It’s what every woman who has ever been diagnosed with breast cancer fears the most.
I learned that I had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in November of 2006. I will never forget how my knees buckled as the nurse called me in for my appointment. I was in too much pain not to know what I was about to hear. And I remember thinking, “This is what it would feel like if I were being led to my execution.”
The next few weeks passed in a haze of pain and shock. Plans for treatment had to move quickly, yet I felt I was in no shape to cope. But I got through it somehow (and a year and a half later am feeling much more optimistic).
Based on my experience with metastatic breast cancer, here’s some advice for getting through those first few weeks (some of this will also apply to anyone newly diagnosed with cancer).
1. Bring a friend or family member to appointments with you, even if this has not been your practice before now. They can help you take notes or just help to distract you. I very seldom go to appointments alone.
2. In the beginning (and at several points along the way) the flow of information can be overwhelming. If you have a friend with you, ask that person to take notes for you. This way, if you remember nothing afterwards (which has happened to me many times), you have a document to which you can refer. You can always take notes yourself, but if someone else is doing it, you can concentrate fully and benefit from a second pair of eyes and ears.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t understand something, speak up. If you receive contradictory advice, ask why this is the case. If you are told something (i.e. a test) will be scheduled and it is not, do some following up. And you are always entitled to know why any test is being performed or any medicine is being prescribed.
4. Keep a notebook handy, to jot down your questions as you think of them. Something that occurs to you as you are washing the dishes or out running errands may be forgotten once you are in the doctor’s office.
5. Go easy on yourself. I was in a lot of pain at the time of the mets diagnosis. My doctor prescribed pain killers as well as anti-anxiety medication. At first I was hesitant to take these, but they really did help me get through those difficult first few weeks. Figure out what you need to cope, and don’t feel guilty about it. If you have concerns, tell your doctor, she or he will make sure to help you ease off these drugs when right time comes.
6. Use the Internet wisely. The info you glean from a search of the web can leave you feeling depressed and discouraged, yet online support can be crucial to women with metastatic breast cancer. As a younger woman with kids, I found my support group online. I didn’t know anyone with mets in my community and I was able to connect with many women in my situation. Internet communities can provide a very special kind of peer support and be a source of hope as well. But stick to trusted web sites for your information and avoid those late night Google searches.
7. Figure out what makes you feel better and do it. If you want to talk about the mets, go ahead. If you want to be distracted by a silly movie, go for it. Laughter can really help, even if the humour may be a bit dark for some. Read books, take naps, indulge yourself. This is not the time to beating yourself up for not getting things done. Taking care of yourself, physically and emotionally (this becomes more complicated when you have children and I will devote an upcoming post entirely to that subject).
8. Don’t feel you have to manage other people’s emotions. It is entirely appropriate for you to tell one or two people and have them share the news with those you want to inform about the mets. In fact, it is perhaps best not to worry about how friends react to your news. Sometimes people can be much more supportive and helpful once they have had the chance to think things through.
Remember, too, that breast cancer metastases are now being treated as a chronic illness. Many of us are living happy, active lives while being treated for mets. And we are living longer than ever before, as new treatments are continuously being developed.
You can read more of my writing at Not Just About Cancer.
Published On: June 06, 2008