Living with secondary breast cancer

A diagnosis of secondary breast cancer will affect many areas of your life. This page looks at how you might identify and address your needs and concerns.

1. Emotional concerns
2. Physical concerns
3. Practical concerns
4. Money and work
5. Other needs and concerns
6. Holistic needs assessment (HNA)
7. Support for living with secondary breast cancer

1. Emotional concerns

Living with uncertainty

The uncertainty of living with secondary breast cancer can be the hardest part for many people.

Some people find living in the present and making plans from day to day easier than looking ahead. Others find that planning for the future helps them feel more in control.

Marie, Diane and Tara talk about coping with the uncertainty of secondary breast cancer.

With the right information and support, many people are able to feel more confident about how to cope and make decisions about their care and treatment. However, there will almost certainly be days when you don’t feel this way.

Even though it may be hard, try to think about your future. It may not be the future you would have wished for, but you can still think about your goals and how you’d like to plan the coming months or years.

Anxiety, stress and depression

There will probably be times when you’re anxious or stressed, and this is natural.

Find out about ways to control stress and anxiety, including self-help techniques and talking therapies.

If negative thoughts are affecting your day-to-day life and don’t go away within a few weeks or keep coming back, it may indicate that you’re depressed.

Find out more about depression, including how to spot the signs and the treatments available.

Useful organisations:

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2. Physical concerns

Coping with the effects of treatment

Side effects from treatment for secondary breast cancer will vary according to the type of treatment you’re having.

Your specialist or palliative care team can offer expert advice and help on how to control them.

You can also read our information about dealing with side effects of:

Coping with symptoms of the cancer

You may feel well and have no symptoms for a long time. When you develop symptoms, treatment aims to improve these so you can carry on doing the things you enjoy for as long as possible.

Common symptoms of secondary breast cancer include:

You can find out more about managing these and other symptoms in our information on secondary breast cancer in the bone, liver, lungs and brain.

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3. Practical concerns

It can often feel as though there’s a lot of information available about your breast cancer, but much less about where practical support is available.

Examples of things you might need help with include:

  • household duties such as cleaning
  • managing pets
  • shopping
  • transport to or from hospital appointments

Family and friends may offer practical help. Other people, such as neighbours, colleagues or friends of friends, are often willing to help too. You may find it difficult to ask, but in times of need people are often keen to help however they can.

Local services

It can be useful to know about support services you can access to help you maintain your quality of life.

Voluntary services, such as the British Red Cross and the Carers Trust, can provide practical support in many areas. You may also be able to get help with jobs around the house.

Your specialist team, GP, social worker or local cancer information centre may be able to tell you about other sources of practical support.

Useful organisations:

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4. Money and work

Read our information about finances and secondary breast cancer.

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5. Other needs and concerns

Relationships, family and friends

A diagnosis of cancer can affect your relationship with those closest to you, and many people worry how their loved ones will cope.

Tara, a clinical nurse specialist, and Marie, who has secondary breast cancer, discuss how secondary breast cancer can affect relationships, friends and family.

Diet

There’s no evidence that people with secondary breast cancer should follow a special diet. However, a healthy, balanced diet can help give you energy and improve your mood.

Read our information on diet and breast cancer.

Physical activity

Regular exercise has several benefits, from improving your mood and increasing fitness, strength, stamina and flexibility to controlling weight and reducing fatigue.

Before starting any exercise it’s important to discuss it with your specialist team.

Social concerns

Managing side effects, making choices about treatment and having ongoing tests can take up a lot of time. So it can be difficult to continue to do the things you’ve always done.

Keeping connected with people and taking up opportunities to join in activities when possible can help increase your confidence and improve your sense of wellbeing.

You might find it helpful to talk with other people about how their diagnosis has affected their social lives. You can connect with other people through our online discussion Forum, Live Chat or Living with Secondary Breast Cancer services.

Spiritual concerns

If you have a religious faith, you may find that it helps you cope with your diagnosis. Or this may be a time when you question your faith.

You may have never had a religious belief or be unsure what you believe, but find yourself thinking and questioning now.

Whether you’re sure in your beliefs or looking for answers, you may choose to talk to a religious leader of your chosen faith.

Language and cultural concerns  

Communication is very important in all areas of healthcare.

If information is needed in a different language, hospitals can arrange translator services at appointments. Some hospitals also provide written translation services.

Interpreting services such as sign language, braille or large text documents can also be provided.

It’s important that your specialist team are aware of your wishes so they can respect these when discussing and planning your treatment and care. These may be part of your cultural or religious background or your individual personality or beliefs.

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6. Holistic needs assessment (HNA)

What is an HNA?

A holistic needs assessment (HNA) helps you to think about your needs and concerns across all areas of your life and find possible solutions.

An HNA usually includes a:

  • checklist or simple set of questions to identify concerns
  • discussion with a healthcare professional who has the experience and skills to deal with your concerns
  • written plan of care

You may be asked to complete the assessment, either on paper or electronically, at home before attending an appointment to discuss your plan of care.

Remember that these are your concerns so you can choose what you discuss. If your needs change, they can be reassessed using the HNA.

Benefits of an HNA

An HNA can help you:

  • get support and information specific to your needs
  • prioritise your most important concerns
  • be referred to relevant organisations and services for help
  • plan ahead from your diagnosis

How to get an HNA

You may be offered an assessment by your nurse specialist or another member of the specialist team around the time of your diagnosis.

If an HNA isn’t offered, you can ask for one at any time.

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7. Secondary breast cancer and support groups

Marie and Diane share their experiences of support groups and talking to other people with secondary breast cancer.

Find a support group near you

Last reviewed: May 2018
Next planned review begins 2020

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