Having breast cancer affects all of us in many different ways. For example, treatments may change the way you look and how you feel about yourself and your body. The demands of treatment may also affect your personal relationships or make it difficult to manage your usual activities and responsibilities. Fortunately, these are challenges you do not have to face alone.
A diagnosis of breast cancer can have many different emotional effects. When you are first diagnosed you may feel:
fear – unsure what the future holds
shock – a feeling of ‘why me?’
anger – asking ‘what have I done to deserve this?’
disbelief – especially if you feel well and healthy
relieved – that the cancer has been found
anxiety – about treatment and the future
sadness – because your life is changing
numb – you might not feel anything at all
Talking about your emotions might be hard, but it can comfort you and the people who care about you. When you tell someone whom you love what you’re feeling, you give that person a chance to support you. You also give your relationship with that person a chance to grow.
Only you can decide when to tell your friends and family you have cancer. People are very sobered by the news that someone has cancer. Most people need and want to talk to someone when they find themselves in this kind of situation. It may be even more important for single people without supportive family members nearby to let close friends know what’s happening. Think ahead so you can tell them what they can do when they ask how they can help – people who live alone often have a few extra needs compared to those who live with others.
Sometimes, telling those closest to you helps you take in the reality of what’s happening. Some people find that by talking, they begin to solve problems and think about other issues as their family and friends ask questions.
Think about how much you want to share. You might want to explain what kind of cancer you have, which treatments you might need, and your outlook (or prognosis). As you talk with others, you may want to write down the questions that come up so that you can discuss them with your cancer care team.
When reaching out to others, be specific about the kind of support you need. Saying something like, “It would be helpful if you could shop for groceries this week,” or “Can you please drive me to my next appointment?” gives people a clear way to help. This approach cuts down on frustration and reassures your family and friends that they are being helpful.
Take steps to look and feel your best. Many women feel uncomfortable with their appearance after having surgery or chemotherapy. If you had breast surgery or are experiencing hair loss and changes in your physical appearance, learn about options available, such as breast prostheses and wigs. Give yourself time to adjust to changes, and try different solutions until you find what makes you feel most comfortable.
Let yourself feel loved and cared for. After a lumpectomy or mastectomy, a woman may find that regular activities, such as dressing, undressing, bathing, or being intimate with her partner or spouse, give rise to complex emotions. Some women feel so different that they stop taking care of their emotional and physical needs. For example, a woman may distance herself emotionally from her partner. You can make other choices, such as choosing to remain close with your partner or spouse. Everyone deserves to feel loved and cared for.
Talk to your spouse or partner about the physical closeness you need. Share how you feel about your body, and talk about what you think or worry that your partner is feeling. Whatever your needs are – whether you feel a need for physical affection, or if you are not yet interested in being physically intimate – let your partner know. Your partner is most likely waiting for your signal to know what to do, how to act, and what you need.
Discuss your concerns with your doctor or nurse. If you feel you have lost the desire to be physically intimate, bring it up with your doctor or nurse. These health care professionals can help you understand physical changes that may be causing these feelings. They can also suggest ways to increase your interest in physical intimacy and make appropriate referrals if needed.