Women are strong. That’s a fact! We’re used to handling a lot. We’ve learned to roll with the punches and face hundreds of challenges on a daily basis. We successfully juggle homes, school, families, careers, and our emotional well-being. We leap tall buildings in a single bound, we’re lovers and soulmates, we’re mothers and kissers of boo-boos, we’re best friends and confidants, we’re sisters, we’re independent and proud, and we’re the designated “fixers” of everything.
It’s easy to think we’ve got everything under control when we learn of a breast cancer diagnosis too. Never mind: We can deal with it.
A Million Questions
Receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer has to be one of the most traumatic events of a woman’s life. It’s a shocking revelation that takes a lot of time to process. There is not a “quick fix.” The initial discovery of the cancer is just the tip of the iceberg. There will be procedures and therapies that will absorb months, even years, of our lives, and dissolve any semblance of a normal existence. A million questions flood your mind: Why is this happening to me? Should I get a second opinion? Will my insurance cover the expenses? Am I going to lose my breast? Is it worth facing more surgeries for breast reconstruction? How will I cope? Can my family survive? Will my mate still love me? Am I going to die?
These are just a few of the thoughts that our minds are forced to attempt to process. Thankfully, many women who discover they have breast cancer have a supportive family and a network of friends to give them the love they need during this difficult period. Sometimes, that’s still not enough. No matter how much our loved ones show us their support, a piece of our soul is thrown out of kilter as we contemplate breast cancer.
A woman can become overwhelmed with confusion, grief, and doubts about what she is going through. Even when she has great doctors, a support group, and plenty of hope that one day things will be normal again, she wonders if anyone truly understands. It’s difficult to resolve why this is happening, and it’s important to have someone to talk to, that will help make sense of things and navigate through the myriad of thoughts and questions that dominate life.
Recognizing You Need Help
Maybe we have friends whom we think we can share anything with, and these friends are important, but very often we need more. It’s not a point of shame to recognize that we need more than our friends and family can provide. It’s important to recognize that it might be time to seek help if you:
- Feel totally paralyzed and overwhelmed just thinking about the decisions ahead, whether involving your cancer surgeries, reconstruction, or what babysitter to hire.
- Don’t feel that there are any possible “steps forward” to take.
- Don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, regardless of the level of pain in your body.
- Feel hopeless and helpless.
- Find yourself contemplating hurting yourself.
- Are unable to control the negative thoughts.
- Find nothing positive to think about.
If you look at this list and feel that any of these are true of where you are at, it’s time to get to help. It’s important to understand that in such an enormous and traumatic life event as cancer, it’s perfectly normal to need help to get through it. Be brave and seek the help you need. Ask your surgeon or hospital for a referral to a psychologist with experience helping cancer patients navigate the ups and downs of the roller coaster you just stepped onto.
Psychological Counseling for Breast Cancer Patients May Prevent Recurrence
Barbara Andersen, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University, began studying women with stage II or stage III breast cancer. She wanted to find out if reducing stress and anxiety, along with changing health habits have any impact on the incidence and timing of recurrence.While it is too soon to be sure, this report indicates the interim data shows powerful psychological, behavioral and (most surprisingly) immune system benefits.
“Ours is the first study to use an experimental design to discover what, if any, relationship exists between psychological intervention and risk of recurrence. Statistically, we just don’t have enough data yet to determine that, but so far, we know that the intervention is beneficial and the findings are robust, and that gives us greater confidence we have a strong test regarding impact on recurrence,” says Andersen.
A Personal Note
I’ve been there, and so have many of us—probably far more than you realize. Having reached the end of my rope, I was forced to turn to someone for help. Part of the process of healing and recovering from a miserable situation is the humbling experience of asking for help. As I discovered, though, it’s not as unpleasant as I imagined. After I got over the initial nervousness of feeling as though I had something to be embarrassed about, my startling revelation was, “Why didn’t I do this a long time ago?” I discovered what could be called a selfish delight in allowing an unbiased person to listen to me, my history, my frustrations, the feeling that everything bad that happened was my fault, and my despair over the inability to fix things. For the first time in many years, I felt there was hope for my future and myself.
Speaking to a counselor allowed me to openly express my true feelings, without judgment.
Initially, I was embarrassed and didn’t want anyone to know that I was seeing a “shrink” but I’ve since swallowed my pride. When given the opportunity today I am eager to share my experience about seeking and receiving professional counseling. I hope that my story will give others the strength to seek help they need. Don’t ever apologize or feel unworthy for what you need. It’s okay that breast cancer has you overwhelmed. If your heart is telling you that you cannot handle the stresses of breast cancer alone any longer, listen to that.
Don’t try to be Superwoman this time.