Engaging Your Support System After a Metastatic Diagnosis

When you’re young and diagnosed with metastaticinfo-icon breast cancer, it’s important to have a network of caring and encouraging people around you. This support system can strengthen you, lessen isolation and help with the challenging emotions you may be feeling.

Finding Support

People in your support system may come from different parts of your life. They could be

  • family members
  • friends
  • your partner or spouse
  • other young women diagnosed with metastaticinfo-icon breast cancer
  • healthcare providers
  • co-workers
  • members of activity or interest groups you belong to
  • participants in your spiritual or religious community
  • classmates and teachers
  • neighbors

Not every person in this list is right for your support system. It’s up to you to decide who you want to include and the level of closeness you want to have with each.

Identifying the Right People

Your experiences and needs after a metastatic diagnosis are often different than those for women (younger or older) who are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancerinfo-icon. Having reliable and encouraging people in your network can help you feel more in control and hopeful.

Develop your support system by choice. Think about including people who can assist in practical ways (driving you to medical appointments, walking the dog) as well as those you trust for emotional support.

If this is your first breast cancer diagnosisinfo-icon, you may be counting on help from loved ones or friends who have always been there for you. Recognize that some people – even among those closest to you – might not be able to give the support you want.

You may have had early-stage breast cancer in the past. If so, people who provided help then may be good candidates for your support system now.

Some people you expect to be supportive might withdraw. This can happen even if they were close to you before your diagnosis, or were helpful during any earlier treatment. Although this may occur, often other people step forward and become trusted allies.

Connecting With Your Support System

Talking with those in your support network, or contacting them in other ways, is important.

Use a blog, app or website, such as CaringBridge, to share information and let supporters know how they can help. This can help end the exhausting task of discussing things again and again. It may also bring you closer to long-distance family and friends.

Know the strengths and weaknesses of your support system.

  • Be direct about your needs.
  • Don’t depend on one person to provide every type of support.
  • Consider individual talents: your cousin might be great with your kids, while your neighbor can tend your garden.

Communication Challenges

It might be difficult for some to understand how you could have been diagnosed at a young age. They may not know your disease cannot be “cured” and is a chronicinfo-icon conditioninfo-icon with treatments that can give you a good quality of lifeinfo-icon for years.

Discussing your health can be a burden and cause worry, especially if you receive an unhelpful response. You may find that you want to limit information to certain listeners.

When you bring up tough subjects such as end-of-life care, loved ones may become distressed. If you find your loved ones aren’t the right people to share that conversation, you might try talking about your concerns with an oncologyinfo-icon social workerinfo-icon, therapist, peer group members or others who might respond less emotionally.

Support Tips

Here are ways you can develop an effective network of supporters:

  • Give people in your support system specific suggestions about what you need: babysitting help on Tuesdays, assistance with filing insurance paperwork.
    • Resources such as Lotsa Helping Hands let you notify your network about your needs and create a calendar of volunteer support.
  • If someone questions your choices, intrudes on your boundaries or upsets you, take action.
    • For those who express fear, try talking about how you control your worries.
    • Ask people who say negative things to talk about them with others, and use time with you for other conversations.
    • Consider limiting contact with anyone who is unable to give help in a way you find beneficial.
  • Young women diagnosed with metastaticinfo-icon breast cancer often share the same feelings you have. They can be great assets in your support network.
    • Talking with women like you can be emotionally empowering. You may
      • gain a safe place to voice concerns and learn ways to navigate difficult discussions
      • benefit by supporting each other
    • Some cancer centers and organizations have in-person metastatic breast cancer support groups, with a few for young women. Others offer online or telephone groups.

This article was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number DP11-1111 from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

October 3, 2014
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