When you find out that you have metastatic breast cancer, it can take time to come to terms with that and what your next steps may need to be.

Like many other tough situations you may have faced, there are things you can control and things you can't. Here's how taking care of yourself looks right now. You don't have to figure it all out immediately, but every step builds peace of mind for your future.

List Your Questions

Every doctor's appointment involves two kinds of questions: the ones you ask and the ones your doctor asks you.

 

Before you go, think ahead about some of the questions your doctor will ask you, including pain control, your goals for care, and what treatment options you want to consider. You don’t have to decide on the spot. Take some time to work through what's most important to you.

Then make a list of every question you have, what you can expect over the next 3, 6, and 9 months, medicines and their side effects, and which treatments -- including clinical trials and integrative therapies (regular medicine plus complementary remedies) to do in addition to your other care (like acupuncture or massage) -- are good options for you.

Always make your last question: Is there anything I haven't asked that I should know? Take notes, bring someone who can help, or ask your doctor for permission to record the conversation. If you don't understand an answer, say so.

If you can bring a friend or partner to your doctor appointments, that may help you remember to cover all your questions and what answers you got.

Consider Getting a Second Opinion

Some people like to pick one course of treatment and go with it. Others prefer to shop around. It’s OK to want to know if another doctor might have a different plan for treatment. Some insurance plans require it.

If seeking a second opinion feels right to you, find out what your policy covers and get prepared. To make the most of the visit, ask your doctor for copies of your pathology report, details of your current treatment plan, and a list of any care you’ve already gotten. If you had surgery, the hospital can provide you with copies of your operative report and discharge summary.

Decide How to Share the News

It's up to you to share it however, whenever, and with whomever you want. Whether it's a recurrence or new diagnosis, none of it is easy, but it helps to know what you want to say before you say it.

Sharing the news with a partner or spouse is different from telling a child, older relative, or co-worker. It may help to make a list of people you want to tell personally, then jot down a few things you want each to know.

Be ready for it to be emotional. But remember, you need to take care of yourself, so take your time until you're ready.

Rethink Work

If you have a job and want or need to keep working, think about how it fits into your treatment process. For some, it provides a sense of purpose and social interaction. And many people need to work for financial or health care reasons.

Share what feels right with your employer, and keep the lines of communication open. Some treatments may cause memory problems, so let your doctor know if you plan to keep working. In the meantime, get to know your employer's short- and long-term disability options in case you decide to take time off down the road.

Tap Your Support System

Support is all around you, from your health care team to family, friends, and online or in-person groups of those going through the same thing. Don’t hesitate: Reach out when you need help. Sometimes, acquaintances or even people you don’t know well turn out to be amazing listeners. Be open to all people and possibilities, including mental health professionals and faith or spiritual advisors.

Stay Present

Live in the now. Plan for the future. You may live a long time with your breast cancer.

There’s some homework to check on. Make sure all of the official documents that express your wishes and that take care of your loved ones -- such as a will, a living will, power of attorney, and advance directives -- are up to date. Keep these, including insurance policies, in a safe place and give access to those you trust.

But think beyond that. Try to stay hopeful, and remember that there may be many positive possibilities still ahead.

WebMD Medical Reference

WebMD Voices

Lisa B.
Coral Springs, FL
Within the past 14 years, I've been on chemo and hormone therapy. The part that gives me hope is new drugs and therapies are more abundant then 20 years ago, with more to come. Every day, breast cancer is my shadow, but is not my life.
Linda L.
Saddle River, NJ
Be your own advocate. If you have a question for your doctor and don't understand the answer, ask again. If it's difficult to speak up, ask a relative or friend to go with you. If you're not comfortable with your doctor or the treatment she recommends, get a second opinion.
Mary G.
Oregon, WI
Swimming helps my whole body relax and relieves my aching bones. Reaching and pulling strokes stretch out and massage my arm. Yoga keeps my breathing calmer, and I use techniques I learn in class to help me go to sleep at night.
Fabianna M.
Dover, NH
Celebrate small successes. It's about progress towards wellness, not an all-or-nothing scenario. After surgery, it was a while before I could drive. The day I got back in the driver's seat, I drove myself to the beach. I remember sitting on a bench for an hour, reveling in the joy of taking my life back.
Mary R.
Livonia, MI
When I was first diagnosed, I was in shock. Getting information helped. My husband and children helped by listening and allowing me to cry when I needed to. I also formed a support group at my hospital. Talking as a group and forming friendships is very helpful. We all know what each of us is going through.
Catriona M.
Canal Winchester, OH
Ask family and friends for help and support. It's so easy to want to try to do it all, but people really do want to help you. You'll need every ounce of strength you have, so let people bring meals and clean your house if they want to. For many, it's how they show they love and care about you.
Suzanne K.
San Francisco, CA
Put your energy elsewhere, in a better place. I got involved with new challenges that inspired me. I joined a new company. I got involved with the Cashmere Foundation, which brings the spa experience to patients undergoing chemotherapy. I feel I'm able to pay back, or perhaps pay it forward, while helping others.
Mary G.
Oregon, WI
Bring a support person to your first appointment to take notes and listen. Learn all you can on reputable websites. Breathe. Gather your inner circle of supportive friends and lean on them. It's OK to be mad as hell. There will be good and bad days. On bad days, think of the good ones just around the corner.
Sheila M.
Swansea, IL
For a very long time, I didn't accept it. When I finally did, I stopped worrying about things that were beyond my control and I started enjoying life. Having MBC has given me a new purpose through my advocacy work with Metavivor's Serenity Project. I want women to stand on my shoulders of hope and love.
Mary R.
Livonia, MI
I always feel better when I'm rested. I sleep 10-12 hours many days. Smiling and having a good sense of humor makes difficult situations better. I don't worry about small things anymore. Meditation, music, and massages help. I also cope by coloring and sewing, when I have the energy.
Sheila M.
Swansea, IL
People often tell me, "Well, you should do this or you should do that." There's no right or wrong answer on how we deal with this disease. I've learned to deal with it on my own terms and in my own way. I continue to let my faith guide me, and I continue to lean on my family and friends for support.
Lisa B.
Coral Springs, FL
In addition to treatment, I do daily meditation, which calms my body as well as my mind. I find it to be very peaceful. I also find walking and yoga to be a form of relaxation -- and it's healthy. I call it ‘doing my homework.' The drugs are doing their job, and it's my responsibility to take care of me.
Lauren H., 39
Oakley, CA
Many with stage IV hate the comment, ‘Well, you don't look sick at all!' This both implies that I should look weak and sad all the time. And since I don't, I'm throwing off their expectations of what someone with cancer should look like.
Jeanette R., 47
Advance, NC
This cancer has been an odd gift, opening my eyes to the beauty in the little everyday things in life. Slow down, pause, savor it. Repeat. … The more I pray for it and practice, the easier it gets.
Lara M., 42
Louisville, KY
The corner … I lived in fear of looking around it for nearly 5 years. Over time, I've learned how to live more fully present instead of worrying about the perceived future.
Ericia L., 42
Massillon, OH
It's about facing one's mortality while trying to keep the courage to continue on for your family. It's like walking through mud with high heels on. You slip and fall and then you get up and try again, over, and over, and over. Sometimes you stay down for a while, sometimes someone throws you a rope to help, but the mud is always there.
Suzi M., 54
White Cloud, MI
I lift up life with cancer with music! With a good soundtrack, I can get through anything. My life consists of various soundtracks that helped me through some of the most difficult times in my life.
Danielle W., 35
Green Bay, WI
Have I done everything that I wanted to do in life? Hell no! My kids are only 8. I’m 34 years old. But I’ll continue to live my life to the fullest with my kids’ happiness first and foremost.
Jeanette R., 47
Advance, NC
I haven’t felt like there has been any new news, but in reflection, that’s not entirely true. Every day that I wake up and get to go to work to help support my family is good news. Every day that I get to spend being a wife and mother is good news.
Lauren H., 39
Oakley, CA
The truth is, I’m not good at having stage IV cancer. I didn’t plan for this, and there aren’t books called 'How to be the Best Version of You With a Stage IV Diagnosis' to provide me with nine steps for dealing with my diagnosis. Instead, I figure it out every day.
Keeli A., 37
Erie, CO
My family’s priorities have changed. We take more vacations, worry about little things less. I’m trying to make my children’s childhood rich with memories and love. When they look back on me, I want them to remember the fun we had, not the illness.
Lara M., 42
Louisville, KY
I focus on gratitude for the moments my family shared, instead of tearfully wishing I could be back on my paddleboard, listening to the laughter of our kids jumping the crashing waves. I focus on the blessings here.
Carlene B., 49
Newfields, NH
I found Hope Scarves. Sending a scarf and a story of hope is such a heart-centered way to send support and love. So many people put their love and good energy into the scarves, the stories, and even the packaging -- how could you not feel that on the other end?
Dalynn C., 42
Lawrenceburg, KY
Life by the yard is hard; by the inch it’s a cinch.’ This concept was especially helpful to me. Going through chemo, it became my mantra: get through today, then we’ll deal with tomorrow. Get through chemo, then we’ll deal with surgery. Get through surgery, then we’ll deal with radiation. And so on.
Lara M., 42
Louisville, KY
We aren’t letting this derail our family’s life. We’re going to take the information as information, make a plan, and treat it. Sitting home and crying doesn’t help anything.

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