Riding the mastectomy emotional rollercoaster
“It’s breast cancer; it’s a bitch; it’s going to be a rollercoaster of emotion.”
A statement any woman just diagnosed with boob cancer should repeat over and over, according to survivor Emily Tonderton. The 38-year-old had a double mastectomy, followed immediately by years of Post Mastectomy Reconstruction Syndrome (PMRS) — a condition experienced by up to half of the women who have breast cancer surgery.
“I found I experienced such a wide range of emotions with breast cancer, it was far easier to just remember the above. It is what it is and the sooner you accept the emotions will be unmanageable, uncontrollable and inconsistent, the more you’ll find a speck of control,” she added.
Another important piece of advice from breast cancer fighters is to accept not everyone will cope in the same way. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another; the support one woman found helpful could be the worst idea for somebody else. Things can change with different stages in the journey and it’s important to stay vocal and reach out and not become isolated and alone. A great source is www.verywellhealth.com which highlights some of the emotions and concerns that are common at three important times in a breast cancer journey.
When you are first diagnosed
Tidal waves of emotion will come and go for you, as well as your family and friends. You may not have all of these emotions, but some of the emotional states you may experience could be denial and shock; stress and depression; grief and fear; acceptance and adjustment; fight and hope. You ask yourself questions, not limited to, but perhaps including: "this can't be true”, “this isn’t fair”, “I’m going to die but I don’t want to”, “I’m going to lose part of my body”, "I'm going to fight for my life! I'm getting all the help and support that's out there for me”.
Tips for coping
It’s not unusual to feel at a complete loss after a new diagnosis and coping can be challenging. It’s ok to not know where to begin. One of the best first steps is to ask for help. And when you ask, be willing to receive help. Being diagnosed with breast cancer is not a time to be a hero. Accept help, develop new relationships and discover old ones you never really knew you had.
Whether your treatment course includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or a combination, you may have lots of unanswered questions. Educating yourself about these treatments and associated side effects can help reduce your concerns. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There’s going to be concern about disfigurement, which is normal. "After surgery, will I still be attractive?", “can I even survive the treatment?", "will my treatments be really effective?", "how is this affecting my family?", "will I lose my job?".
Tips for coping
Speak to your doctors as well as other patients who have gone through this experience, or reach out to a local support group.
The final stages
This is the point in your journey when you may want to knock out the next person who says, "all you need to survive cancer is a positive attitude”. That’s also very, very normal, as many survivors will tell you. Yes, staying positive with cancer can make you feel better, but it's very important to express your negative emotions, too. While there aren't any studies that tell us having a positive attitude is effective, suppressing negative thoughts can lead to depression. This is the time to reach out again, as this stage can feel a little lonely. Early diagnosis has everyone rushing to your side, however it’s not uncommon for them to seemingly go back to their own lives as time goes on.
Tips for coping
Find a nonjudgmental friend you can share these less-than-positive thoughts with and vent. It may feel uncomfortable for you to reach out again, but in the long run you'll be glad you did. Breast cancer treatment is a marathon, not a sprint.