1. How you might feel
2. Who to talk to
3. Talking to other people with breast cancer
4. Telling friends and family about breast cancer
5. Anxiety and stress
6. Low mood and depression
7. Loss of identity
8. Feeling isolated
9. Adjusting to life after treatment

1. How you might feel

A diagnosis of breast cancer can have many different emotional effects. When you are first diagnosed you may feel:

  • fear – unsure what the future holds
  • shock – a feeling of 'why me?'
  • anger – asking 'what have I done to deserve this?'
  • disbelief – especially if you feel well and healthy
  • relieved – that the cancer has been found
  • anxiety – about treatment and the future
  • sadness – because your life is changing
  • numb – you might not feel anything at all

My feelings were of complete shock and anger… I was so emotional and truly thought I was going to die.

Margaret

My first response was to turn to my husband and say “I am sorry!”. I didn’t know what else to say. I felt numb. The numbness stayed for weeks.

Saba

Whatever your initial feelings, you’ll probably go on to experience many different emotions.

You may feel determined not to let the cancer take over your life. You might be anxious about your treatment or sad because your life is changing. It’s natural to feel hopeful on some days, and very low or anxious on others.

Everyone copes with a diagnosis of breast cancer in different ways and you’re likely to experience a range of emotions. There’s no list of right or wrong feelings to have and no correct order to have them in. It may help you to take time to rest, eat a healthy diet, keep active if you are able to and, when you can, do something you enjoy.

The way you feel about your cancer and how it has affected you and your body will change over time. The concerns you have when you are diagnosed can be quite different from those at the end of treatment, and different again years later.

How you react to your breast cancer can depend not only on you but also on those around you or your cultural background. Some people feel they must keep putting on a brave face for family, friends and even for the doctors and nurses looking after them. Others prefer to let their feelings show and draw strength and support from people close to them.

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2. Who to talk to about issues or concerns

If you have issues or concerns about your breast cancer, you can talk to:

Most people will be put in contact with a breast care nurse during the early days of diagnosis and treatment. They are there to offer support and information to you and your family. Often they will be able to spend time with you, helping you understand your options and supporting you.

Once treatment has finished, you can usually continue to contact your breast care nurse if you have any worries or concerns, or need ongoing support, even if this is many years after you’ve been diagnosed.

Find out the different ways we can support you.

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3. Talking to other people with breast cancer

For some, meeting with other people who are in a similar situation can help to reduce feelings of anxiety, isolation or fear. You may want to try:

  • breast cancer support groups, which can provide a sense of community, and be an opportunity to share your experiences and learn different ways of dealing with problems. To find out about groups in your area ask your breast care nurse or contact your local cancer information centre
  • our Someone Like Me telephone support, to be put in touch with someone with a similar experience of breast cancer so you can talk through your worries and share experiences over the phone
  • our Someone Like Me email service, if you prefer talking over email
  • our online Forum, where you can exchange tips on coping with the side effects of treatment, ask questions, share experiences and talk through concerns online
  • our chemotherapy monthly threads on the Forum are useful if you want to talk to other people who are starting treatment at the same timeBack to top

4. Telling friends and family

You might be nervous about talking to people about your diagnosis, especially at first.

Read our tips on talking to your friends and family.

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5. Managing stress and anxiety

After a diagnosis of breast cancer, you may feel more stressed or anxious than usual. Some people may experience anxiety for the first time.

Find out how you can manage stress and anxiety.

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6. Low mood and depression

Most people have low moods or depression after a diagnosis or breast cancer. You don’t have to ignore these feelings and struggle on. There are many effective therapies that can help.

Find out more about coping with low mood and depression.

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7. Loss of identity

You may feel like life as you knew it has been disrupted by the diagnosis of breast cancer and that you have lost a sense of who you are.

It’s not uncommon for people to feel their body has let them down or that they need to exert some control over their lives at a time when they feel unsure about the future and the changes in their body. During this time you may experience a number of emotions such as anger, fear, shock and disbelief.

Feeling you have lost your identity at times can affect a number of areas of your life. Finding it difficult to work and maintain relationships can add to the feelings of loss you’re experiencing.

Your sexuality and how attractive you feel may also have been affected by breast surgery or menopausal symptoms caused by treatment.

Our information and services can help you cope with these feelings and adjust to life after treatment:

  • mental health toolkit
  • Moving Forward book
  • Moving Forward course

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8. Feeling isolated

Many people find it difficult to relate to people around them after breast cancer treatment. This can be because:

  • your relationships have changed
  • you’re finding it difficult to work
  • your sex life has been affected
  • those around are eager for you to ‘return to normal’

If people around you are expecting you to go back to the person you were before you were diagnosed, this in turn can make you feel very isolated and alone. You might feel the need to avoid situations where you have to deal with others’ responses to you. Many people experience these types of issues.  

You don’t want to talk about it all the time but during those initial months after the end of your treatment it is never very far from your mind. That can feel quite isolating.

Heather

Tips to feel less isolated

  • Try to identify the area that is having the biggest impact and make some gradual changes
  • Sharing your feelings with your healthcare team or a counsellor can help you feel more confident and comfortable with yourself
  • You may find it useful to ask those close to you to look at this website to help them understand the issues you may be facing. This may help you to talk to them about how you are feeling
  • Talking to someone else who has been through similar experiences may help you feel less isolated and learn how to cope betterBack to top

9. Adjusting to life after treatment

Finishing your hospital-based treatment can feel like a real achievement, but many people find it difficult to adjust to life after treatment. You may feel:

  • life has changed and you’ve lost your identity
  • your self-confidence has been affected
  • isolated
  • anxious or stressed
  • low or depressed
  • worried about the cancer coming back

You might feel that you should be able to move on with your life, but instead you’re still experiencing many different emotions. You may have been left with reminders of what you have been through and a sense of loss for how things were before.  

You might have other things to deal with such as:

It can take a long time to get used to the changes that have taken place and to adjust to life after breast cancer

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Last reviewed: September 2018
Next planned review begins 2020

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