Living With Breast Cancer

Telling family and friends and how to get the most information from your doctor.

So, you have just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Now what?

Talking with Family and Friends

Telling people who are mature and sensitive enough to handle a disclosure of cancer will relieve you of the burden of inventing explanations, or being on guard against discovery of your illness. You may find unexpected sources of support and understanding from others, including people who have struggled with a life-threatening illness.

Here are ten suggestions on communicating with your friends and family:

  • Be honest and direct. Give clear guidelines about what others can do to help you.
  • Don’t assume people know what you need, or what the “right” thing to do is.
  • If you don’t feel like company, say that you appreciate their concern but would much rather they visit you at another time, when you are feeling better.
  • Some people are better at coping with a crisis than others. Most people truly care, but don’t know what to say or do. Accept their limitations.
  • If you just need to be with someone or want them to just listen to you, tell them so. Explain to them that you don’t expect answers or solutions; you just want them to listen to your concerns.
  • Coping with breast cancer may reveal long-standing problems in a relationship, like poor communication or lack of trust— problems clearly not caused by cancer. Recognizing this may allow you to let go of old behaviors and patterns while identifying ongoing stressful relationships.
  • Even thoughtful family and friends may be impatient for you to “get over” your experience. You have survived an ordeal—do not let their expectations pressure you to ignore your feelings.Give yourself permission to explore ways to enhance your health and self-esteem. Focus on building a stronger sense of self and purpose to survive your treatments.
  • You can become preoccupied with the cancer so much that certain feelings linger and you may become stuck in the process of emotional healing. Get assistance from a support group or therapist to help you move forward.
  • While it is not your responsibility to take care of others’ feelings, understand that they, too, are trying to cope.

Communicating With Your Doctors

  • How much information do I want to be told about my diagnosis or health status?
  • How do I want my doctors to communicate with me about these issues (for example, don’t beat around the bush, or with tender loving care)?
  • Under what conditions do I need to talk with my doctors (quiet, uninterrupted, with a tape recorder or a family member present to capture information)?
  • How does my doctor like to make decisions, and how does he present information to me?
  • What is most important to me today when I consider my treatment options (I want to live longer, I want to minimize side effects, I want to avoid pain), and how can I communicate this to my doctors?
  • Is there anything I can do to make communication with my doctors easier?
  • Which of the side effects requires immediate medical attention?
  • How can I reach my medical team in an emergency ?

Making Treatment Decisions

  • Why do you recommend this treatment or procedure? What do you expect this treatment to do for me?
  • What are the possible risks of this treatment or procedure? How likely is it that I am at risk for certain side effects or negative reactions?
  • How long will this treatment take? How often do I receive it, and how is it given?
  • Are there more or less aggressive options open to me?
  • What happens if I choose to receive no treatment?
  • What are the symptoms that usually develop with my type of cancer diagnosis, and how are those treated? Is this treatment any different than that aimed at remission?
  • How will each of these options affect my quality of life? Will I be able to do the things I enjoy? Can I work, take care of my kids, go on vacation?
  • What lifestyle changes would you recommend I consider during my treatment?
  • How and when will the effectiveness of this treatment be evaluated?