Emotional Health

Updated 
August 31, 2015

In the first days after a diagnosis of breast cancer, you are likely to have many different emotions. This is also true during the treatment that follows and beyond. No matter how you feel, your feelings are valid.

Recognizing Your Feelings

Each woman’s response to diagnosis is different. At first, it may be hard to grasp the news or to believe it. You might feel numb or stunned, as if you are watching someone else’s life play out in front of you. You might feel scared, sad or worried.

As you learn more about the breast cancer and your treatment options from your doctors, this numbness may lessen and go away. In its place, you could find yourself flooded with different emotions, some that feel overwhelming and difficult and others that seem easier to manage.

Feeling shock, anger, sadness or fear is common. On the other hand, your reaction could be neutral or hopeful, and in that sense, positive. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer or an inherited gene mutation that puts you at greater risk for developing it, you might even feel relieved that you have an explanation for what’s happening.

As you cycle through emotions, know you could feel all of them at the same time or at different times. You might also find that all you want to do is move forward. This may be a time when you put your feelings aside, sometimes without even knowing it, to focus on your treatment and other decisions.

You Are Not to Blame

After the initial shock of diagnosis, some women ask questions such as “Why me?” “How could this have happened?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” You may even feel embarrassed or blame yourself for the cancer.

You didn’t do anything to cause breast cancer. Blaming yourself or feeling punished for past behaviors is a common reaction, but doing so gives a false sense of control over a situation. Wanting to make sense of breast cancer is normal, but try to focus on your needs right now. This will help you look forward, not back.

Coping With Uncertainty

With so much to learn and understand, you may feel overwhelmed and uncertain about your future. You may wonder how to make decisions about your next steps.

Consider how you coped with uncertainty in the past. You may want to know everything you possibly can about your situation. Or you may want to know only what you need to know to get through treatment. When you faced enormous challenges in the past, what resources did you use? Were there people you trusted? Call on these supports now to help you process and cope with this new diagnosis.

You might also choose to take the lead yourself. This may build your confidence about your choices. As you gather information, talk with your care team about what you learn. Make a list of questions before you see your doctor, nurse, or other provider. If your provider’s answer to your question did not address a particular concern, ask your question in a different way. It often helps to take someone to your medical appointment who, with your doctor’s permission, can take notes or record the conversation. You can focus on the conversation and review notes later.

Finding ways to address your feelings and get needed support is important. Sometimes, immediately after diagnosis, this may mean coping just well enough until you have more time to sit with and work through your emotions. This may not even happen until after your treatment is over.

For many, finishing treatment brings a welcome break from making decisions, managing side effects and going to multiple doctors’ appointments and tests. But with your energy no longer taken up by all those demands, you may notice that more emotions surface.