How will I cope?

Most patients experience psychological problems following the diagnosis of Breast Cancer and the most difficult period is between diagnosis and surgery or treatment. Breast Cancer patients will experience the following emotions:

  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • A sense of helplessness
  • A sense of powerlessness
  • Vulnerability
  • A sense of unfairness

Breast Cancer patients will also experience certain fears around their treatment such a fear of being sick, fear of being in pain, fear of the side effects of treatment and fear of disfigurement. It is important for all these fears to be discussed because many side effects of treatment and surgery can be alleviated. Knowing more about the treatment and realistic expectations of the course of management and the future will help. Anxiety about disfigurement after mastectomy can be allayed by remembering that reconstructive surgery is an option in most Breast Cancer cases.

What about my family?

Breast Cancer affects not only the patient but also the patient’s family and friends. Open communication between family members is important. Family may need time to understand and support their loved one undergoing such a difficult time. They may also have feelings of helplessness, shock and confusion. They may find it difficult to cope with these emotions and determine how best to support their loved ones.

Breast Cancer affects not only the patient but also the patient’s family and friends

Children and Teenagers

Children whose close relative (mother, sister or grandmother) has cancer are often aware of a change in their lives and those surrounding them. Even young children can sense that something is wrong and this may frighten them. There may be a change in the daily routine or absence of a loved one, and this can cause fear which manifests as anger or tantrums. They may consider that they are responsible and require reassurance that this is not the case. Open and honest communication is best, addressing all fears and discussing their feelings. They may have lots of questions which should be encouraged and answered in a way they will understand.

Telling children and young people the truth about illnesses and cancer, at a level they can understand and cope with, will reduce the stress, guilt or fear they may feel. Spend additional time with them and ensure that they have opportunity to spend quality time with the cancer survivor. Older children and teenagers may be expected to take on additional responsibilities in the family and it is important to remember they are still children who need loving support.


One of the hardness life events is coping with illness in your intimate partner. There may be feelings of fear, confusion or helplessness and an overwhelming concern which prevents communication. The key to navigating this difficult time is to maintain open and honest communication between partners with time protected to spend alone and discuss feelings.

Loving words and physical touch will remind your partner of your care. Another source of stress may be a change of role and responsibilities within the family, and concerns over financial well-being.

When a Breast Cancer patient requires spending a long period of time in hospital, there can also be difficulty maintaining good contact and communication, and the supporting partner may have a feeling of isolation or uselessness in their contribution to the treatment of their loved one. Often unrealistic expectations may need to be addressed, and it is important try and maintain life in the same way as it was before the diagnosis.

Intimacy issues between the patient and her partner should be addressed. It can be problematic because each partner must attempt to cope with their feelings. It may be difficult to express love physically in the same way as before, due to physical changes or emotional preoccupations. Finding new ways to express love and gain satisfaction is part of new methods of communication.

Some sexual problems may stem from the treatments for cancer themselves and others may be a result of emotional changes. Communication between partners and involvement of healthcare providers can often help identify problems which can be solved. Understanding unrealistic expectations or unhelpful feelings of anxiety or guilt will help the situation immeasurably, and there are many healthcare workers who wish to give help and advice.

The more someone knows about Breast Cancer and the treatment options available the better equipped they will be to deal with it. It is important for a partner, family, friends and health care practitioners to speak openly rather than pretending there are no problems or concerns.

Sometimes it may be helpful to speak to Breast Cancer survivors, a psychologist or a social worker.