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Your feelings and secondary breast cancer

Men and women discussing breast cancer

This page is about your feelings about having secondary breast cancer. There is information about


A quick guide to what's on this page

Your feelings and secondary breast cancer

Discovering you have secondary breast cancer brings up many different feelings. You may feel completely shocked and numb. You may also feel very angry at times. Having secondary cancer has been described as like riding an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes you can feel very sad. At other times you may feel positive and hopeful.

Some women with secondary breast cancer find that their daily lives are not affected very much. The cancer becomes like any other long term illness. It may cause problems from time to time, but some people cope with this on a day to day basis. Sometimes you may feel overwhelmed and upset and may find it helpful to contact someone to talk things through with.

You can get help from your breast cancer nurse. You can also make contact with other women who have breast cancer through a cancer support group. Many people find this helpful. Some women find that counselling helps them to make sense of their feelings. You can also join an online cancer forum to share thoughts and feelings.


CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Secondary breast cancer section.



Finding out you have secondary cancer

Discovering that you have secondary breast cancer brings up many different feelings. You may feel completely shocked and numb. After the first shock, it is normal to feel that this is very unfair. You may also feel angry and let down. It may help to know that no one knows yet what triggers some breast cancers to spread. But nothing you have done is to blame.

It is natural to feel angry. Anger is not always logical and you may feel angry with the people around you. Some women feel angry with their partner or family. Some people feel angry with their doctor, nurse or the health system in general.

If you can, try to explain to people that you are angry about your illness and not at them. You could warn them that this may affect your behaviour for a while. You may find it helpful to contact a counselling service. Counselling can help you to make sense of your feelings and may be very supportive for you at this time.

Some of the breast cancer organisations provide information and counselling. You may also find it helpful to look at our page about coping with the news that your illness is terminal.

If you want to find people to share experiences with on line, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum. Or you can go through MyWavelength. This is a free service that aims to put people with similar medical conditions in touch with each other.


Feeling uncertain about the future

Secondary breast cancer can bring a lot of uncertainty to your life. This may be the hardest part of all. It can be a big strain if you have children, especially if they are young. You may be uncertain about their future too.

One way to reduce the stress of uncertainty is to make day to day plans. Some women say that by living in the present they get more out of each day than when they were planning ahead all the time.

Uncertainty about the future can make you deeply worried about your partner, yourself and your family. You may be anxious about their feelings now that your breast cancer has spread. You may also have worries about how they may manage in the future.

It is difficult to talk about these worries. Sometimes you may feel as though your family shuts you out – pretending that everything is fine and carrying on as normal. There are many reasons for this

  • They may want to keep home life as normal as possible to make you feel better
  • They may be worried that they are letting you down if they say they feel afraid about the future
  • They may have their own problems coping with their feelings – finding it hard to face up to what is happening to you

But denying strong feelings can make you all feel very isolated. It can be very difficult when no one knows what other people are thinking. So if you are able to find a way to talk about how you really feel, that can help everyone to cope better with what is going on. It may be very hard to start such a conversation and you may get upset, but that is OK. Sharing feelings and emotions can bring you closer together.


Finding your own way

You may need time to yourself to get to grips with your feelings. Don't feel that you are being selfish by keeping things to yourself for a while. Taking time out is a natural way of coming to terms with difficult feelings. Tell your friends and family if you need a breathing space for a while. Then they won't feel left out. This also lets them know you are aware of their concern for you. You could say that you will tell them your thoughts and feelings when you feel ready.


Feeling afraid

Your uncertainty and anger may be due to a fear that you could die. Doctors cannot know how long your life will be after a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer. The treatments can help to keep the cancer under control – often for many years. No one knows for sure how long anyone might live, but many women with secondary breast cancer live for many months and sometimes years. It can be hard to cope with the fact that your life may be shorter than if the breast cancer had not spread.


When you feel low

There may be times when you feel that your situation is getting too much. If this feeling lasts, you could talk to your doctor about having some sleeping pills or anti depressants. These may give you the short term help you need to get through a bad patch.

Having secondary cancer has been described as like riding an emotional roller coaster – sometimes you can feel very low. At other times you may feel positive and hopeful.

There is no right or wrong way to react. How you manage secondary breast cancer is a very individual thing. Your family and friends, and the health professionals involved in your care, can all be called on to help you. 


What you can do

Some women with secondary breast cancer find that their daily lives are not affected very much. The cancer becomes like any other long term illness. There are no right or wrong ways of coping. How you manage depends on many things, such as

  • Your personal hopes and fears
  • Your past experiences
  • Your spiritual beliefs
  • Your relationships

There are many ways that women help themselves to manage their disease and their feelings. You may get support from

  • Friends and family
  • Other women with breast cancer
  • Your religion or spiritual beliefs
  • A support group

Sometimes, when you are angry and upset, your body can get very tense and full of suppressed energy. Exercise can help you get rid of this tension and energy so that you may find it easier to relax. It doesn't need to be very strong exercise. You could try

Or you may prefer to practice relaxation techniques. The techniques can also relieve stress and tension. You can go to classes. Or use relaxation tapes at home. Most relaxation techniques use

You may be able to get relaxation tapes from your library, local bookshop, your cancer support group, or even your breast care nurse. Massage can also be very relaxing. Look at the complementary therapies section to find out more.


Finding practical information

Our general section about coping with cancer has detailed information about the emotional and practical impact of having cancer. The section about dying with cancer has information about all the practical and emotional issues you may need to deal with.

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Updated: 31 October 2012