With a breast cancer diagnosis comes a whole range of feelings.
Some of these feelings are brand new. Others are just old feelings, about self image and self worth, that tend to simmer on the back burner of our minds and now are front and center in our thoughts.
Whatever our feelings, we are not to judge ourselves harshly for having them. Feelings are feelings.
It is perfectly normal to have all kinds of feelings in the midst of active treatment for a potentially life-threatening illness. Here are some feelings common to many of us after a diagnosis of breast cancer:
- Fear-ongoing from time of diagnosis, through treatment and into survivorship including fear of: unknown, pain, disfigurement, loss of femininity, loss of hair, loss of attention from spouse or significant other and of being unable to take care of one’s, children, work and family responsibilities. All of us live with the fear of recurrence. Many fear the economic fallout of treatment costs and loss of time from work.
- Anger – At having breast cancer, changes in self image, changes in body image, self-confidence, time lost from work, personal and family activities missed due to treatment and side effects, having to learn to manage fears of recurrence, and the disappointment of some family and friends being emotionally unavailable.
- Mourning – The loss of a breast(s) hair, self image, body image, confidence, peace of mind.
- Confusion – How to handle treatment, telling family and friends, especially children, as well as employers.
- Guilt – Is our cancer because we smoked, drank, had a poor diet? If we have a genetic mutation, are we passing it on to our children? Is cancer is a punishment for something we did or didn’t do? Are we letting our spouse or family down, causing economic hardship. Are we a burden?
- Jealousy -Being jealous of the good health of others, their ability to enjoy life, their freedom from fear and pain and changes to their self-image.
- Impatience – having little tolerance for the concerns and worries of others that seem small and insignificant compared to what we are going through.
These feelings can be white-hot after initial diagnosis and during treatment. A loving network of support from family and friends goes a long way to ease the pain and discomfort of these feelings during that time. Talk to a trusted friend, spouse or family member; a person who is not judgmental, a good listener.
With time, most of the feelings will subside. If feelings continue that interfere with moving on with life as a survivor, it is time to get help. Being a survivor is a whole new place, full of promise. We want to be free to enjoy it.