Coping with a diagnosis of breast cancer can be overwhelming. Find out what you can do, who can help and how to cope.
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's hard to take in the fact that you have cancer at all.
Experiencing different feelings is a natural part of coming to terms with cancer. All sorts of feelings are likely to come and go.
You may be more able to cope and make decisions if you have information about your type of cancer and its treatment. Information helps you to know what to expect.
Taking in information can be difficult, especially when you have just been diagnosed. 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.
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 and them.
Help your family and friends by letting them know if 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. We have cancer information nurses you can call on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Or you may prefer to see a counsellor.
You usually have a clinical nurse specialist who follows you from when you get your diagnosis, through treatment and in follow up. They 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 as well as give you information.
NHS website 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 and emotional 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 help early with these things can mean that they don’t become a big issue later.
Life after cancer
In this video Yvonne shares her story of life after breast cancer and how she coped when her treatment finished. She talks about some of the physical effects of the cancer and its treatment and what helped her through.
She and her sister Sonia also talk about what it was like going to check up appointments, something that is not always easy. Coping after treatment finishes can be challenging and hearing about how other people cope can help.
Yvonne: My name is Yvonne Pickford. I live in Birmingham and I’ve had breast cancer.
Sonia: Yvonne having breast cancer I feel has tightened the bond between us as sisters.
Yvonne: She helped me to stay strong and it was nice to have her there as my crutch
Sonia: When Yvonne informed me that her treatment was successful it took a while to sink in but then I thought, yes.
Yvonne: It is something that you just want to shout from the rooftop. I did it. And at the same time a little bit frightened of what do I do now. Where do I go now?
Because I was feeling uncertain, because I was feeling low, I decided to go to counselling.
The words of wisdom would not necessarily come from the councillors and psychologists that were there, they would come from the other group members.
It was nice to have people to talk to that had been on the journey and I found that it helped immensely. Definitely worth it.
I still had yearly check-ups which was a bit of a rollercoaster leading up to them.
Sonia: there was always that anticipation, fear as to what the outcome of the appointment was going to be.
Yvonne: But as time went on it became easier it became part of our normal you know, routine.
I still had a lot of fatigue, one breast was smaller than the other, I still had the scars. And also my treatment pushed me through early menopause which I was not ready for.
Sonia: These hot flushes that she would have became her tropical moments.
Yvonne: One of the things that I felt helped was to go back to my exercising. It lifts you. It just makes you be more positive.
Sonia: Having cancer was traumatic for Yvonne but it was also a wakeup call for the whole family. We appreciate all of the times that we have together.
Yvonne: Life is wonderful, life is good. You know, you’ve been through so much and you’re a stronger person for it. You have a different zest for life and you just love it.
Sharon story is about her diagnosis, treatment and how she coped with life after cancer.
‘It is possible to regain your life and in lots of ways be stronger, happier and healthier.’
Angela had a mammogram and was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I have a friend that has had breast cancer and she has helped me."
JoC was diagnosed with lobuar cancer in 2021.
"Tell people how you feel. Don't keep it to yourself. There's lots of us just waiting to talk and share our cancer experiences. People support is a big medicine when you're feeling low."
Sonia was diagnosed in 2020. Sonia's story is about her diagnosis and treatment.
"I think it’s always a bigger shock for family members as they fear the worst. Admittedly I cried."
"To be honest I felt more emotional when it was all over and probably cried more after than I did when I was first told."