincts is a good game plan.
Seek support. Having breast cancer can feel isolating. Take advantage of the wide array of support systems available. If you have a supportive family, spouse, etc., feel free to open up to them. The American Cancer Society has various programs and services. For example, when I couldn’t drive due to surgery, the organization paid for my cab rides to and from doctor appointments. Support groups and/or counseling may be helpful. If your location has a Gilda’s Club, I strongly recommend this support network. When I was newly diagnosed, I walked into Gilda’s Club Chicago, and it was one of my lifelines. If you are social media savvy, consider participating in #BCSM (Breast Cancer Social Media) tweetchats on Mondays at 9-10 p.m. US Eastern time. A wide variety of excellent breast cancer blogs are available to help you feel less isolated.
Don’t compare yourself to others’ treatments/outcomes. Each person’s breast cancer is different, kind of like a fingerprint. Don’t compare your treatments and outcomes with those of others.
Don’t pressure yourself to “get over it.” I’ve been told this on several occasions. Breast cancer is a big deal, and everyone heals physically and emotionally at a different pace. Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself.
I hope you have found these tips helpful. Seek out the help you need and just put one foot in front of the other, and you will get through this ordeal one step at a time.
For those who have/had breast cancer, what advice would you offer a newly diagnosed patient?
Tags: breast cancer, breast cancer diagnosis, doctors, support groups, tips for the newly diagnosed