People often describe breast cancer as an emotional rollercoaster. You may find you have many ups and downs throughout your experience with breast cancer. Changes in body image or self-esteem, fear of breast cancer coming back, anxiety and depression are just some of the emotional effects reported by people who have had breast cancer.
It’s not uncommon to feel that your emotional and mental health take a lot longer to recover than your body does. This can be worse if you are dealing with other life challenges at the same time.
While it may be challenging emotionally at first, many people tell us it gets easier over time.
A breast cancer diagnosis can bring emotional challenges, but things get better with time.
A diagnosis of breast cancer is different for everyone, no two people’s circumstances are the same. There’s no rule for how to handle emotions, you have to do what’s right for you, and that may change over time. Breast cancer can bring about many changes in your life.
When first diagnosed with breast cancer, a whirlwind of emotions such as shock, fear, anxiety and feeling like your world is turning upside down can be all consuming. Trying to keep everything together and balance emotions can be difficult. In those early days and weeks after a diagnosis, it may be helpful to read about what has helped others: Getting through the first few weeks.
Coping with treatment, side effects and the many other activities of daily living with breast cancer can be challenging. Having a changed body shape, weight gain or loss, hair loss and memory difficulties can all affect your confidence and self-esteem. Some people also have to manage other issues. Young women, for instance, may have to come to terms with the fact that treatment may have reduced their fertility, affected their ability to have a baby, or caused early onset of menopause.
Complex emotional, spiritual and existential issues can also arise. It’s normal to feel anxious, scared or even depressed when treatment ends.
Once your treatment is over, you may feel different about yourself and your relationships. Taking the time to get used to the “new” you is an important part of your breast cancer experience. In fact, many people tell us that they have found new approaches to life and have re-prioritised their values and focus after their breast cancer.
Cancer has helped me re-evaluate what is important in life. Where possible I have discarded the negatives. I endeavour to make the most of life – being involved with others, but also ensuring there is space for me.
Support from family, friends, neighbours and other people in your life – as well as emotional support from professionals – can be important in helping you cope. There are many avenues of support available, whether online, with a health professional or in a support group with others who have breast cancer. It’s important to seek out support when you feel you need it.
Many people who have had breast cancer treatment worry that their cancer may return. This is a normal reaction to breast cancer and can be a cause of stress and anxiety for some people.
The article Fear of cancer recurrence includes more information on common worries that may follow breast cancer treatment and offers advice from health professionals on how you can manage this.
Here are some suggestions that may help you stay well emotionally:
My advice is to connect with a support group and see a professional who deals with oncology for your emotional wellbeing. They really understand, and don’t tell you to ‘get over it’.
Samantha was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2014, followed by metastatic breast cancer in 2019.
Alison shares her experience of living with breast cancer. From the intensity of diagnosis to the life lessons she’s learned along the way
Strategies to help those affected by an early breast cancer diagnosis
Reduce stress and enhance wellbeing during breast cancer care
Let’s be upfront about behavioural changes.
Let’s be upfront about the challenges for those living with metastatic breast cancer.
Let’s be upfront about anxiety in a cancer context.