Breast Cancer: Get the Support You Need

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, you owe it yourself to get help dealing with the many questions, problems, and emotions you're facing.

Here's how to do that.

How Can I Lower My Stress?

Maybe you feel uncertain about your future, the disease, or your finances. Your family members may be stressed out, too.

The warning signs include trouble sleeping, fatigue, body aches, pain, anxiety, irritability, tension, and headaches.

Here's what you can do:

  • Accept that there are things you can't control.
  • Try to keep a positive attitude.
  • Try to relax.
  • Be assertive instead of aggressive. Assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, combative, or passive.
  • Eat well-balanced meals.
  • Rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
  • Consider joining a support group, or find a way to talk about how you’re feeling.

How Can I Learn to Relax While Fighting Breast Cancer?

You can do a number of things. Deep breathing, muscle and mind relaxation, listening to music, and biofeedback can help. You can also try different relaxation techniques.

What Are Some Relaxation Exercises?

Before you try any exercise, set aside a quiet spot that’s free of distractions. Get comfortable, too -- sit or recline on a chair or sofa. Also try to block out worries and distracting thoughts.

You can try:

Two-minute relaxation. Switch your thoughts to yourself and your breathing. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly.

Mentally scan your body. Notice areas that feel tense or cramped. Quickly loosen up these areas. Let go of as much tension as you can.

Rotate your head in a smooth, circular motion once or twice. (Stop any movements that cause pain.) Roll your shoulders forward and backward several times. Let all of your muscles relax completely.

Recall a pleasant thought for a few seconds. Take another deep breath and exhale slowly. You should feel relaxed.

Mind relaxation. Close your eyes. Breathe normally through your nose. As you exhale, silently say to yourself the word "one," a short word such as "peaceful," or a short phrase such as "I feel quiet." Continue for 10 minutes.

If your mind wanders, gently remind yourself to think about your breathing and your chosen word or phrase. Let your breathing become slow and steady.

Deep-breathing relaxation. Imagine a spot just below your belly button. Breathe into that spot and fill your belly with air. Let the air fill you from the belly up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow breath out, you should feel more relaxed.

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How Can I Make My Life Better?

If you’re having a hard time managing your cancer and treatment, seek the help you need as soon as you can. Take action early on -- that will help you understand and deal with the many effects of your illness.

And when you manage your stress, that will help you keep a positive outlook on life.

What Types of Help Are Available?

Lots of professionals and groups can provide support to you or your family

Social workers are just one part of the caregiving team who can offer treatment in a compassionate setting. They can help you and your family talk about any concerns about your diagnosis, treatment, or personal situation.

They can provide education, counseling about lifestyle changes, and referrals to support groups. Your social worker can also help your family find a temporary place to stay near the hospital, provide information about community resources, and help you with other needs.

Individual counselors. You may feel more comfortable talking one-on-one with a counselor about your illness and its impact on your life and relationships.

Counseling services can help you or your family members talk about concerns and come up with ways to cope. Plus, mental health care professionals can create a treatment plan to meet your specific needs and gain a sense of control over your life and your quality of life. If necessary, they might prescribe you medicine to treat depression.

Support groups can help you learn new ways of dealing with your illness.

Sometimes, others who've been through similar experiences can explain things differently than your doctors do. And you'll gain strength in knowing that you're not facing this alone.

Remember that others may share information or experiences that don't apply to you. So never replace your doctor's medical advice with that given to you by another patient.

The American Cancer Society's Reach to Recovery program offers help to people with breast cancer. Trained volunteers who've had breast cancer themselves visit you at the doctor's request to lend support. Call 800-227-2345 for more information.

A financial counselor can answer questions you may have about money issues related to your medical care.

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How Do I Keep Track of My Medical Information?

  • Don't be afraid to ask your doctor, nurse, or another health care professional to repeat any instructions or medical terms you don't understand. They should always be available to answer your questions and address your concerns.
  • Take notes at your appointments so you can remember what your doctor told you. If you can, bring a friend or family member to your appointments. They can help take notes and ask questions.
  • Ask your family and friends to help you sort through the information you receive.
  • Use the resources and support services offered by your hospital and in the community. Learning more about your disease will help you feel more comfortable with your treatment.
  • Talk with other patients and families about breast cancer and its treatments.

What if I Become Unable to Make Decisions About My Health Care?

You may want to make documents called advance directives, such as a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care.

Your living will gives clear instructions regarding whether you want treatment that artificially prolongs your life, like dialysis or a ventilator. This document is prepared while you're able to make medical decisions. It's used only if you become unable to make your own decisions later.

Your durable power of attorney for health care lets you appoint another person to speak for you if you can't express what type of medical care you want.

Should I Write a Will?

No one likes to think about his or her own mortality, but everyone should have a will. It can ensure that those who survive you will know how to carry out your wishes. This document should be prepared with your attorney.

What Should My Family and Friends Keep in Mind?

Here are some tips for them:

  • Feel free to ask the doctor questions if you go with your loved one to her appointments.
  • Be prepared for changes in your loved one's behavior and mood. Medications, discomforts, and stress can cause her to become depressed, angry, or fatigued.
  • Encourage her to be as active and independent as possible.
  • Be realistic about your own needs. Get enough sleep, eat right, and take some time off for yourself. It's hard to offer much help when you're exhausted. If you take care of your needs, it may be easier to meet the needs of your loved one.
  • Don't hesitate to ask other family members and friends for help.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 08, 2015

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