What happens after you have been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer depends to a large extent on who you are and what your life was like before your diagnosis. Every woman's circumstances are different. Some women choose to make big changes in their lives. Others find it comforting to have day-to-day life continuing much as before.
Many women find the uncertainty of their situation one of the most difficult aspects to manage. Some cope best by living in the present and not thinking too much about the future. Others find that planning ahead gives them a greater sense of control. The only right approach is the one that works best for you.
'There is more to life than cancer. Initially I felt as if I was in shock, later I experienced grief and loss. I have moved from that stage. Now my diagnosis is part of my life. Treatment is part of my life. To date it has not been so bad.' -- Barbara
Looking after your physical self
Some women choose to make fairly drastic changes to their diet after a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer. There is no scientific evidence that women with secondary breast cancer need a special diet, or that a particular diet can make a difference to your long-term prognosis. However, a healthy, balanced diet can help you to feel your best. When you feel well enough to eat, try to include foods from all five food groups in your diet:
- bread, cereal, rice, pasta, noodles
- milk, yoghurt, cheese
- meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes
Some regular light exercise, such as walking, swimming or gardening, can also help to manage symptoms and side effects by:
- increasing energy levels
- reducing fatigue, pain, nausea and vomiting
- aiding digestion
- improving sleep
- improving strength and flexibility and the functioning of your heart and lungs
Swimming or walking in a warm pool can help with joint pain.
'Nutrition combined with meditation, living in a stress-free environment, daily walking and deep breathing are all sound ingredients that I have comfortably woven into my lifestyle.' -- Margot
Looking after your emotional self
Having secondary breast cancer poses lots of challenges and it can be emotionally exhausting. There is no rule on how to manage emotions. You have to listen to what your heart says is right for you - and that can change over time.
Being able to talk about emotions is helpful. Sometimes talking to family members and friends is the best way to handle your feelings. However it's hard sometimes to share dark thoughts with them, or talk about 'what if?' Talking to someone outside your family and friends, such as a trained counsellor, can be a great relief.
You don't have to protect a counsellor from things that are worrying you. They won't criticise or trivialise your concerns. Most of all, they will listen and won't compete with you by telling you about their own problems!
Some GPs have specialist training in counselling. If not, your GP will be able to refer you to a psychologist, social worker or other trained therapist. You may also be eligible for a Medicare rebate for counselling. Talk to your GP about this if you think a number of sessions may be helpful for you.
'There's only so much you can talk about wih friends and family - you don't want to overburden them. It was a relief to see a psychologist - I really appreciated her honesty. Friends and family can't be honest in a way that a stranger can be.' -- Jenny
With so much going on in your life, it's good to remember that it is okay to take some time for yourself and do things that you want to do.You may like to write a list of all the things you enjoy, big and small, so that if you have some time on your hands or are feeling down, you can refer to your list for inspiration.
'Do what you need to do to feel better. I used to drive out to the mountains and just sit and take in the view, or have a coffee in a little coffee shop.' -- Mia
It is also important to listen to your body, and take time to rest when you need to.
'Let yourself have the occasional 'doona day'. You will reap the rewards.' -- Denice
- Order a copy of Hope & Hurdles Pack for more information on living with secondary breast cancer.
- Issue 56 of The Beacon includes articles and stories about the financial impact of breast cancer, including information on finding financial support
- The personal stories section includes some inspiring and empowering personal stories written by our members living with secondary breast cancer.
- Join our online network if you think that talking to others online and sharing experiences will help.
- The resources and keeping up-to-date page in this section has a listing of books, brochures and websites about living with secondary breast cancer.