Writer / LaDonna Wattley
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related death for women in the United States. There are several forms of breast cancer and symptoms vary greatly. While it does occur in males, most newly diagnosed patients are female with a close biological relative who has also battled cancer.
Diagnosis and treatment may take a toll.
Though it is imperative to focus on the physical manifestations of cancer, a patient’s mental and emotional health are equally important. Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can be incredibly upsetting, and you may not know where to turn for support. This distress may continue from the time of initial diagnosis throughout treatment, which can be a lengthy process. Consequently, patients discover that their relationships, energy levels and overall mental well-being are negatively impacted.
These factors can lead to chronic stress, anxiety and depression. You should seek help if you experience sleep disturbances, changes in overall mood, lack of joy or interest in activities you usually enjoy, changes in appetite that result in weight gain or loss, difficulty concentrating, or using alcohol or drugs to reduce stress. Taking care of your mental well-being after diagnosis and during treatment can improve your quality of life and help you get through the difficult road ahead.
Returning to “normal” can be difficult.
Cancer treatment can be stressful, but life after cancer is often tough to manage as well. Post-treatment, many patients struggle to resume pre-cancer life and activities. Ongoing fatigue, fear of recurrence, relationship changes and uncertainty about the future make it challenging to return to life as usual. These struggles are normal and those dealing with them are not alone. Don’t expect everything to be as it was before diagnosis. Patients should give themselves time to adjust.
There are options for support.
Though breast cancer can be a frightening experience, you do not have to face it alone. There are oncology social workers on staff at most hospitals and cancer treatment facilities. These professionals provide emotional support, resources and mental health counseling to cancer patients and their caregivers. Additionally, support groups are an emotional lifeline for many breast cancer patients. Though everyone’s journey is unique, connecting with others going through a similar experience can ease feelings of isolation and fear.