Dealing With a Breast Cancer Recurrence

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • dis·tress – noun. Great pain, anxiety, or sorrow; acute physical or mental suffering; affliction; trouble. (

    A recent Swedish study of postmenopausal women with recurrent breast cancer reports that “…distress has a severe impact on quality of life.” Yes, it would seem fairly self-evident that “great pain, anxiety… acute physical and mental suffering…” etc. would severely impact one’s quality of life. Why bother funding a study to confirm what we already know?

    Why? Because it’s good for all of us in the cancer community – healthcare workers, patients, and caregivers alike – to be reminded that this disease isn’t just physical. With time, the residual side effects of treatment can all but disappear. But the emotional impact of breast cancer on our lives is unrelenting and powerful. And in order to be healthy emotionally (as well as physically), we need to respect and validate our emotions. Because only then can we live with them… or let them go.

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    The range of emotional responses to breast cancer is huge. Some women immediately dig in and prepare for a fight. Some hand themselves over to God, connecting with their church community. Some are so angry that they literally bubble over with rage, decrying their misfortune to anyone who’ll listen. And some women do a mental shrug, sigh, and go about their business, incorporating cancer treatment into the daily routine, meanwhile trying not to think about its possible implications.

    Which one of these are you?

    None, right? That’s because all of us have our own personal response to cancer; there’s no such thing as a “typical” cancer patient. Me, I never felt anger–not for a single moment. Fear, yes. Misery, of course. But anger? Nah. I figure I drew the short straw; SOMEONE has to, why not me? But Judy Kolbaba, adding a comment to one of my recent SharePosts, said, “I could have done without experiencing this beast, and having to live in Cancer World, and be concerned for my children and their children.”


    Judy sounds like she’s angry. And expressing it. Which is exactly what she should be doing. She respects her feelings enough not to bury them, but to put them out there for the world to see. And that’s not only strong, it’s healthy.

    By both recognizing and expressing your feelings, it becomes easier to direct them: to let them go if they’re hurting you, to embrace them if they make you feel good. The worst thing you can do is smile if you don’t mean it, or put on a brave face if you’re inwardly curled into a ball and shaking with fear.


    Find a safe place to let it all out – here on this site, for instance – and howl. In despair, in anger… or in happiness. If you’re reading this and have never created a SharePost, give it a try. You have nothing to lose but your pain.

    Oh, and that Swedish study? Researchers concluded that “The care of women with recurrent breast cancer must be based upon the awareness of critical factors that exacerbate the vulnerability to distress throughout the disease trajectory.”


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    In other words, there’s more to breast cancer treatment than a woman’s physical reaction to surgery and drugs. But we knew that, didn’t we?

Published On: November 30, 2007