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Living well

What happens after you have been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer can depend 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 continue 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 drastic changes to their diet after a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer. There is no scientific evidence that women with metastatic 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
  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • 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 metastatic breast cancer poses some 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 with 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

Your time

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

More information

For more information on living with metastatic breast cancer, please refer to the below resources:

  • For the latest information about metastatic breast cancer, treatment and care, including services and support available to you, sign up to BCNA’s My Journey.
  • Find out what palliative care can do for you or for someone you love by using the Palliative Care Toolkit
  • The personal stories section includes some inspiring and empowering personal stories written by our members living with metastatic breast cancer.
  • Join our online network if you think that talking to others online and sharing experiences will help.
  • The 'Where to find support' section of this website lists some key resources, assistance and incentives available for you and your family living with metastatic breast cancer.