When you share the news about an early-stage breast cancer diagnosis, friends and family often say it's a fight you're going to win.
But talking about advanced breast cancer is different. The condition is often treatable, but not curable. And whether it's your first diagnosis or cancer that’s come back, the news can be just as hard for you to say as it is for others to hear.
The people you tell may have big emotions and questions, but remember: You’re in control of each conversation you have about your condition. Keep a few things in mind as you think about how to begin.
The timing. You may not be ready to tell others right away, and that's OK. The only right time to share your news is when it feels right to you.
Prioritize your people. Who to tell, and when to tell them, is up to you. If it helps, write down or make a mental list of people you want to tell personally, and prioritize it. The list might include your spouse or partner, children, other family members, close friends, and co-workers. You can also choose someone else you trust to help you spread the news.
What metastatic means. Your friends and family may not understand what an advanced breast cancer diagnosis means. When you're ready to start sharing, this is a good topic to cover first.
Advanced breast cancer is also called metastatic breast cancer or stage IV. It means that your breast cancer has spread beyond your breast to other places in the body.
If you’ve had breast cancer before, it's important to set expectations that the finish line looks different this time. People often ask, "When will you be done with chemo?" If they understand that treatment is ongoing, it keeps you from having to answer questions down the road.
What's ahead? It's natural for everyone -- you and the people in your life -- to want to see the future.
Years ago, cancer doctors would give their patients an outlook of months or years left to live. But with advances in treatment, advanced breast cancer now is a one-step-at-a-time approach. One therapy may work for several years before you need to move on to another option. Tell them you're here today, and that's all anyone is guaranteed.
Ask for what you need. Those who care about you will want to know what you need right now. This question is worth thinking about beforehand. Would you like your partner to come to medical appointments? Do you need friends to run errands when treatment tires you out? Do you need someone who'll listen when you need to get something off your mind? If you don't have specific needs at the moment, tell people you'll let them know and that it's enough just to be there.
Beyond the big talk. Once you've told people about your diagnosis, it doesn't mean the lines of communication have to stay open 24/7. Sometimes you'll feel like talking about it and sometimes you won't. It's OK to say, "Thanks for asking, but I'm not open to talking about it right now."
Outside your circle of family and friends, you can lean on spiritual leaders, therapists, and oncology social workers. They can help you understand and manage emotions specific to your cancer.
Sometimes the most helpful support comes from people who've been there or are going through it, too. Ask your care team to recommend a support group for metastatic breast cancer you can be a part of, either in person or online.