A breast cancer diagnosis can seem daunting at first, but getting the help you need can ease the burden of treatment and survivorship.
Hearing the news you have breast cancer can be crushing.
I’ll never forget the day, in 2018, when I was diagnosed. One in eightTrusted Source U.S. women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, and now I am one.
After the shock, you feel worried about having a severe illness. First, there are lots of well-wishes. Later, you may want support from someone who understands what you’re going through.
Support is crucial when it comes to navigating and getting through treatment. A 2017 studyTrusted Source suggests there’s a link between having a strong social support network and breast cancer survival. A 2020 study found that women with strong support after a diagnosis were more likely to be active participants in their cancer care.
Luckily, beyond just family and friends, there’s so much support available after a breast cancer diagnosis. However, I know firsthand that finding the support you need can be time consuming when you’re already exhausted.
Here’s where to start.
The first place to start is your oncologist’s office. Your doctor will have a staff member, social worker, or case manager who collaborates with you to explain terms, treatment options, and offer guidance.
Ask as many questions as possible. Often, the office will have a list of local resources. A nurse at my doctor’s office gave me a package of information about organizations that provide support groups, rides to appointments, and financial assistance.
Keep all the resources you receive in case you need them later.
Cancer can make you feel lonely and isolated. Finding a supportive community can help you be proactive in your treatment and connect with others from anywhere.
“Being connected to other patients and survivors can help alleviate the feeling of isolation and normalize challenging emotional and physical experiences during medical treatment,” says Debra Howard, PhD, a licensed clinical social worker who treats breast cancer patients.
Find a support network you trust. There are several types of groups led by survivors, professionals, and organizations that offer assistance, resources, and tips for you and your caregiver online, by phone, or in person.
A few organizations to get started with include:
- Breastcancer.orgTrusted Source
- Susan G. Komen Foundation
- National Cancer InstituteTrusted Source
- American Cancer SocietyTrusted Source
In addition, online communities, like the BC Healthline peer support community, can be an approachable — and convenient — way to meet others who know what it’s like. The community is easy to navigate and very helpful. You can participate in live nightly chats and check out general discussions on a wide variety of breast cancer topics.
The stress of living with breast cancer can be all-consuming. It’s important to make sure you put yourself first.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) definesTrusted Source complementary and alternative medicine as medical products and services that are not part of standard care but can help you cope with side effects, fatigue, and anxiety, as well as make you feel empowered.
Examples of complementary therapies include:
Check nearby schools and universities, or the NCI-Designated Cancer Centers listTrusted Source, to find complementary services.
I found the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Health Systems provided a weekly schedule of complementary interventions. Over several months I participated in nutrition education, art and music therapy, meditation, fitness training, and chaplain services that helped reduce my anxiety.
The Center offers complementary survivorship care interventions because “science and research have shown those interventions are very powerful and can increase the chances of patients staying emotionally and physically well, and also decrease the chance of having breast cancer recurrence and other cancer occurrence,” says Carmen Calfa, MD, a breast medical oncologist and co-director of Cancer Survivorship and Translational Behavioral Sciences at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Calfa encourages her patients to know what they need and be their own best advocates.
“Know that treatment doesn’t end with chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery and there are some other treatments that have no side effects and yet have a significant benefit,” she says.
Despite all the care, love, and support, depression may increase as managing treatment takes over your life.
“It’s not unusual for patients going through a serious illness to feel overwhelmed, and it’s important for them to go at their own pace when experiencing challenges,” says Howard.
To find a therapist with experience working with people living with breast cancer, you can ask your oncologist or personal network, or visit CancerCare.org. The organization helps patients with counseling by phone and finding local resources.
It’s important to have people who can support you during a difficult time. Reaching out for support can help you feel like you’re not fighting alone.
Cancer care is expensive — even if you have great insurance. Financial worries can impactTrusted Source your ability to care for yourself during treatment.
Adding a financial adviserTrusted Source to your treatment team can help alleviate some stress.
Also, be sure to ask your doctor or treatment center for cost estimates and any assistance programs. Many doctors and hospitals partner with foundations and organizations to assist with finances and everyday expenses.
Be sure to check qualifications. Some programs require that you either be in treatment or have a time limit after treatment.
Trying to manage your life and treatment alone can become taxing.
A breast cancer diagnosis can seem daunting at first, but having a network, connecting with others, and getting the help you need can ease the burden of treatment and survivorship.
Barbara Jacoby is an award winning blogger that has contributed her writings to multiple online publications that have touched readers worldwide.