When we break the news to women that they have breast cancer, it is one of the most difficult conversations to have; and even though we’ve had these talks countless times, they never get easier. Our patients are anxious and worried; the information we are giving them will change their life forever. As surgeons, we have the skills to heal them physically, but emotional healing is another story.
During The Breast of Everything podcast, Dr. Joe Kort, a psychotherapist and director of The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health in Royal Oak, Michigan, shares his insights about breast cancer and grief, and how to help women effectively deal emotionally with their diagnosis.
Allow yourself some time to feel angry and upset. When you express these feelings – verbally or in writing – it tends to help you let go of them.
For spouses, they also are dealing with the emotional toll of your diagnosis. They feel helpless; allow them to be helpful. Even though cancer patients often are not willing to ask for help and want to remain in charge, remember that your partner wants to help you. Let him.
What about the kids? Do you tell them you have cancer? How do you tell them? What is the best approach? First, don’t lie to them. Kids know. They will sense something is wrong. Tell them the truth but in terms understandable for their age. They may blame themselves, thinking they were bad and that is why you got cancer. Reassure them. Be real, provide the facts, and keep it as positive as possible. Listen to them and answer their questions the best way you can.
Breast cancer patients not only grieve over their diagnosis, but also over how their cancer may change their appearance. They may never look or feel the same way again, they believe. Their breasts are part of their sexuality and they worry about losing that. How will their spouse react? Will it affect their relationship?
Breast cancer can be a growth experience for couples depending how each person is coping with the diagnosis.
Grief can take unexpected forms. Expect the unexpected. Expect guilt, expect self-blame, expect blaming others. Women are faced with a whole new set of issues they never have encountered before in their life.
During this time, find ways to help yourself relax, try to stay as active as you can, keep your life as routine as you can, try to find activities that bring you joy, and control what you can control and let go of what you cannot control. It is important to know there is help and support if you need it. Talk with your physician and seek counseling if you feel you need additional help.