The emotional effect of a breast cancer diagnosis
It was a shock when I was diagnosed – I had a fast growing lump. But I didn’t want anyone to know except my husband. Then my sisters turned up at the hospital – I didn’t want them there – but I’m glad they were in the end. The doctors, staff, everyone treated me really well – that helped.Linda
Everyone reacts differently when they learn they have breast cancer. This can be a confusing time and feelings can change from one moment to the next. This is normal and there is no right or wrong way to feel.
A diagnosis of breast cancer might have an unexpected impact on your personal relationships and you may find it difficult to keep to your usual routines. Some people worry about how treatment may change their appearance. Others want to know where to get support to help them cope with their diagnosis and any effects of treatment.
How treatment decisions are made
The treatment choices you are offered will be based on all the information available about your cancer. You will have the final say in what treatment you will continue with.
Recommendations will depend on:
• the grade, the size, the type of breast cancer, and number of lymph nodes involved
• the results of HER2 receptor and hormone receptor testing
• whether you have been through menopause
• your age and general health.
Talking to others
Once you have talked about your treatment options with your treatment team, you may want to discuss it with other people. Talking it over can help you decide what is right for you. You may want to talk to your family/whānau or friends, specialist nurses, your GP, the Cancer Society, a hospital social worker or chaplain or another person who has experienced breast cancer.
Family/whānau and friends will often want to give you advice. This can be helpful but remember ‘your cancer is your own’. Sometimes they may be giving you advice based on a situation or experience that is very different from yours.
You may be interested in Cancer Connect, run by the Cancer Society. This is a free telephone peer-support programme.It is a confidential phone support programme provided by trained volunteers who have experienced cancer. Phone the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237) for more information on this programme.
“ If ONE MORE person had asked me if I’d cut outmeat, dairy, wine or sugar when I was diagnosedI would seriously have got VERY CROSS.”Venise
Coping with waiting
Waiting is a big part of receiving your diagnosis and starting treatment. It can take several days, or even weeks for your treatment team to review your test results before they can discuss treatment options with you. If you are finding the waiting difficult, contact your treatment team. We suggest you read our information sheet on Coping with waiting.
Predictive gene testing
Some people may have predictive gene testing done. After surgery, some people may need other treatments such as chemotherapy, but others won't. For some people, it may not be clear if further treatment is needed. Predictive gene testing can be done to identify if there may be a need for further treatment. This test is not funded but is available if you pay for it. It may be available in clinical trials. Tests are done on breast tissue that has been removed during surgery. If you would like more information you can discuss this with your treatment team.
Taking part in a clinical trial
There are many new and emerging treatments for cancer and clinical trials are a vital part of the search to find better treatments for cancer. Clinical trials test new and modified treatments to see if they are better than existing treatments. In randomised clinical trials you will receive the standard treatment currently available or the new treatment being tested.
People all over the world have taken part in clinical trials that have improved cancer treatments, but not all treatments tested in trials turn out to be helpful. If you are asked to take part in a clinical trial, make sure you fully understand the reasons for the trial and what it means for you. The decision to take part in a clinical trial is yours.
Finding out more from your cancer treatment team
You may like to learn more from your cancer treatment team. Consider asking questions about:
• the possible advantages and disadvantages of different treatments
• what would happen if you don’t have treatment
• how long your treatment might last and how often you will have to have it
• how your treatment will be given
• if you will need to stay in hospital
• how treatment might affect your day-to-day life now and in the future
• how likely it is that the treatment will work for your situation
• if there are any treatments you can have privately and what the costs might be
• if you have a breast reconstruction, what the breast prosthesis options are and if there are any extra costs
• if there is anything you need to be particularly careful about during and/or after treatment.