By Dr. Daniel Vorobiof, CMO of Belong.life.
No patient diagnosed with breast cancer is mentally or physically prepared for the life changes that may occur. Some changes might only affect a small percentage of patients, while others are more general and could affect all those newly diagnosed. Therefore, it’s very important to know how to identify, define, and understand these changes so that the correct coping mechanisms are put in place, to allow you to keep going without letting the disease completely take over your regular routine.
We can divide these changes into many different subsets, but most fall under the following categories: emotional, physical, social relationships, work routines, and outcomes. As many of these symptoms are intertwined, addressing one symptom might also help others.
When diagnosed with breast cancer, your emotional well-being can be influenced in various ways, contingent upon your diagnosis and treatment approach. This includes factors like undergoing surgical procedures, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy, adhering to the prescribed treatment regimen, attending regular follow-up appointments, or confronting the possibility of cancer recurrence or metastasis. Each situation is unique, and the emotional reactions are personal and can vary greatly and change throughout your journey.
Common emotional reactions may include feelings of shock after receiving bad news, anger at your own body’s “betrayal”, depression, anxiety, and fear of recurrences and of what the future holds. These types of reactions are common among all patients, regardless of their background or type and stage of their disease.
Support and Coping Strategies for Breast Cancer Patients
Coping with any negative or difficult feelings while on the cancer journey can be challenging. This is why strong support of family, friends, and comprehensive support programs are so beneficial. Your medical team is an important source of support and guidance, and a full understanding of your situation will allow you to be an active participant in the many different treatment decisions that you face. We, at Belong.life, believes that the more information you have, the more empowered you are to better understand your treatment plan and will be better prepared to cope with any side effects.
Belong.life strongly supports not only conversations with your medical team but also with other patients going through similar journeys. This will give you a better understanding of your situation, especially when hearing how others are coping with similar circumstances.
Studies have looked into real-world physical scenarios which mainly occur as a result of surgery and the after-effects of treatments. Many of these symptoms are temporary (fatigue, hair loss, skin and nail changes, sleep disturbances, hormone instability, chemo brain etc.) but others can be long-term, requiring some forms of treatment (neuropathy, heart problems, radiation changes, fertility, menopausal symptoms, bone density changes, etc).
It is quite possible to cope with the immediate side effects of treatment, as they are usually temporary, but coping with long-term effects is much more complex, requiring the introduction of other medical experts into your care team (psychologists, psychiatrists, palliative care doctors, hospice, and other specific specialists). Many large cancer centres and hospitals, being aware of increased number of cancer survivors, have implemented cancer rehabilitation programs aiming to improve patients’ quality of life once treatment is completed.
Besides being aware of the possible long term side effects, cancer patients should also incorporate new routines into their regular life, by maintaining a balanced diet under the guidance of a certified nutritionist. Additionally, patients should also embark in a moderate exercise program in accordance with their personal circumstances.
Social relationships are a wide group of scenarios encompassing balance at home, family relationships and work environments. During your cancer journey, many of these relationships can change and you need to adapt to new situations, according to your physical and emotional state.
Navigating Financial Impact and Finding Emotional Support
We have also studied the possible effects of breast cancer and the financial toxicity. This new wording has been coined as patients may suffer financial distress, which is now considered a side effect of a cancer diagnosis and its treatments. This situation requires upfront discussions with your attending physicians and insurance providers. It’s also important to work proactively with your insurance and medical team to minimize financial toxicity and its influence on your well-being.
From the moment you receive a breast cancer diagnosis, not all is doom and gloom. While there may be some difficult challenges, you may also experience growth through your journey. Studies have found that an optimistic outlook has a substantial influence on your body and mind. To remain optimistic and hopeful is important, but for those going through a difficult time, if you feel the need for support during the challenging moments, remember that there are many ways to receive that extra word of advice or hug. The support of family, friends and specialized social media platforms like Belong’s Beating Cancer Together app can give you the emotional support you may need and hopefully help you return to your best.
Dr. Daniel Vorobiof is a renowned oncologist and the chief medical director of Belong.Life. He is the founder and former medical director of the Sandton Oncology Centre in Johannesburg and has published more than 120 peer-reviewed articles in international medical journals.
This content is provided for your general education and information only. It does not necessarily reflect Belong’s views and opinions. Belong does not endorse or support any specific product, service, or treatment.