Vera Deluca, LPC, LMFT

A diagnosis of breast cancer affects women in many ways.  You may feel as if your life has been turned upside down and immediately have so many thoughts and emotions rush over you.  Adjusting to that diagnosis can be difficult as you are forced to cope with the physical, emotional, social, and financial effects of cancer and its treatment. Once the initial shock wears off, the process of making changes begins. Some things in your life may have to be rearranged as you start treatment. The symptoms and side effects may take a toll your body physically and emotionally and you will be forced to adjust to all the new issues that cancer brings.

A diagnosis of breast cancer can bring varying levels of emotional distress for women and some may experience more emotional distress than others.  Common emotions expressed are sadness, anger, grief, worry, fear, guilt, stress, loneliness, anxiousness, hopelessness, and helplessness.  Leaning on your support system can be helpful when adjusting to these emotions.  Whether it be from family or friends, support groups, professional counselors, religious groups, your cancer health care team, or others, everyone can benefit from help and support when adjusting to an unplanned event such as having cancer. Still, coping with your emotions may be difficult and you may need to find new ways to cope during this time.  Some effective coping strategies when adjusting to cancer are relaxation and meditation, setting personal goals and reviewing priorities, spiritual health through prayer and faith, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise.

Adjusting to the physical changes can also be challenging during treatment for breast cancer and you may be able to utilize some of the same coping skills to help adjust to them. Common physical changes are hair loss, weight changes, scars, skin changes, pain, and fatigue.  Some of these physical changes are temporary while others may last longer.  Either way, your looks may be a big concern during or after treatment and body image issues may develop. Identifying the right coping skills will help you adjust to these changes.

It can seem overwhelming at first but knowing what to expect may help you feel more at ease. Asking questions and talking to your healthcare team can help you get the information you need and help your treatment team refer you to the appropriate resources. Having a support person with you at appointments can be very helpful. This person can help by listening, taking notes, and asking questions.  Being informed will help you to understand your cancer and know what the treatments and potential side effects may be.

There are many ways to help you cope with breast cancer and the many changes to your life that may arise during your treatments.  Every person copes with distress differently and will have to find what works best for them to facilitate a healthy adjustment. Developing coping skills will help you feel prepared to deal with the various stressors brought on by cancer and can be utilized before, during, and after treatment.

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