Breast Cancer and Grief

Grief never ends
But it changes
It’s a passage
Not a place to stay
Grief is not a sign of weakness
Nor a lack of faith
It is the price of love

What emotions will you experience at the time of your breast cancer diagnosis, as you go through treatment, and on to survival?

Breast cancer is a life-threatening disease that requires rigorous treatment. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you, your family and friends will be experiencing waves of emotion (likely tidal waves at times.)

Just as your diagnosis may differ from those of other breast cancer patients, your emotional experience may also differ. Knowing what other survivors have experienced and getting help early in the process can be helpful in navigating your way through this experience.

You may not have all of these emotions, but it’s normal to have a range of emotions as you progress through treatment. Here are some emotional Stages of Grief:

Denial and shock – “This can’t be true.”

Anger and rage – “This isn’t fair.” “Why wasn’t I protected from this?” “Why me?”

Stress and depression – “My life is already busy, I can’t stop to deal with this.” “I feel so sad.” “Why should I get treatment? I’ll die anyway.”

Grief and fear – “I’m going to die, but I don’t want to.” “I’m going to lose part of my body.” “I will never feel safe again.”

Acceptance and adjustment – “Okay, it’s true. I’ve got breast cancer, but I don’t have to like it or let it define who I am.”

Fight and hope – “I’m going to fight for my life! I’m getting all the help and support that’s out there for me.”

After diagnosis, you’ll talk with your healthcare team about your options for breast cancer treatment. Patients are more involved in treatment decisions now than they were 50 years ago. But having more control doesn’t mean that you won’t experience the powerful emotions that come along with going through this process.

Whether your treatment course includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or a combination, you may have lots of unanswered questions. Educating yourself about these treatments and associated side effects can help reduce your concerns, including:

Concern about disfigurement – “After surgery, will I still be attractive?” “What will happen to my sex life?”

Fear of the unknown – “What will this be like?” “Can I survive the treatment?”

Worry about side effects – “It sounds really bad. Is there some alternative?” “How will I cope?”

Anxiety – “Will my treatments be really effective?”

Suspense about test results – “When will the bad news come to an end?”

Family and work concerns – “How is this affecting my family?” “Will I lose my job?”

Speak to your doctors as well as other patients who have gone through this experience to get the answers and the support you need. It can also help to find a local support group.

When your primary treatment ends, you shake hands with your oncologist and wave goodbye to your nurses. What happens next? You may still be taking hormone therapy and going for follow-up visits, but how are you feeling now?

Good communication with your healthcare team can help you move forward with the collection of emotions that accompany survivorship, including:

Fear of recurrence – “Will my cancer return?” “Will it spread?” “Is that pain I’m feeling just a pulled muscle or could it be my cancer has returned—is it my old enemy, breast cancer?”

Feeling vulnerable – “I’m done with treatment. How do I guard my health?”

Fear of continued pain – “My chest is sore.” “I’m exhausted.” “Will I ever feel normal again?”

Fear of death – “My family needs me. I’m not prepared for this.”

At this point in your journey you may have thoughts of doing bad things to the next person who says to you, “all you need to survive cancer is a positive attitude.”

Yes, staying positive with cancer can make you feel better, but it’s very important to express your negative emotions, too.  Find a nonjudgmental friend you can share these less-than-positive thoughts with and vent.

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