WebMD senior writer Miranda Hitti interviewed breast cancer survivors as
part of a series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The series, called “Me
& the Girls,” explores the personal stories of these women after they were
diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast cancer survivor Tammy Joyner, 49, lives in the Atlanta area. When
Joyner was 45 years old, she went to see her gynecologist after noticing some
breast changes -- aches and soreness that she wasn't used to.
"I said, 'Something's...
"I do think cancer has more impact on emotions and emotional
relationships than other catastrophic diseases, because with cancer, death is
often the first thing people flash on. There's an immediate shock and emotional
impact that few other illnesses have," says Katherine Puckett, LCSW,
national director of Mind-Body Medicine at the Cancer Treatment Centers of
America in Chicago.
Moreover, Puckett says that the uncertainty of the disease itself enhances
that impact. "It's the not knowing aspect of breast cancer that
increases the emotionality in regard to all your relationships. It heightens
anxiety, but it heightens and changes everything in your life," says
But the changes, she says, don't have to be negative.
Indeed, for some women, breast cancer can be the catalyst that turns casual
friendships into deep and meaningful bonds, that brings couples closer, that
helps the family unit become stronger and more cohesive.
For others, however, it can be a lonely and isolating time -- a period of
life when people we counted on most seem to all but disappear.
So what is it that determines how breast cancer will affect you and the
people in your life? Experts say it’s often linked to a willingness to
let others share your burden, something that doesn't come easy for many
"Women are the caregivers. We are used to taking care of everyone else,
so it can be a huge emotional struggle to give up some of that control and let
people in. Even with illness, women still want to handle everything on their
own," says Gloria Nelson, LSCW, senior oncology social worker at the
Montefiore/Einstein Cancer Center in New York City.
Moreover, experts say, many women view asking for help as a sign of
weakness, so they won't allow even those who want to help to do so.
"They think that needing help means they have no willpower or strength.
But in reality, being able to share your feelings and ask for help when you
need it is a sign of strength that can strengthen the relationships in your
life when you need them the most," says Mauricio Murillo, MD, an
onco-psychiatrist and director of Supportive Services at the NYU Cancer Center
in New York City.
So where -- and how -- do you begin to do that? The best way to start,
say experts, is with honest, open communication with family and friends.