Breast cancer and mental health

A diagnosis of breast cancer is a big shock and can be extremely stressful. The physical and emotional toll that breast cancer has on a person may exacerbate existing mental health difficulties or increase fear, worry and anxiety. It is well known that the period of time after the hospital treatment for breast cancer has finished is challenging too. The structure of regular hospital visits has finished and women are thrown back to their own resources to get on with their lives.

Many women don’t feel like they are the same person after going through cancer. For some, it can leave them with an overwhelming type of gratitude for life and for others, it can be much more difficult.

It is important to remember that it is normal to feel ongoing uncertainty even when breast cancer treatment has finished. The people around you may understand that your life has been put on hold throughout your treatment, but they don’t always realise that it isn’t easy just to jump back on the horse afterwards. You may still be suffering from longer term consequences of treatment such as fatigue, poor sleep, hot flushes and joint pains. This may affect your mood negatively and you may be struggling with other aspects of your life as well such as what to do around work and money.

This is why Breast Cancer Haven is available to you at any point through your breast cancer experience. You do not need to currently be going through treatment to take advantage of our free services and we are there to support you through the difficult aftermath that breast cancer can leave.

Life after breast cancer

Dr Kathleen Thompson, known for her highly praised book ‘From Both Ends of the Stethoscope’, has experienced breast cancer and thanks Breast Cancer Haven for the support provided throughout her medical treatment.

In Kathleen’s book she writes:

So then I was on my own. I’d had intensive medical interactions for around nine months, but now I had nothing planned for a year, other than daily tamoxifen.

Obviously not everyone is as lucky as I was—some are not given a clean bill of health and sent on their way. If your cancer wasn’t successfully removed, or has spread to other parts of the body, then you will need further follow-ups and probably further treatment.

Some people will have had successful surgery, but because of the features of their particular cancer, the chance of it returning may be much higher. If any of this applies to you, your story will be quite different, although some of the further information at the end of this chapter may be helpful.

However, even if you have been told your outlook is excellent, you may still not feel the elation you should. Your life has been on hold since the day you found yourself in Cancer World. People may expect you to put all these issues behind you and pick up the pieces where you left off. The trouble is, you’re not the same person that you were. You carry scars, and not just on your chest. You’ll never be quite the same again, for good or bad.

Importantly, you may experience a sense of anticlimax and bewilderment when your treatment ends, coupled with a secret guilt that you’re not feeling happy and grateful for its success. This is quite normal, and you may need help to get through it, regardless of whether other people in your life understand. Breast Cancer Haven can be an amazing refuge and help at this time. Their health care professionals are available to provide you with support and information at any time during your experience of breast cancer, even if you just want to visit your local centre and chat to somebody over a cup of tea.

Some people will have a very supportive family and/or friends, but even then their network may expect that now everything is back to normal they will be too. This isn’t an unreasonable assumption, but it isn’t correct or realistic either.

On the other hand you may feel absolutely fine and wonder what I’m wittering on about, but the shock of the whole thing can creep up on you when you least expect it, maybe even months or years later. I don’t mean to be a harbinger of doom. I’m just warning you in case it happens, and I’d like to assure you that it doesn’t mean you are crazy, flaky, inadequate or anything else other than normal. If it does happen, even though your treatment may be long finished, you are still welcome at Breast Cancer Haven.

Extracts from: From Both Ends of the Stethoscope: Getting through breast cancer - by a doctor who knows by Dr Kathleen Thompson.

Breast Cancer Haven can help

At Breast Cancer Haven, we vow never to turn away somebody in need. Our expert team of professionals will always be available to speak to, whether that is face-to-face in our centres or through our phone consultations.

We understand that the need for support and advice doesn’t stop when treatment does which is why we aim to support anybody who feels affected by cancer.

For more information about Breast Cancer Haven and to access our free breast cancer support services, please visit our website.