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Facing Your Diagnosis

Updated December 17, 2014

Each year, millions of Americans learn they have cancer. Yet the words “You have cancer” never lose their power.

Cancer has different meanings to different people, and the way you respond to your diagnosis will be as unique as you are. It will reflect your personality, your past experiences with health issues, the way you manage stressful situations and other things happening in your life.

During the first few weeks after a diagnosis, it is not unusual to have many different feelings. Anger, fear, anxiety or sadness may be among them. Your feelings may change from day to day, or even hour to hour, as you start to cope emotionally with the news. It may be helpful to concentrate just on getting through the next day, or even the next hour.

Almost all women find the first few weeks after diagnosis to be extremely difficult emotionally.

Allow yourself to experience your feelings. Things will improve over time as you gather information.

Telling Family and Friends

Sharing news of a breast cancer diagnosis with family and friends is never easy. But the people who care about you will want to be there. By telling them about your diagnosis, you are allowing them to help you and give you support.

It is your decision to share the news with others, and you can share it when and how you choose. When you begin to tell others, they may ask more questions than you want to answer. Remember, you are in control of how much information you share.

Sometimes people do not respond the way you expect. Sometimes they just don’t know what to say. Remember that these responses have to do with their own fears and worries and not with how they feel about you.

During this time, it is very important for you to focus on your own needs. Try not to rely on people who cannot support you. If you feel that those closest to you cannot help, consider calling on other family members or friends or on Breast Cancer Helpline.

If you have a young person close to you—a child, grandchild, or niece or nephew—we strongly encourage you to share the news. Children sometimes feel anxious when they sense adults are hiding something. They may have questions if they notice changes in the way you look or behave. Talk to children in a way that makes sense for their age and emotional development.

Read more about breast cancer basics and the providers who helped us write this page in our Guide for the Newly Diagnosed.