How You Can Cope
A diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer can evoke many difficult emotions, including shock, anger, and sadness. These are all normal reactions. It’s extremely important to allow yourself to experience all your feelings in order to help you move forward and take an active role in your treatment.
The first step is to recognize your emotions and know that it’s OK to feel this way. Here are just some of the difficult feelings many people deal with when faced with a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, and some important thoughts to keep in mind to help you deal with some of these feelings:
• I don’t want to die.
A diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer is not always an immediate death sentence. Many people live with the disease for many years with a reasonably good quality of life thanks to advances in breast cancer treatments. Still, even if you know this, the uncertainty of not knowing if or when the disease will progress can be devastating. There are ways to cope with the uncertainty while continuing to maintain an active and satisfying lifestyle.
• How will I tell my family?
Telling loved ones, especially young children, about a cancer diagnosis can be extremely stressful. This is one of the first things many people worry about when diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Once everyone knows what you’re facing, you can work together to figure out the ways of coping that are best for you and your family.
A diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer is not always an immediate death sentence. Many people live with the disease for many years…
• It must have been all the stress I’ve been under that made the cancer come back.
Aside from blaming someone else, many people blame themselves when they find out they have metastatic breast cancer. It is common to ask yourself what you could have done differently to prevent this from happening or what may have been different if you had sought medical attention sooner. But, most likely, there is nothing you could have done to prevent this from happening. And there is no body of evidence connecting stress to cancer, so go easy on yourself.
It’s OK to take a look at what is most stressful in your life and try to reduce that stress, especially now that you’re dealing with metastatic disease. But it is not helpful to try to second-guess what you could or could not have done in the past. Some cancers have a tendency to spread, and there’s nothing anyone has found so far that can stop them.
Metastatic breast cancer is cancer that has spread from the place where it first developed, in the ducts or lobules of the breast, to a different part of the body. It is also called stage IV breast cancer. The most common sites for breast cancer metastases, or places where breast cancer spreads to, are the bones, lungs, liver, and brain.
It is very important to remember that even though the cancer may be in a different part of the body, and even though you may have had your breast or breasts removed, it is still breast cancer. This means that breast cancer treatments – not treatments for bone, lung, or other cancers – will be the most effective in treating it.
If you’ve never had breast cancer before and you were initially diagnosed with metastatic disease, you have cancer in the breast and in other parts of the body. Remember that breast cancer treatments will work for the cancer, no matter where it is. If you find this confusing, or if you don’t understand why you’re getting breast cancer treatment for cancer that has spread to another part of the body, it’s OK to ask your doctor or nurse to explain this further.
Try to stop blaming yourself if this has been an issue for you, and start eliminating the things that make you anxious, while adding activities and experiences that give the most meaning to every day of your life.
For more information about metastatic breast cancer, visit CancerSupportCommunity.org/metastatic-breast-cancer.
Excerpted with permission from Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Metastatic Breast Cancer © Cancer Support Community. For more information about the Cancer Support Community, call (888) 793-9355 or visit CancerSupportCommunity.org.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2018.