Anxiety and Fear: Strategies for Coping
If you are at the beginning of your breast cancer journey, no doubt you are no stranger to the feelings of anxiety and fear. They can be overwhelming at times.
But please take heart. A diagnosis of breast cancer is NOT a death sentence. Over the past two decades, medical advances have helped revolutionize our understanding of and treatments for breast cancer. The odds are in your favor! Survival rates are considerably higher than they used to be in the 1950’s.
I lost both my mother and my grandmother to breast cancer and when I was diagnosed (in April 2004), I remember initially being completely floored when my doctor told me I had breast cancer. I was so sure that lump I could feel in my left breast was going to be something fibrous and nothing to worry about. I could not believe it!
I was determined to be the one woman in my family who didn’t get it and had been doing research for years, in an effort to understand it and shield myself from it. So in a way, I had a leg up on others newly diagnosed – I had books and notes and research articles and all kinds of information – in effect, breast cancer was an enemy with whom I was very familiar. I spent about four hours freaking out and then I rallied myself and had a stern talk with ME.
I’m very aware that many others don’t have the benefit of all that research and that’s why I’m so committed to this blog – because I want to reach out and help those who are going through this. I’ve been down that road and I know how it feels. It’s scary some days. It’s darned uncomfortable on others. But for me it was an amazing journey and so many good things have come from it. I hope the same for you.
I wrote a blog a few days ago: 10 Anxiety Busters for Breast Cancer Patients – there are lots of recommendations in this article about how to cope with the attendant anxiety that a breast cancer diagnosis can bring. So I won’t be discussing that today.
Fear of Dying
What’s on my mind today is the fear of death. Let’s talk about that. Psychiatrists say there are three anxieties with regard to death: fear of pain and suffering, fear of loneliness, and fear of the unknown. In a study done at McGill University, breast cancer patients with different coping styles were interviewed about their death-related fears. All patients had some anxiety about at least one aspect of death, but those who could not manage their emotions had the highest scores on all three anxieties.
I strongly suggest that you do your best to keep a cool head and get the facts from your doctors about your risk, your diagnosis, and your chances of survival. Your survival rate is closely related to the stage of your cancer. To better understand breast cancer staging, read this article from breastcancer.org (they have a marvelous on-line forum where you can post questions and get answers). When you understand your diagnosis really well, this generally helps to keep fear under control.
Look your fear in the face. Understand exactly what it is you are afraid of, get some answers for yourself. This helps relieve the anxiety.
Don’t Be Shy About Getting Help
Cancer has a way of making you feel that you are no longer in control of your life or your body. Sometimes your breast cancer journey feels like a long line of traumatic shocks. First you get that bad news, and then sometimes you get more bad news. When you develop ways of coping with the ongoing challenges of breast cancer, you are more able to actively participate not only in your healing but in activities that are important to you like managing your schedule, your relationships, your treatments – it’s a lot to handle. So don’t be afraid to ask for support when you need it.
Many breast cancer patients seem to cope well with the stress of diagnosis and treatment. But if you are younger than average at diagnosis, have a history of depression or anxiety, or are going through extensive treatments, you may have more emotional distress and need some help. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask your doctor for a referral to a counselor or mental health professional.
Also be sure to ask about support groups in your area – you’d be surprised how just talking to some others going through the same thing can have a positive affect. Support, medication and therapy are available to you and will help you get back to feeling yourself again (and maybe better!).
Take a Break from Cancertown
If your fears are getting you down, give yourself an emotional holiday. Take some time away from everything. Go somewhere quiet and just breathe. It’s okay to have your feelings, including fear of death, but put yourself in charge of your cancer journey, and put fear in its place. A favorite quote of mine: Invite your fears in, then tell them to sit down and shut up!
Sending love and light to you in your healing journey.
If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com). It is my honor to help you through this.