Coping with Emotions After a Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis

“Maintaining a positive outlook on this battle is important for your well-being.”

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“Following a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, patients can experience a wide variety of emotions,” says Natalie Berger, MD, hematologist and oncologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital. 

It’s normal to feel sadness, disbelief, or even anger after a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer. “This is an extremely difficult time in your life, and this may be one of the hardest things you've ever heard. … It’s really important to cope with these emotions in the way that's right for you, so you can work through them and fight this with everything you have,” says Dr. Berger.

To help cope with your emotions following a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, Dr. Berger recommends the following: 

1. Talk to your care team

Your care team for metastatic breast cancer may be able to direct you to various support systems—some of which might even be in your cancer care facility. Many oncology facilities now have therapists, social workers, or other mental health professionals who can help you through your feelings during treatment.  

2. Attend a support group

“Support groups are an excellent way to connect with people who are going through something similar to you,” says Dr. Berger.

Even if you’re someone who doesn’t want to talk about your own experience in front of others, you may still find therapeutic value in attending and listening to others with similar experiences—you’re not required to talk. 

3. Stay active

“When it comes to side effects of treatments, I tell my patients that nothing is more important than getting up and staying active, even when they feel fatigued. Even just taking a few minutes of walking or going outside a few times a day can be extremely helpful,” says Dr. Berger.

In fact, studies show that physical activity is one of the best non-pharmacologic interventions to relieve pain and fatigue for cancer patients and survivors, according to a 2018 article from the journal Oncotarget. (Here are more tips for relieving pain and fatigue during cancer treatment.) 

Physical activity during cancer treatment has other benefits, such as improving your strength and balance to reduce your risk of falls, lowering your risk of heart disease and osteoporosis, reducing feelings of depression or anxiety, and improving self-esteem.

4. Speak to a nutritionist

What does a nutritionist have to do with feeling better during cancer treatment? Turns out, there are many benefits to following good nutrition as you go through the treatment process for metastatic breast cancer, and a nutritionist—especially one who has experience working with cancer patients—can help you determine what works for you.

Good nutrition during cancer treatment can help you improve your strength and energy, tolerate treatment side effects, and just feel better overall, according to the American Cancer Society. On the other hand, not getting adequate calories or nutrients can worsen the lethargy caused by the cancer treatments and the cancer itself.

5. Live your life to the fullest

“After the diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, it's important to continue doing the things that are important to you. If you want to continue to go to work, go to work. If you want to continue with hobbies and other interests that are important to you, I encourage my patients to do that,” says Dr. Berger. 

However you choose to fill your days—work, vacation, painting, yoga, relaxing with friends, and so on—it’s beneficial to practice positivity.  “There is hope. Maintaining a positive outlook and attitude on this battle is very important for your emotional and physical well-being,” says Dr. Berger.