A diagnosis of breast cancer is just the beginning of what can be an emotional and
physical roller coaster.
Finding ways to cope at the onset can empower patients and help them get through
what will likely be the biggest life challenge they have faced.
With that said, one does not have to “keep a stiff upper lip” as the British say – it is
perfectly fine to feel a range of emotions – from anger to disbelief to sadness.
Many cancer survivors who share their thoughts online have experienced very similar
Of course, how a person experiences and copes with these emotions is as unique as each
of his or her personalities.
“Finding ways to cope at the onset of breast cancer
can empower patients and help them get through
what will likely be the biggest life challenge
they have faced.”
You may obsess about certain aspects of your diagnosis, such as thinking that you could
have been more vigilant and noticed your symptoms earlier, or wonder what you did
that caused this.
You may worry that other family members will get cancer.
Although a few cancers are hereditary and this increases the risk of children developing
cancer later on, it is not definite and should not be an additional cause for worry.
The Power of Positive Thinking – Does it Work for Cancer?
of metastatic cancer, brings up a question that has been studied extensively.
Is there such a thing as the power of positive thinking in influencing cancer prognosis?
Here are a few studies that yielded some interesting data on this subject.
• In a study of 34 women with breast cancer, a clinical psychologist from the University of
Pittsburghand oncologist from the National Cancer Institute, found that women who
reported feeling more joy in their lives lived longer than women who said they were depressed.
• A study of 92 breast cancer patients revealed that women’s use of coping through emotional
expression following primary treatment was associated with decreased distress, increased vigor,
improved self-perceived health status, and fewer medical appointments for morbidities related
to cancer and its treatment over the course of 3 months.
engaging actively in a religious place of worship equated to doing better mentally, physically, and
behaviorally in the face of serious illness.
Other researchers refute these studies for being poorly designed and say there is no evidence-based
data to support the power of positive thinking when it comes to cancer.
The one thing experts seem to agree on is that even though a positive attitude or spirituality will not
encourage healing from a clinical standpoint, it can help people cope with the day-to-day challenges
of living with a serious illness.
Coping with Emotional Aspects
1. Allow yourself to feel grief over the diagnosis – crying is normal, unless it leads to
The feelings of despair and not being in control of your body can be long term and intense.
However, working through your feelings is usually better than lashing out at those around you
Journaling can be a very therapeutic way to work through some of your feelings.
Gentle, mind- and body-soothing activities such as meditation, yoga, and walking can be helpful.
2. Connect with as many people as you need for support, especially at initial diagnosis
and during active treatment, but also while in recovery.
Realize that friends and family who have never suffered from serious illness may not quite
understand what you are experiencing.
They are likely trying to be empathetic, but you may need to connect with other people who
have cancer through local support groups.
Do not be afraid to ask for help – for activities including housework, cooking, shopping, and
transportation to your doctors’ appointments.
3. Do what feels right and comforting for you, before, during and after active cancer treatment.
However, it is important to follow your doctors’ instructions and keep them informed about your
health, diet, and any side effects you are experiencing.
There is not one tried and true philosophy that works for everyone.
Try to be gentle on yourself and realize through trial and error what works best for you – this
may change during the course of your treatment and recovery.
4. Following your treatment, you can seek quantitative assessment of the likelihood of
distant breast cancer recurrence with tests like Breast Cancer Index.
Knowing the likelihood of recurrence can give you a peace of mind and also allow you to take
preventative measures like continuing endocrine therapy.
The American Cancer Society has a comprehensive search tool that enables you to look for
a wide range of supportive services in your local community.
This includes everything from medical assistance to pain management to specialized cancer
Have you or a loved one had to cope with breast cancer?
What tips or resources for coping emotionally would you like to share?
Share your suggestions, thoughts or comments with us.