The Emotional Impact of Advanced Breast Cancer
When you find out you have advanced breast cancer, it is normal to feel shocked or alone, or to feel a sense of despair. Sometimes crying and expressing your sadness is enough to get you through the tough emotions that can come with a diagnosis of advanced breast cancer. But sometimes you may feel so bad that you lose interest in the things that used to make you happy. You may feel like staying in bed all day and stop reaching out to friends and family.
If you start feeling this way, you may be experiencing the psychological condition called depression. It’s important to know that some people feel depressed for the first time after a diagnosis of cancer, while others arrive at cancer with a history of depression.
The first and most important step in treating depression is to acknowledge it and to ask for help.
Many people with advanced cancer face some sort of emotional distress. This can make it difficult for you to cope with symptoms and treatment, and can seriously affect your quality of life. Thankfully, there are many effective treatments for this condition.
The first and most important step in
treating depression is to acknowledge
it and to ask for help. Tell your doctor
if you have feelings of depression or
emotional distress. Your healthcare team
is there to help you cope with these
feelings and to do everything they can
to help maintain the best possible quality
of life for you. Being treated for
depression can make a huge difference
in your quality of life. Treating depression
will make it easier for you to deal
with cancer and will allow you to rediscover
joy and pleasure in your everyday
life. If you find yourself dealing with
depression, remember these tips:
♦ Talk openly to trusted friends and family members about your feelings and fears.
♦ Make an appointment with a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist to help cope with your thoughts and feelings.
♦ Ask your doctor about medications that can help.
♦ Focus on living in the moment.
♦ Use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, to reduce your body’s release of hormones that may trigger a sensation of anxiety.
A diagnosis of advanced breast cancer will almost certainly change the way you relate to your loved ones and the way they relate to you. Remember that these relationship changes are often positive ones, representing an ongoing evolution in the way you and your loved ones relate to one another.
One of the most important things you can do to sustain and nurture these meaningful relationships is to communicate with your family and friends about how you’re feeling. Tell them honestly about your diagnosis, how the disease and treatment might be affecting you, and how they can and cannot help you.
The quality of life of all women with advanced breast cancer can be negatively affected. In turn, it is normal to experience feelings of sadness, grief, and loneliness. Support from others who are dealing with advanced breast cancer, or even dealing with other types of cancer, can be a true source of comfort, strength, and hope.
Young Women and Advanced Breast Cancer
Women of all ages, including young women, can be affected by advanced breast cancer. Breast cancer accounts for almost 15 percent of all cancers in people ages 15 to 39 years old. Compared to older women, when a young woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, it is more likely to be in the advanced stage or is more likely to recur. Due to their phase in life, young women encounter certain issues surrounding relationships, fertility, and sexuality that may not be as relevant or as powerful in older women. For young women who may be thinking of starting a family or entering a romantic relationship, the side effects of certain cancer treatments can be troubling. These side effects include early-onset menopause, infertility, sexual dysfunction from vaginal dryness or decreased libido, and concerns about body image related to hair loss, weight gain, and scars.
However, there are actions you can take that may help minimize or even prevent some of these potential side effects. For example, some women who are concerned about becoming infertile will harvest their eggs before beginning treatment. Additionally, there are vaginal lubricants and dilators that can aid in making sexual intercourse more comfortable and pleasurable.
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More information on advanced breast cancer is available from the Cancer Support Community (cancersupportcommunity.org), Living Beyond Breast Cancer (lbbc.org), Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (mbcn.org), Advanced Breast Cancer Community (advancedbreastcancercommunity.org), and Young Survival Coalition (youngsurvival.org).
Reprinted with permission from Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Advanced Breast Cancer, 3rd edition, copyright © 2011 Cancer Support Community. All rights reserved.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2012.