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Finding out your cancer has spread

Finding out that you have metastatic breast cancer can bring about a range of emotions. The important thing to remember is that you can go on to experience a sense of peace and control after diagnosis.

How you might feel

Many women describe finding out that they have metastatic breast cancer as ‘devastating’.

If you have been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, you may feel angry, shocked and scared, and it can take a while for the news to sink in. While it’s normal to worry about what lies ahead for you and your family, it can be comforting to know that many women have lived with metastatic breast cancer for many years and have had long stretches of wellness.

The primary emotion is fear, but try not to let the fear cripple you. Live one day at a time and live to the fullest – you are alive today and there is life after metastatic breast cancer. – Voula
You will have black moments but those moments will pass – it might be one day, three days or a month, but it’s important to remember it will pass. – Franca

Maintaining hope

Many women with metastatic breast cancer say that, for them, hope is vital.

When you’re initially diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, your feelings of hope might really plummet, however over time most women realise that hope returns, and changes slightly. For example, your hope may now centre on long periods of disease control and feeling well, or you may look forward to a special trip or event.

A diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer is not the end of the road; it is the start of a new journey. Some days you will be filled with fear and uncertainty, this is to be expected. Honour your feelings, they are valid; and always remember tomorrow is another day. Do not let anyone take away your hope. – Judy

There’s no one to blame

Many women who have been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer find that they want to blame either themselves or others for their condition. In truth, no one is really to blame. Unfortunately, some breast cancers will spread whatever treatment a woman has received and whatever lifestyle choices she has made. It helps some women to understand that, unlike early breast cancer, finding metastatic breast cancer early doesn’t make it any easier to control.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer was a huge blow. I found it harder the second time around and I was very angry! I thought I had done ‘all the right things’ with treatment and lifestyle changes. – Judy

When your first diagnosis is metastatic breast cancer

My first diagnosis was of metastatic breast cancer and I was completely ignorant about the whole thing. I thought from all the ads on TV that it was fine and it was curable. I needed to be told by somebody that it was more serious than an early breast cancer diagnosis. – Penny

For a small number of women, their diagnosis with metastatic breast cancer is their first diagnosis of breast cancer. Most women in this situation feel panic and uncertainty. After the initial shock, you will gradually start to think a little more clearly and realise there are things you can do to cope with the situation. Below is a list of things that you might find helpful:

  • Be informed. While the information may not be what you want to hear, staying informed helps you to understand your options.
  • Talk to your partner and loved ones about how you are feeling. Sharing thoughts and feelings generally leads to increased closeness and takes away the burden of trying to keep a lid on things.
  • Learn to do some ‘self-talk’. Being able to challenge unhelpful thought patterns takes practice but is very worthwhile. Your GP may be able to teach you some techniques or refer you to a psychologist or other counsellor.
  • Put yourself first. Allow family members to screen your phone calls. Allow yourself to be the centre of your world. Choose who you want to see, and when.
  • Talk to your treating specialist about the type of supportive care that might be available to you. You may find it helpful to connect with a breast care nurse or other member of a supportive care team, such as a social worker or counsellor
  • If you don’t have anyone close you can talk to, it may be helpful to talk to other women in a similar situation through our online network.

What next?

It may take a while to work out how you now want to live your life. Some women prefer to carry on with their usual daily routine, while others will want to completely alter their life. It can help to talk to those around you or to a health professional before making big changes. Try to take one step at a time and remember there is no need to rush into big decisions. It can help to think about what information you need to help you make decisions. BCNA’s Hope & Hurdles pack can help you.

I started making drastic decisions and I was going to quit my job. Talking to a psychologist was really valuable ... she helped me to think about things in different ways.

Spend time talking to people, most importantly your doctors, other health professionals and people who have experienced this themselves. – Jill

More information

For more information on finding out that you have metastatic breast cancer, please consider the following resources: