Did you know that breast cancer and mental health are intrinsically linked? Many people who are diagnosed with breast cancer are diagnosed with a mental health disorder during or after treatment. It can be such a stressful time, especially if you’re low on support or have other personal things going on. But, how do you manage your mental health while dealing with a physical disorder? Let’s talk about it.

How Breast Cancer Can Affect Mental Health

One of the most upsetting things that can happen to a woman is being told she has breast cancer. And even after the initial shock of the diagnosis has subsided, you may experience some symptoms of mental health illnesses. Did you know that nearly one in every four people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer experience depression according to the American Cancer Society (ACS)? And that’s not including anxiety, PTSD, or any other illness that may affect your mental.

These disorders are typically diagnosed based on the following symptoms:

  • sleep disorders, like trouble falling or staying asleep, or insomnia
  • alterations in your general state of mind, such as extreme sadness, persistent tension, or anxiety
  • absence of happiness or enthusiasm for things you usually enjoy
  • alterations in appetite that cause weight gain or loss
  • inability to get out of bed due to fatigue rather than adverse effects from breast cancer treatment
  • inability to focus or concentrate
  • using drugs or alcohol to ease tension
  • experiencing a rise in pains, such as headaches and stomachaches

It’s important to remember that NONE of these symptoms or being diagnosed with a mental illness is your fault. You are under extreme stress, and a cancer diagnosis and cancer treatments aren’t easy for anyone. Please do not take a mental health diagnosis as problem with yourself. You are not alone, nor are you a problem. You simply need the proper support and/or medications to help you feel your best, especially while going through a trying time. Even our very own Linda has her own story on dealing with both breast cancer and mental health.

Linda’s Story On Breast Cancer And Mental Health

I believe that to hear “you have cancer” at any age is off the charts frightening. I was 42 when I was diagnosed, and all I could think of was whether I was going to die and how what would happen if I had to have a mastectomy. My heart stopped when I heard the surgeon’s words that there was a high possibility of surgery.

Again, this is hard at any age, but the idea of losing a breast at 42 seriously messed with my head. Although I spoke openly to people about the need for surgery, I still found myself crying in the shower or at unexpected moments, my eyes would fill with tears. In part, it was listening to all the well-meaning comments.

I’ve been living with cancer for 20 years and have a much clearer understanding that people don’t know what to say in this situation, but to hear that how lucky I was to be getting a boob job and tummy tuck pushed me into a funk that sometimes I had a difficult time crawling out of it and despair often reared it’s big, ugly head taking with it my resolve to be positive and hopeful.  

History

There is a history of depression that weaves through my family, and its tentacles have wrapped around me for many years. Even with the PSAs that explain how this, too, is a disease, I felt such shame and had a difficult time discussing it with anyone.

When I was diagnosed I was already on medication so I had to find another way to dispel the new angst. The first thing I did was head out on daily walks. I had meditated and journaled over the years, and they became daily tools to work through this added depression, even if the change in the increased level it was temporary.

It wasn’t my intention to make this all about me or this long; it’s a bit unsettling to be this vulnerable, and I thank those reading this for giving me the space to do so. I didn’t realize how much I had been holding on to for so many years, and I hope my sharing will somehow help one of you. 

Don’t Be Afraid To Reach Out

Depression is a common side effect of a cancer diagnosis. If you’re feeling depressed, I recommend that you speak with your doctor. If medication isn’t right for you, I hope other methods mentioned in this post offer comfort. Perhaps start out with one thing.

This cancer business is already intense, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with multiple solutions when there’s so much coming at you. Despite the widespread toxic positivity on social media, you don’t always have to be strong; give yourself permission to feel. Then, get back to living your life the best you can. My heart goes out to anyone living in this space, and I’m always open to chatting with you if you need someone to talk to. hello@thetutuproject.com

How To Take Care Of Your Mental Health During And After Breast Cancer

Whether you’ve been officially diagnosed with something like depression or anxiety, or you’re just feeling blue, there are so many different things you can do to take care of your mental health. First, let’s talk about things you can do with your doctors, or with medical professionals.

First, don’t be afraid to get an official mental health diagnosis. Once that’s done, you can decide on whether you want to take medications for your depression, anxiety, etc., go to a therapist, or do both! The choices are yours, and as long as the medications are safe during treatment, your doctor should approve of them.

Second, outside of just picking a therapist, try to find one that understands the intricacies of being diagnosed with cancer. There are therapists that work with a population of people who are dealing with chronic illnesses or disorders that will require more care. So don’t be afraid to seek them out!

You can also try group therapy or find support groups that will understand what you’re going through. Sometimes it helps just knowing you’re not alone and can commiserate with others. Here’s a great list of support groups.

Some other things you can do include:

  • Become an active participant in your health. Request a written follow-up care plan from your doctor that outlines your future exam needs and recommended intervals.
  • Acknowledge significant indicators. Get a list of symptoms, such as new lumps, bleeding, or pain, that you should report to your doctor between exams.

Now that you know of some great ways to manage your mental health with professionals, let’s talk about some things you can do at home!

These include:

  • Meditation and yoga. Your level of weariness and stress can be reduced with these mindfulness exercises.
  • Exercise of any kind is also a beneficial way to release tension. Try to take walks, go for a relaxing swim or soak, or even try something fun and new like pickle ball or rebounding!
  • Visualization exercises have been shown to help many cancer patients manage their pain and stress. Start by closing your eyes and visualizing a joyful scene. It might help you feel more at ease.
  • Journaling to become more conscious of one’s experiences, feelings, and symptoms
  • Creating and preserving healthful routines
  • Establishing and maintaining social ties with friends, family, and communities

With a mixture of both professional and personal help and aids, you can feel better knowing that you’re not only focusing on your physical health, but your mental as well!

Mental Health Resources

Did you know that there are many different mental health resources out there, especially for those that have been diagnosed with breast cancer? Here are just a few options:

Breast Cancer and Mental Health: You’re Not Alone

It can be frustrating to be diagnosed with breast cancer and have to heavily focus on your mental health while going through treatment. It can seem unfair, exhausting, and time-consuming. But you’re not alone, and this IS something that you can overcome. With so many resources available, support groups, and mental professionals willing to help, you don’t have to suffer or be stuck in limbo while going through treatment. It is possible to still live a fulfilling life during and after treatment!

*The information provided on this website is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Reliance on any information provided by this website is solely at your own risk. The owners, contributors, authors, and publishers of this website are not liable for any losses, injuries, or damages arising from the use of the information on this website.*

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