Worldwide, every year over 1 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common one facing American women today. The likelihood is that 1 in 8 women in America will cope with this disease during her lifetime. In October, designated as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, women are especially focused on early detection and improving the management of breast cancer, should it be diagnosed.
With mammography, MRI and physical exams leading to early detection, most breast cancers can be successfully treated today. The specific treatment can be worked out between you and your physicians, taking into account the tumor details. This year, an online word of mouth campaign, Until Every Woman Knows, has been started to raise awareness of a test that can help guide these treatment decisions.
With improved therapies, there are between 2 and 3 million American women living today who have survived breast cancer. As breast cancer survivors have learned, coping with any serious illness can take a toll on you – emotionally as well as physically. Here are some tips to help manage your recovery so that you can move forward with your life.
Accept your changing emotions as normal and give yourself permission to express them. After a brush with cancer, it is normal to feel many different emotions such as anger, fear, worry, anxiety, depression, stress or loss of control. It’s OK to express these to people you trust and acknowledge them to yourself. Only then can you begin to cope with them. For some ideas about how to develop better communication with a loved one when a serious illness like cancer intrudes, see an article on our website, Boomer Couples: Deepening Your Conversations about Serious Illness.
Recognize the changes in your body. You may feel that your body has betrayed you, leaving you feeling vulnerable and with a loss of innocence about your own invincibility. You will need to grieve this loss. In addition, you may be experiencing side effects of the treatment such as fatigue, stiffness, lymphedema, weight gain, as well as menopausal symptoms. Once you clarify for yourself how your body is reacting, you can address each of the symptoms in your efforts to alleviate them.
Draw upon others for support. Your family and friends can provide a network of comfort, encouragement and assistance. You may also want to join a breast cancer support group, either in person or on-line. Support is helpful in several ways – it gives you someone to listen to you when you need to express yourself, someone to give you information and feedback, someone to help you with practical matters such as an errand that needs to be done. Support will be there for you if you look for it. It may feel awkward at first to ask for help, but you’ll find friends want to do what they can for you.
So don’t let anything get in the way of becoming aware of breast cancer and taking care of yourself if you need to deal with it. Join us again on Wednesday when we’ll be offering more advice about living with a diagnosis of breast cancer. And for inspirational stories and tips about coping with significant stress, sign up for our newsletter, Stepping Stones, and receive a complimentary copy of our ebook, Courage and Lessons Learned.