Cancer does not only come with physical side effects. There are also emotional ones. While not technically symptoms, the emotional toll that cancer can take on a person can often be debilitating. Fear, despair, and often even anger and guilt. These are all normal feelings to experience when you\u2019re going through cancer diagnosis and treatment. Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in Malaysia. Approximately 1 in 20 women in the country develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Kelly Lai, Counsellor, Cancer & Radiosurgery Centre, Subang Jaya Medical Centre We sat down with cancer counsellor from Subang Jaya Medical Centre, Kelly Lai, to learn about how you can emotionally cope with breast cancer. Q1: How does a breast cancer diagnosis affect a person emotionally, and why is emotional support crucial in this context? Cancer is often seen as a death sentence, including breast cancer. It not only affects the patient but also their family members. Therefore, immediate emotional support from family members is crucial when facing a cancer diagnosis. The patient should not feel alone on this journey. Breast cancer diagnosis brings a range of emotional effects for patients. The most common one will often be fear and anxiety. Especially fear about the future, treatment, and the unknown. A shocking cancer diagnosis can also cause some patients to struggle with accepting their new reality. This is why denial is such a powerful coping mechanism Grief is also be a common emotional response. This includes grief for the loss of health, freedom and the future. Another emotion is anger, which may be directed towards oneself or external factors. Depression and isolation can result from self-imposed seclusion, while changes in body image and self-esteem can lead to fear of judgment. Cancer may also alter roles and identities within families and communities. This is why emotional support is essential during a breast cancer diagnosis. It provides a judgment-free platform for expressing feelings and sharing worries, ensuring patients are heard and understood. Emotional support equips patients with healthy coping mechanisms. Helping them build resilience for managing stress and anxiety. Another way to cope cancer-related emotions is to connect with those who've had similar experiences. This can help combat isolation and enhance their ability to maintain a more positive outlook on their journey. All this can ultimately improve their quality of life and their ability to cope with any challenges they face. Q2: What are common emotional challenges during breast cancer treatment? Breast cancer treatment is often accompanied by a range of emotional challenges that can vary from person to person, depending on individual personality, coping mechanisms, support systems, treatment plans, and overall health. For instance, many patients can experience anxiety and fear about the cancer diagnosis. This includes treatment outcomes, potential side effects, recurrence, and post-treatment lifestyle. This can be accompanied by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair. Moreover, surgeries like mastectomy can change body image, and chemotherapy can cause hair loss. In turn, it can lead to low self-esteem about your appearance. Q3: Can you share strategies for managing anxiety and depression related to breast cancer? Seek Professional Help Reach out to mental health professionals. These can be counsellors, clinical psychologists, or psychiatrists. Especially those who specialise in dealing with cancer-related anxiety and depression. Join a Breast Cancer Support Group Join a breast cancer support group where you can connect with others who understand what you\u2019re going through. Sharing experiences and feelings with people in a similar situation can help reduce feelings of isolation and provide mutual emotional support. Exercise Regularly Perform regular exercise to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. Working out releases endorphins, which are mood boosters and can improve overall mental wellbeing. Educate Yourself Gather all the information you can about breast cancer. Understanding your condition a little better can reduce feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. However, it\u2019s important not to overdo it as this can often cause more distress. Stay Connected with Your Loved Ones Sharing your thoughts and emotions with family and friends will help you manage your anxiety and depression. Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques These techniques can help reduce anxiety and promote a sense of calmness and centeredness. Q4: How important is a strong support system for helping patients cope emotionally with breast cancer? A strong support system is immensely important in helping patients cope emotionally with breast cancer, especially during treatment. This support can come from loved ones, friends, healthcare providers, support groups, and mental health professionals. They all play a crucial role in the overall wellbeing and mental health during the cancer journey. A strong support system can significantly impact an individual's ability to cope emotionally with breast cancer. Validation, reducing isolation, assisting with practical needs, promoting treatment adherence, and offering hope and resilience throughout the cancer journey. Q5: What advice can you give to patients dealing with fear and uncertainty about the future? It is completely normal to feel fear and uncertainty about the future. However, patients are encouraged to seek out mental health professionals if the need arises. Seeking help from mental health professionals is a sign of strength, not weakness. Additionally, patients can reach out to their support network, including family members, friends, and support groups. Sharing their feelings with others can provide comfort and reassurance. Q6: Are there effective complementary therapies or practices to enhance emotional wellbeing during breast cancer treatment? Several complementary therapies and practices can significantly boost emotional wellbeing during breast cancer treatment. These approaches aid in handling the emotional hurdles of breast cancer, reducing stress, anxiety, and depression while improving overall quality of life. There are many effective methods. The first is mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which fosters present-moment awareness and stress reduction. Another one is breathing exercises for relaxation and emotional balance. Journaling and creative writing can help process emotions. Also, engaging in spiritual practices like prayer and meditation for comfort and emotional support. Q7: What signs suggest that a breast cancer survivor may be experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms, and how can they seek help? Breast cancer survivors may face post-traumatic stress symptoms after treatment. Signs of this include persistent negative thoughts, guilt, shame, and reduced interest in activities, as well as avoiding cancer-related reminders. These symptoms can lead to panic attacks and intense fear. To cope, survivors should seek help from healthcare professionals and consider joining support groups for validation and coping strategies. Mindfulness and relaxation techniques can also help reduce stress and anxiety related to post-traumatic stress symptoms. Q8: Where can patients and their families find reliable resources and professional support for emotional challenges related to breast cancer? Patients and their families dealing with emotional challenges related to breast cancer can find valuable support and resources from a range of sources, including: \tReputable cancer centres and hospitals, where dedicated support services, counselling, support groups, and access to mental health professionals experienced in cancer-related emotional challenges are often available \tOncologists and healthcare providers, who can provide essential information and guidance \tLocal breast cancer support groups in your community or nearby areas, offering a platform for sharing emotions and coping strategies \tTrusted educational websites like the American Cancer Society, Hong Kong Anti-cancer Society, European Society for Medical Oncology, WebMD, and others for accurate information on breast cancer, treatments, and emotional wellbeing \tHospital counsellors, who can offer guidance and direct you to appropriate resources and support services based on your specific needs. Q9: Can you discuss the long-term emotional effects of breast cancer, especially survivorship issues, and provide guidance on managing these emotions over time? Breast cancer survivors often grapple with enduring emotional effects. The fear of cancer recurrence is a common concern, triggered by follow-up appointments, medical tests, or any bodily changes. Chronic anxiety and depression may persist, stemming from the trauma of the cancer experience, the fear of recurrence, or the late side effects of treatments. Surgery-related changes in physical appearance can lead to self-esteem issues and a negative body image. Additionally, breast cancer can impact intimate relationships and sexual functioning, resulting in challenges in expressing emotions or fear of burdening loved ones. To manage these emotions, survivors are advised to maintain regular follow-up appointments with their healthcare team and discuss concerns openly. Engaging in family counselling and support groups can help address relationship issues and emotional challenges. Regular physical activity and a healthy lifestyle can boost mood and self-esteem, while volunteering and sharing experiences with other cancer patients can be emotionally rewarding. Engaging in fulfilling hobbies and activities can contribute to maintaining a positive outlook on life. Q10: Are there any common misconceptions or myths about coping with breast cancer emotionally that you'd like to dispel? There are several common misconceptions or myths about coping with cancer that need clarification: Myth 1: Cancer is a death sentence. Fact: The fact is that early detection and treatment have saved many lives. Myth 2: Constant positivity is essential to beat cancer. Fact: It's important to allow yourself to feel a range of emotions, including fear, anger, sadness, and anxiety. Myth 3: Seeking help implies weakness. Fact: Seeking support is a sign of strength and a recognition of the need for assistance. Myth 4: Talking about cancer makes it worse. Fact: Open discussion about your thoughts and feelings can be therapeutic and promote healing, leading to valuable emotional support and perspective. Myth 5: Only the patient needs support. Fact: Family and caregivers require emotional support as well, as they navigate their own challenges and emotional responses to the diagnosis and treatment. Myth 6: Emotions should quickly return to normal after treatment ends. Fact: Emotional healing takes time, and ongoing support is crucial beyond the active treatment phase. Myth 7: Cancer survivorship is a quick process. Fact: Surviving cancer is a lifelong journey involving ongoing adjustments in emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing, as survivors find a 'new normal' in their lives. Source: Kelly Lai, Counsellor, Cancer & Radiosurgery Centre at Subang Jaya Medical Centre Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice from Motherhood. For any health-related concerns, it is advisable to consult with a qualified healthcare professional or medical practitioner. For more insightful stories and fun recipes, stay tuned to Motherhood Story!