“Advanced breast cancer doesn’t have to be a journey taken alone,” says Sony Sherpa, MD, a holistic doctor in Sacramento, CA. “Thankfully, you have vast support options and resources available to you.”
Your Doctor and Medical Team
Many cancer centers have a system of support in place that includes your doctor and other health care professionals. Keep in mind that they can’t help if you don’t share what’s going on. To get the support you need, be open with your questions and concerns.
“Sometimes patients don’t ask questions because they don’t want to bother their doctor or nurse, or they don’t think their questions are that important,”says Rebecca Crane-Okada, PhD, director of Cancer Navigation & Willow Sage Wellness Programs at the Margie Petersen Breast Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. “But your doctor is really the first place to start.”
If your doctor or medical team doesn’t seem to listen to you or respect your questions, or you’re not confident they have enough experience with advanced breast cancer, look for a new team.
Social Workers and Counselors
“Social workers, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, or licensed professional counselors help with grief and loss, coping and adjustment, and family communication,” says Crane-Okada. They may also have techniques to help you with symptoms like insomnia.
They may also help with practical things like housing, transportation, insurance, and financial aid questions. They may connect you with other resources and services, such as:
- Financial help
- Where and how to get a wig if you’d like one
- Help with problems that come up at work
- Insurance issues
- Transportation to medical appointments
Ask your doctor or cancer center for a referral. “Many cancer centers and hospitals now provide oncology social workers and counselors who can help you cope with the psychological, physical, and emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis,” Sherpa says.
Spiritual leaders and faith-based communities can offer comfort and support. They may help with practical things to make your daily life easier, like chores, meals, and transportation. They may also make you feel less alone and more supported. “A chaplain may be available to help with spiritual or religious concerns or questions,” says Crane-Okada.
Friends and Family
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Friends and family often want to help, but they’re not always sure what you need or what to offer. Try to be specific about what things they can do that will make your life easier and better.
For example, ask family and friends if they can drive you to appointments, watch your kids, help with groceries, or to simply be a shoulder to lean on.
Support Groups and Communities
Consider joining a support group, which may be led by an oncology social worker. They’re a great way to connect with other people going through a similar experience. They can also help you feel less alone, find valuable information, and learn new ways to cope. You can find support groups in local hospitals, cancer centers, community organizations, and online. Try the Komen Metastatic Breast Cancer group or search Facebook for metastatic breast cancer groups.
The amount and types of support you can get from nonprofit organizations and online resources is vast, Crane-Okada says. It ranges from toll-free helplines to information about your diagnosis and treatment to one-on-one counseling services you can get through teletherapy.
Try these online resources:
- American Cancer Society
- National Cancer Institute
- Patient Advocate Foundation
- National Coalition of Cancer Survivorship
- Cancer Support Community
- Cancer Care
- Cancer Net
You can have palliative care no matter your age, type, or stage of cancer. It’s for anyone who wants to feel better, manage symptoms, and get support with non-medical needs.
Talk to your doctor about your palliative care options before you start treatment. Palliative care often works best when you start it right after you’re diagnosed and before treatment. If you have palliative care during treatment, you may have less severe symptoms and a better quality of life.
There’s a lot you can do to support yourself as you manage advanced breast cancer.
Stay healthy. Eat well. Limit how much alcohol you drink. Avoid smoking. Manage stress the best you can. Stay on top of your medical checkups and tests.
Exercise regularly. Being physically active can help you feel stronger, boost your energy, and lower stress. It may also give you a sense of accomplishment and control. Talk to your health care team to create an exercise plan that works you.
Follow through with rehabilitation. If your doctor recommends cancer rehabilitation, you may have physical therapy, occupational therapy, pain management, nutritional planning, career counseling, or emotional counseling. These are helpful resources that can help you get more control of your life and stay independent.
Take care of what’s on your mind. If there’s something that feels unresolved in your life, taking care of it now can give you peace of mind. Consider facing whatever it is that’s making you feel bad. Maybe you want to fix a broken relationship with a family member or friend. Maybe you’re worried about getting your will and advance directive in place. These things can weigh on your mind, so it’s helpful to take care of them if you feel up to it.
Photo Credit: Mike Watson Images / Getty Images
Rebecca Crane-Okada, PhD, RN, CNS, AOCN.
Melanie Gore, CHyp.
Sony Sherpa, MD.
American Society of Clinical Oncology: “Breast Cancer - Metastatic: Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer,” “Breast Cancer – Metastatic: Palliative Care.”
Breastcancer.org: “8 Tips to Help You Move Forward After a Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis.”
CancerCare: “Metastatic Breast Cancer Patient Support Group.”
Susan G. Komen: “Support for People with Metastatic Breast Cancer.”