No two cancer experiences are exactly alike. Your journey is as personal as your biology. So, you could look at your situation and say, “I’m not handling this well” or “Nothing seems to be working for me”. Those kinds of comments might stem from listening to and following advice that is not catering to your type of cancer and stage.
Cancer is an umbrella term, and while you can find common ground among other cancer patients, some experiences are unique to your own situation. Common side effects of cancer such as depression, anxiety, restricted mobility, compromised sexual identity and self-worth are not experienced the same way across the board.
Breast cancer-specific struggles have a lot to do with feminine identity, The breasts impact different points of the female identity: beauty and child-rearing, which affect mental and emotional wellbeing. Something to also bare in mind is that some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy can affect female fertility. Many women still become pregnant after treatments, however for the number that don’t this would be incredibly difficult.
Self-care is participating in activities that affirm who you are. You are human therefore you need to eat well and stay hydrated. You are alive therefore you need to exercise and participate in activities requiring you to move. You are a social being (even when introverted) therefore you need to be a part of a community.
Getting past the side effects of chemotherapy like hair loss does not mean forcing yourself to “blend in” or “stand out”. It is by making a choice that lets you feel more like yourself. If having an elaborate skin care routine or wearing make-up feels more natural, then, by all means, do it.
You may struggle with your body image or sexual identity. The best way to deal with it is to find security in your relationships. Relationships are not shallow; they are deep roots that go past your physical appearance and abilities. Communicate your feelings and work together to grow past the illness. If you have fears about how it can affect your fertility or breastfeeding, do not keep them hidden. Do not assume you can get past these issues on your own. Discuss these issues with your partner.
There are times when people can only imagine the depth of your feelings. Finding a breast cancer support group online or in person, with others who are struggling or in remission, can be a safe space that allows you to mentally and emotionally adjust to your circumstances.
While you are caring for your present circumstance, be ready for the future. Research about aftercare and ways you can adjust to your new life. Some women look at reconstruction surgery, prosthetics, or padded bras. Some people make permanent diet shifts and adopt exercise routines. Read up on other people’s experiences, new research, and commentary. Participate in organizations, not necessarily for breast cancer alone but for any cause that is close to your heart. Planning for the future is a way for you to keep a healthy mindset.
The three ways listed for coping with breast cancer all boil down to one concept: live with intent.