Our bodies and minds work in mysterious ways — treat yours with compassion, especially while battling cancer.
Receiving a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis brings an ocean of change in one fell swoop — and it an be hard to stop blaming yourself. Between understanding your breast cancer stage, scheduling and managing your treatment routine, coping with symptoms and side effects, and combatting a swirl of emotions, self-care is going to be your life jacket.
Women especially can be hard on themselves as traditional caretakers. Becoming the patient in need of extra care can turn your world upside down. It’s important to not add to the weight on your shoulders by allowing anxiety to turn to guilt or shame.
How it might feel to receive a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis
As natural problem solvers, humans can fall down the rabbit hole trying to discern where they went wrong to better understand the outcome. However, science shows there is no one reason why one person over another develops cancer.
“There are behaviors that [we know are responsible for] many cancers — whether it's obesity, sedentary behavior, alcoholism, tobacco, but in general, no one causes their pancreatic cancer or their breast cancer,” says oncologist Paula Klein, MD. “And there are patients who think they did, and our job is to change that thinking.”
Certain habits may increase your risk, but there are plenty of high-risk people who never develop it. Meanwhile, others who appear to be at the pinnacle of health mysteriously need cancer treatment. Whichever camp you fall into, it’s important to know you are not alone.
Why you should stop blaming yourself
Your empathy and fears of the future might cause you to feel guilty. However, this thought pattern is unhelpful at best and debilitating at worst. If you let your feelings swallow your will to keep fighting, then you might lose motivation to go to treatments. You may even want to hide things from your doctor.
“There's a whole host of emotions patients feel when they receive a diagnosis of advanced cancer,” says Dr. Klein. “We constantly will say, ‘Don't look back, let's look forward.’”
On the other hand, you may envy other people's good fortune and health and feel ashamed that your mind wandered there. Still, it’s perfectly natural and understandable. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, without feeding into them further. When you stop blaming yourself for your breast cancer, you may be better able to trust your oncologist to find the right treatment for you.
Resources to address complex emotions regarding diagnosis
There are many tools for coping with your cancer diagnosis that reach far beyond your typical chemotherapy, radiation, or first aid kit. Talk to your care team about:
- Therapy to treat your anxiety and/or depression in ways that best help you learn.
- Visiting with an oncology social worker, patient navigator, or nurse with experience in supporting patients — like you. They have seen it all, can recognize patterns, and know better than anyone outside your care team what you are going through.
- Engage in hobbies and ways to relieve stress. Be open to more abstract or nontraditional mechanisms like massage, hypnosis, meditation, yoga, or acupuncture. These grounding exercises can drop you back into your body and connect you to your physical needs.
- Exploring metastatic breast cancer support groups. They can be a great source for some patients, but different group dynamics work better for some than others, so be patient in finding the right vibe. Still, every patient can benefit from receiving friendship and an intimate understanding of your condition, for when the words fail you with well meaning friends and family.
Learn more about what’s important to keep in mind while talking to your doctor, an oncology social worker, or a support group.
Paula Klein, MD, is a hematologist and oncologist at the Dubin Breast Center of the Mount Sinai Health System.
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