These videos aim to help support women’s emotional wellbeing following a diagnosis of breast cancer and throughout the treatment process.
Coping with feelings of grief
Coping with feeling grief
Mandy – Psychologist: Everybody is an individual and so the experience of following a diagnosis of breast cancer and its treatment will be different for each person. People process information and adjust and cope in different ways and certainly, there’s no one right way to cope.
People often experience some fluctuation in their emotions so this might include, at times, feeling sad, maybe feeling some anxiety or some grief following a diagnosis. These are really common and normal responses, and what’s really important is to ensure that you have some good support around you - that might be from a partner; from family and friends and sometimes people also find it helpful to talk to a peer, say, somebody who’s been through a breast cancer diagnosis or who’s perhaps, had a mastectomy and a reconstruction - they can find that helpful to discuss how they coped to get some ideas around that.
Jen – Breast care nurse: Getting information you need would be important; talking to people and seeking that information and support. I think emotionally, it’s difficult to pre-prepare. I think physically, being as well as you can and emotionally, perhaps, seeking some counselling about loss, body image, change and voicing any of those concerns to your near and dear or your partner.
It’s okay to kind of, I guess sometimes emotionally, you can’t prepare for grief but I think, even when you really want a reconstruction or you need a mastectomy and you’re going to get a reconstruction, there’s still is an element of loss that occurs because you’re losing your breast or breasts and even though you’d perhaps, do it again because you need to, I think you also have to acknowledge that that’s a loss. I don’t know that you can prepare for that. If you feel you’re unprepared however, that’s where I would seek support. If you feel overwhelmed, teary, can’t make a decision, really concerned about how you will look; not sure how you’ll cope looking – all those things, I would raise with your treating team, your breast care nurse and a counsellor.
Michelle – Consumer: Don’t put too higher expectation on yourself to be completely okay with what’s going on because what’s going on is not okay cause cancer is not okay. All you can do is work out, within yourself, how you’re choosing to look at it; what’s going to work for you and what’s going to work for you to have a good future.
If you have cancer that means, getting it out of your body and then, you’ve got to make decisions based on what works for you – whether you want to go flat or have a reconstruction, given that you need to have that cut out of your body. You need to come to terms with the fact that you can’t have what you had before because you’ve got cancer, and that wasn’t fair, but it happened. You’ve just got to decide how you want to move forward with that and that’s an emotional problem to deal with that you’re never going to get 100 percent on top of while you’re still going through active treatment.
Eventually, it will be way in the past so you’ve just got to be as emotionally prepared as you can get yourself but understand that you’re still going to be a bit teary and that’s okay.
Coping with feelings of changing femininity
Coping with feelings of changing femininity
Dianne – Consumer: There were times when I felt like less of a woman or self-conscious, is more the word. I remember being in Melbourne for a conference for breast cancer and I put on one of my favourite dresses and it just didn’t fit right. It was a bit sloppy here [points to her shoulders] and a bit baggy here [points to her chest area]. It just didn’t fit right. I was really self-conscious that night because everyone got dressed up and I just felt a little bit out. I rang my husband, actually, and said "Oh, this dress doesn’t fit right; I don’t feel right" and he said “Oh, you should have took, you know, one of your bras” and I thought 'Oh yeah, maybe I should have because I’ve never worn anything to be honest – I’ve just gone el-natural' [Dianne laughs] 'But that night I thought, maybe I should have done that – I would have felt better'.
Mandy – Psychologist: Many women can find they experience changes in sexual well-being following a diagnosis of breast cancer and its treatments and if you’re in a relationship, it’s also important to talk to your partner openly about your concerns. It’s also important to feel comfortable raising any concerns that you may have with a member of your treating team and ask if there’s any support available, should this be something you require.
Enhancing your emotional wellbeing
Enhancing your emotional wellbeing
Mandy – Psychologist: It’s important to look after yourself following surgery and to do things which are going to help you with your confidence and your overall well-being and that might be a range of things because everybody’s different. It’s really looking at, perhaps, the sorts of activities and the small things you can do that can help you feel a bit more like you - that might be going to the hairdressers; getting your nails done; it might be visiting a lovely friend; it might be taking regular walks or introducing a few new activities that perhaps you didn’t do before. It might be things that can help you feel – help you to get your confidence back and to feel emotionally – to help with those emotional responses.
Certainly, we know that exercise and gentle exercise can definitely help manage difficult emotions.
Dianne – Consumer: You’ve got to talk to people – you’ve got to talk to family and friends. You’ve got to get them to help out if you need to – them sorts of things because, it’s hard, especially as a woman. You always put yourself last but you’ve kind of got to put yourself first and really take care of yourself.
Alison – Breast care nurse: You need to make sure you’ve got (whether or not it’s family or friends or work colleagues), you will always have your breast team, plastics team that will give you that support but you also need to work out where also am I going to get this? It’s not something you should do just by yourself.
Mandy – Psychologist: There’s also a lot of information that people receive when they first come into the clinic and it can often be very helpful to bring a support person with you when you come. That can be an additional pair of ears to hear the information and then to be able to discuss that with that person afterwards.
Penny – Consumer: I think it’s very important just to talk to your support crew around you so if that is your partner; your Mum and Dad; your friends; your breast cancer nurse; if it’s the Phycologist. Sometimes, it’s best to talk to someone outside of the whole situation. Your breast cancer nurse can also get you in contact with the other women that are going through the same thing.
Sometimes it’s best to talk to other women who are going through it because you know, talking to your friends – they just don’t understand sometimes so, it is best to reach out and have a chat to someone if you need to, when you need to.
Mandy – Psychologist: If you are experiencing a high level of distress – difficulties with anxiety or experiencing difficulty in making a decision, it’s very important to let a member of your treating team know and then, look at referral – look at being able to talk to somebody about this, like a Phycologist.
Again, each area may have a different compliment of staff but it’s important that you know who you can access and that your GP can also refer you to a Phycologist privately, if there isn’t a Phycologist available within your health service. It’s important that you’re able to take the time to think this through, not move ahead without being ready to do so.
Dianne – Consumer: Hubby sort of encouraged me to go to the doctor and the doctor encouraged me to go get counselling. I’d never really had counselling before and kind of felt, what can they do, but it’s not that they do anything, it’s just that you can talk – they just listen sort of thing so, that was helpful. I would recommend or encourage women that feel like that, to go and talk to somebody because it does help.
Michelle – Consumer: An additional assistance that I found - if you’re on social media in Australia, we have a couple of very good breast care Facebook support groups. They’re closed groups that the only people in there are breast cancer survivors. Everybody in there has had cancer and knows what it’s like. They get you; they understand. There will be multiple people that will have had the same thing done as you and it really helps prepare you to be able, if you want to share or talk to people, that you can talk to other people who have gone through exactly the same thing and who understand what you might be facing or help give you advice or tips for your own particular journey – as to what’s going to happen because, it wasn’t something you asked for – it just happened and, unless you’re unfortunate enough to have a history – someone in your family who’s had it, you really don’t know what you’re in for and the only person who can help you with that is your medical team or other people who have been through it. That’s possibly the single biggest other thing that helped me. It helped me emotionally – to feel like you have that support network – people that understand because, as brilliant as your family and friends can be, they don’t understand what it’s like to be in that position in the same way as somebody else who’s been there does.
I would say that if you’re on social media, join the group, even if you don’t want to participate in discussions or talk or share your own story, you will get so much out of those - reading other people’s posts or questions and the answers to them. It’s incredibly helpful.