How to handle a breast cancer diagnosis Credits: Portra images
Learning you have a serious illness, such as breast cancer, can cause anxiety, anger and fear about what it'll mean to you, your family and your career. Here's how you can navigate the journey, with advice from people who have been through it.
1. Get to know your medical team.
"Establishing relationships early on is key," says Pat Baruth, an advanced practice nurse at the London Health Sciences Centre in Ontario. Don't be afraid to ask questions or to get clariï¬�cation if you are confused by something. Be conï¬�dent you are getting honest responses. Along with research, communication will help you better understand what is happening to you, says Baruth. Keep a notebook with you to write down questions as you think of them and refer to it at appointments.
2. Do your research, but know where to look.
Every diagnosis is different and it's important to know what to expect and what to ask your doctor. But before you type "breast cancer" into an Internet search engine, be aware that it's easy to be overwhelmed with information, and not all of it is credible.
Start with sites you can trust, such as the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (www.cbcf.org) and Willow Breast Cancer Support Canada (www.willow.org). Both organizations offer up-to-date information packages that are free to download or order from their websites. Their information will walk you through the basics of a breast cancer diagnosis. When you are ready to delve further into your diagnosis, Willow staff can tailor a package for you. Contact the organization at 1-888- 778-3100.
Tip: All services are national, free and conï¬�dential.
3. Find support and connect with others.
"Support groups make you realize you aren't alone," says Virginia Yule, a breast cancer survivor and executive director of Willow Breast Cancer Support Canada. Call your cancer clinic or Willow for information about services in your area.
Page 1 of 2 - On page 2: Read about online support.
If there isn't a support group in your community, consider forming one with the help of a Willow initiative that equips women with the tools to start and run a group. The organization also offers a telephone peer support program that will put you in direct contact with a breast cancer survivor and will even match you based on your diagnosis and life situation. For those who want to connect online, try a discussion forum, such as www.willow-talk.org, or join a Facebook group. The great thing about online support is that it is available 24 hours a day.
4. Focus on life, not cancer.
Learning to live life beyond a cancer diagnosis will help keep your spirits up. "I always did the opposite of what I thought the cancer wanted me to do," says Lise Paquet, a breast cancer survivor from Ottawa. The best remedy is to continue to do the things that make you feel happy, she adds. For example, Lise took long walks with her dogs, connected with friends over lunch, read books and took bubble baths.
Despite any measures you take to de-stress, it's only natural that you'll face some sleepless nights. When fearful and anxious, Lise practised meditation. Others say they've found gentle yoga or journalling to be effective.
Breaking the news
Here are tips to help when sharing the news of your diagnosis.
• Most women conï¬�de in their spouse while deciding how to tell others.
• Some women choose to only tell their immediate family and friends, while others tell everyone they know. Do what makes you feel most comfortable.
• Be prepared to answer questions.
• Most people will be overwhelmingly supportive. Take advantage of this support and suggest speciï¬�c ways they can help.
• Breaking the news to children is usually the most difï¬�cult. When you decide to tell your kids, remain optimistic and offer reassurance, but allow them to express their fears. Check out What About My Kids? A Guide for Parents Living with Breast Cancer online at www.cbcf.org/ontario/whataboutmykids.
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