If you have recently been diagnosed with breast
cancer or any other cancer, you may be experiencing a
wide variety of emotions: fear, anger, sadness, guilt,
helplessness, and anxiety. You may wonder, "Why
me?" Often patients are unsure about what to do next
and at times have to sort out contradictory medical
information and treatment advice.
In the very near future you will need to acquire some
new skills, including how to best communicate with
doctors and other medical personal, how to choose
your best treatment options, and how to manage your
own responses and those of your family and friends.
Today there is strong research data that a patient's
emotional well-being and having good support from
others can be important to physical recovery.
Getting Beyond "Why Me?"
Your Health Team
Cancer is a serious and complex disease. To fight it
you will need a team of health professionals, all
bringing their own specific specialties to your recovery,
including your primary care physician and an
oncologist who specializes in cancer treatment. You
also are likely to see a surgeon and perhaps other
specialists as well. A mental health professional is an
important team player as well. Psychologists and
other mental health professionals work directly with
patients and their families, as well as with the entire
medical team, to help personalize the patient's
medical decisions, manage treatment side effects,
improve communication, provide support, and
enhance emotional recovery and well-being.
Cancer Treatment Can Be as Difficult as the
Conventional cancer treatments, from surgery to
chemotherapy, are themselves traumatic to the
patient. However, in many cases they are known to
save lives. Some patients may decide to pursue
dietary and lifestyle changes as part of their primary
treatment regimen. Psychologists have techniques to
make adherence to these new behaviors easier and
Psychological interventions have also proven to be
extremely effective in helping patients handle the pain
and symptoms of the disease and the side effects of
treatment. For example, techniques used by
psychologists can significantly reduce anxiety before
surgery and decrease the nausea that often precedes
and accompanies chemotherapy. Psychological
interventions can also help the majority of cancer
patients who report debilitating pain. Psychological
techniques can be used to create positive imagery,
increase the motivation to adhere to new behaviors,
and facilitate reentry into the real world once medical
treatment has been completed.
The post-treatment period is usually ignored; yet
emotional recovery from the trauma of cancer
treatment may take longer than physical recovery.
Psychological services can help mitigate the long-
term effects of cancer treatment.
Cancer Affects Whole Families
When one member of a family has cancer, the whole
family is affected; in fact, psychologists consider these
family members to be "secondary patients." Cancer
affects the entire family, not only because there are
genetic links to cancer and cancer risk, but also
because when one member of a family has cancer,
the whole family must deal with the illness.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer,
help for the entire family may be in order. For example,
when a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, her
spouse or housemate may need to take on new
responsibilities at home; relatives and friends may be
needed to participate in the day-to-day running of the
household; and any children involved will need
special attention. Good communication among all the
players and protection against caregiver burnout is
imperative. A psychologist can help construct a game
plan that works for all family members during every
phase of the illness.
Article reproduced with permission from the American
How to Help a Friend or Loved One Suffering from a Chronic Illness
If someone you love is diagnosed with cancer or a life-
threatening disease, you may feel desperate and
completely helpless. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Research has shown us that family and friends can
play a huge role in helping patients deal with a chronic
When a person is suffering from a chronic illness, it's
important that they feel truly cared about. What matters
most is how people interact with the sick person.
Here are some ways that patients and their families
can get the kind of support they want from
- Put an end to family secrets. In other words, honesty
is still the best policy. We often try to protect our
families and loved ones from bad news, but hiding a
person's serious illness from the rest of the family can
backfire. Communicate directly and be open with
- Include your children. Although their understanding
of the situation may be limited, children still appreciate
being told what's going on around them. Children can
sometimes view themselves as the cause of
problems or major events that happen around them.
They may view a parent's illness as being caused by
something they did. Be open, honest, let children
know it's okay to ask questions. This will help relieve
some of their anxiety. Remember, a child can be a
great source of laughter and warmth for a sick
- Be selective. Everybody under the sun doesn't need
to know about your illness or your loved one's illness.
Choose who you care to share your news with
carefully. Some relationships will prosper and some
will become strained. What's important is that you feel
that sharing the information with an individual will
provide a stronger sense of support and
- Be clear about how family and friends can help.
People want to feel useful. Don't be ashamed to ask
for help or favors, such as cooking a meal or helping
with the school carpool.
Finally, if someone you love if suffering from a chronic
illness, learn about the disease, help out with daily
errands and chores, and give emotional support.
Sometimes we all need a shoulder to cry on.
For more information visit the
resources section of our website.