Post-Traumatic Growth

Updated 
August 31, 2015
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During or just after breast cancer treatment, many people make positive life changes. Those changes may happen in relationships, spirituality, personal strength or life priorities.

Experts call this post-traumatic growth, or PTG. It is change for the better that comes after struggling with a major life crisis, such as cancer.

People who experience PTG may

  • feel closer to a higher power
  • commit their lives to a cause or to helping others
  • pursue dreams they put off in the past
  • seek new opportunities

This does not mean that having a traumatic experience is a good thing. It just means good may arise from it.

Not everyone has PTG happen and it’s not a reflection of whether you are doing well. It’s just one aspect of emotional healing after breast cancer treatment.

Resilience and PTG

People who show a set of coping skillsinfo-icon, or resilience, may be more likely to experience PTG. Resilience can be natural or learned. It may help with making small changes that can grow into bigger life shifts.

Resilient people are able to find the support and help they need without thinking of it as a weakness or worrying about burdening loved ones.

Resilience isn’t about being happy all the time. It’s about feeling your sadness, fear, anger or grief, and at the same time, being present and active within your own life.

Anyone, no matter whether you are an optimist or pessimist, can be resilient through cancer.

It’s common to not recognize the resilience skills you have. You also can develop these skills on your own or with guidance from a therapist or social workerinfo-icon.

Supporting Resilience

These steps can help resilience:

  • Practice mindfulness daily. Mindfulness focuses attention on what you are thinking and feeling in the present moment, without worrying about why.
    • Try sitting in a quiet place, closing your eyes and paying attention to your breath. Let your thoughts and feelings come, but continue to stay focused on the here and now.
  • Practice gratitude. Being grateful for the good things in your life helps reduce stressinfo-icon.
    • Every day, write down three good things that happened to you, or three things you’re thankful for, no matter how big or small. You’ll end up with a collection of the good in your life that you can refer to later.
  • Give thanks. Write letters to people who supported you at any time in your life, whether it was a great friend, or a neighbor helping carry groceries. Writing your thoughts is useful, even if you don’t mail the letters.
  • Look for strengths. Resilient people tend to acknowledge strengths, not just weaknesses.
    • Notice your strengths in everyday tasks, such as going for a walk despite your fatigueinfo-icon.
  • See the good. Look for the ways that things and people benefit the world around you.

Research shows that practicing resilience leads to less stress and anxietyinfo-icon and a better quality of lifeinfo-icon, during and after treatment. Less stress and more satisfaction can produce better physical health overall.

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October 31, 2017