What’s Next After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis?

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on March 26, 2023
3 min read

You recently found out you have breast cancer. That's huge news, and no doubt there's a lot swirling around in your head. That’s normal. But you can take steps to move forward. It will help you feel more in control and ready for what's ahead.

Accept your feelings. When you first get your diagnosis, you might feel a mix of shock and worry to anger and sadness. You may just feel numb. Just remember that there’s no “right” way to feel. Your emotions can change, sometimes frequently. While many people with cancer may have feelings in common, your cancer experience will be unique to you.

Get the facts. Knowledge is power. The more information you have about what to expect, the more prepared and hopefully less stressed you’ll be. Talk to your health care team about the type and stage of breast cancer you have. Find out about your treatment options and the success rates for each one. Ask about possible side effects. Talk about how your breast cancer and your medical care might affect your lifestyle. If you hunt for information on your own, look for reliable sources. Message boards and support groups are filled with people trying to be helpful. But sometimes the info you hear and read isn't always right.

But so much information can be overwhelming. To help you make sense of it all, write things down. Make a list of questions to ask before your doctor’s appointments. Write down the answers and read your notes back to the doctor. Ask if they have printed materials they can give you. Bring along a friend or family member you trust that can step in if they see you need help to catch up.

Create a support system. You may feel better talking to other people who have cancer. They're going through the same things you are and share the same feelings. Ask your doctor or search online to find a breast cancer support group. Or you may prefer talking to a close friend or family member, a counselor, or a member of your religious group. Choose someone you know is a good listener. Talk when you feel like talking.

Plan ahead. During your treatment and while you recover, you may need to get help with daily tasks for a little while. Plan for someone to take the kids to school, walk the dog, or go grocery shopping. If you live alone, you may need to move in with someone while you're getting treatment. Friends and family members often want to help but don’t know how. Don’t be afraid to let them know how they can pitch in.

Decide what to say to friends and family. If you tell people about your cancer, you give them a chance to help and share their support. Only you know who you feel comfortable telling and when is the right time. Some people may seem uneasy and won't know what to say. But most people will want to comfort you and know how they can help.

Think about what to say at work. Again, who you tell about your diagnosis is up to you. You may want to keep your health private from all but your closest co-workers. You might have to take time off or adjust your schedule for treatments. Then, of course, you'll have to talk to your boss or your human resources department to make plans. See if you can work at home some days. That will give you more energy, especially if you don't feel well. Plan treatments on weekends or late afternoons so you have time to feel better.

Consider a second opinion. You might feel like you need to hurry and get treatment right away. But it's often a good idea to make sure your diagnosis is right and your treatment plan is on track. Ask your doctor -- or another doctor you trust -- to refer you to a breast cancer specialist. Bring all your medical records so they can get a complete picture of your health. Call your insurance provider. Ask if they will pay for the second office visit. Many do, but see if there's anything special you have to do.

A breast cancer diagnosis will have a big impact on your life. But be proactive now and it will be easier to handle the changes and challenges that may be coming your way.