Find out what you can do, who can help and how to cope with a diagnosis of breast cancer.
You might have a number of different feelings when you're told you have cancer. You may feel shocked and upset. You might also feel:
- frightened and uncertain
- angry and resentful
You may have some or all of these feelings. Or you might feel totally different. Everyone reacts in their own way. Sometimes it is hard to take in the fact that you have cancer at all.
Feelings are a natural part of coming to terms with cancer. All sorts of feelings are likely to come and go.
You are more able to cope and make decisions if you have information about your type of cancer and its treatment. Information also helps you to know what to expect.
Taking in information can be difficult at first. Make a list of questions before you see your doctor. Take someone with you to remind you what you want to ask and help remember the answers.
Ask your doctors and nurses to explain things again if you need them to.
Remember that you don’t have to sort everything out at once. It might take some time to deal with each issue. Ask for help if you need it.
Treatment causes side effects. These can be mild or more severe. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any side effects or if they get worse. They can treat them and help you find ways of coping.
Talking to other people
Talking to your friends and relatives about your cancer can help and support you. But some people are scared of the emotions this could bring up and won’t want to talk. They might worry that you won't be able to cope with your situation.
It can strain relationships if your family or friends don't want to talk. But talking can help increase trust and support between you.
Help your family and friends by letting them know you would like to talk about what’s happening and how you feel.
You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family.
Specialist nurses can help you if you’re finding it difficult to cope or if you have any problems. They can get you the help you need. They can also give you information.
NHS Choices has a service that tells you about local information and support.
Breast cancer and its treatments are likely to cause physical problems. These might affect the way you feel about yourself.
Changes to the shape of one or both breasts and scarring after surgery can affect your self esteem and how you relate to other people. Some women might also have some ongoing discomfort and soreness in their breast after surgery.
Some hormone treatments can also cause joint and bone pain. Talk to your doctor or nurse about this as they can prescribe medication to help.
Tiredness and lethargy can be a problem during treatment. Resting but also doing some gentle physical activity can help.
Some treatments can cause an early menopause and you might have symptoms such as hot flushes and sweats. Your nurse will talk to you about how to cope with the symptoms.
An early menopause also means that you are no longer able to become pregnant. This can be very difficult to cope with if you were hoping to have children in the future. Your doctor will talk to you about this before your treatment. It's sometimes possible to store your eggs or embryos before treatment starts.
Relationships and sex
The physical changes you have might affect your relationships and sex life. There are things that you can do to manage this.
Practical things you and your family might need to cope with include:
- money matters
- financial support, such as benefits, sick pay and grants
- work issues
Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse to find out who can help. Getting early help with these things can mean that they don’t become a big issue later.