A Guidebook for Courage: Navigating the First Steps After Your Breast Cancer Diagnosis

  1. Take a deep breath and let every emotion that you’re feeling right now just go- be it fear, anxiety, tears. Honor it all. Then know that you’re not alone in this fight. There are over 1 million women that have been diagnosed with breast cancer. You are not alone and finding assistance to support you is vitally important.
  2. Seek out a reputable healthcare team: Find a team of healthcare professionals specializing in breast cancer, including oncologists, surgeons, and radiologists. Get recommendations, research their expertise, and choose a team you feel comfortable and confident with.
  3. Questions to ask yourself:
    Are they patient with your questions? Are they kind, and teach you about your cancer without talking down to you? Are they hopeful and encouraging? How do I communicate with this doctor, directly or do I need to go through other channels i.e. nurse coordinator, physician assistant, nurse practitioner? Does the cancer center have a patient portal that I may communicate directly with my doctor?
    It is encouraged to get a second opinion so you can compare the information you are receiving and make the best decision.
  4. Understand your diagnosis: Ask your healthcare team to explain the details of your diagnosis, including the type and stage of breast cancer, tumor characteristics, and any additional tests or scans needed for a complete evaluation.
  5. Gather information: Educate yourself about breast cancer by accessing reliable resources, reputable websites, and support organizations. Understand the available treatment options, potential side effects, and long-term implications.
  6. Discuss treatment options: Have a thorough discussion with your healthcare team about the recommended treatment options based on your specific diagnosis. This may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or hormone therapy. Understand the benefits, risks, and potential outcomes of each option.
  7. Communicate openly with your healthcare team: Maintain clear and open communication with your healthcare team. Ask questions, express concerns, and seek clarification about your treatment plan, potential side effects, and follow-up care.
  8. Create a support network: Reach out to friends, family, and support organizations to establish a network of emotional and practical support. Consider joining breast cancer support groups, both in-person and online, to connect with others who have gone through similar experiences.
  9. Supercharge  your health!  Detox your pantry and fridge~ It’s time to rid yourself of all that unhealthy processed food and junk food. Think about supercharging your immune system with more fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes! These foods fight cancer! Yes! They have real Cancer Kicking Power!!
  10. Get your body moving! Cancer loves it when we don’t exercise and hates it when we do ! All that healthy oxygen that gets pumped into your body when you work out contributes to making your body being less hospitable to cancer. Even a brisk walk can help put an assault on cancer. Making time for at least 30 minutes of exercise three to five days a week is beneficial. Strength training and flexibility exercises, (think yoga classes) can positively impact your brain as well as fight cancer.
  11. Most cancer patients find hope in a higher being (God) so if you have a church, sharing your diagnosis can be helpful in getting people praying over you. This can be incredibly powerful. Believing in  divine healing can have such a massive effect on our brains that affect us physically.
  12. Stress relief – stress contributes up to 40% increase in breast cancer rates so we need to find ways to mitigate cortisol in our bodies. Here are some ways to help:
  1. Start a Gratitude Journal of one to three things you are grateful for each day. Write them all down and then speak them out loud. There is a real body -mind connection but we have to do our part in believing we can be healthy and well. Patients who can reframe negative emotions into positive ones benefit the most.
  2. Carve out a few minutes a day to meditate. Start out for just a couple of minutes and work your way to 10 minutes a day.  Focus on the breadth, doing box breathing where you inhale, hold and count up to 4, exhale and hold, count to 4.  Repeat this for 4 times.  Studies have shown that meditating even a few minutes a day has profound effects on our health and well-being -Plus it can lead to a more peaceful mind and allow for better sleep.
  3. Aim to get at least 6-8 hours of quality sleep a night. Tips for sleeping well: a cool dark room, and stop eating a couple hours before bedtime. Limit or eliminate alcohol intake.

Resources:

Buja A, Pierbon M, Lago L, Grotto G, Baldo V. Breast Cancer Primary Prevention and Diet: An Umbrella Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jul 1;17(13):4731. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17134731. PMID: 32630215; PMCID: PMC7369836.

Khosravi N, Stoner L, Farajivafa V, Hanson ED. Exercise training, circulating cytokine levels and immune function in cancer survivors: A meta-analysis. Brain Behav Immun. 2019 Oct;81:92-104. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2019.08.187. Epub 2019 Aug 24. PMID: 31454519.

Weaver AJ, Flannelly KJ. The role of religion/spirituality for cancer patients and their caregivers. South Med J. 2004 Dec;97(12):1210-4. doi: 10.1097/01.SMJ.0000146492.27650.1C. PMID: 15646759.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321805#how-to-do-it

Li Y, Cai S, Ling Y, Mi S, Fan C, Zhong Y, Shen Q. Association between total sleep time and all cancer mortality: non-linear dose-response meta-analysis of cohort studies. Sleep Med. 2019 Aug;60:211-218. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2019.03.026. Epub 2019 Apr 24. PMID: 31182327.

Kenne Sarenmalm E, Mårtensson LB, Andersson BA, Karlsson P, Bergh I. Mindfulness and its efficacy for psychological and biological responses in women with breast cancer. Cancer Med. 2017 May;6(5):1108-1122. doi: 10.1002/cam4.1052. Epub 2017 Apr 18. PMID: 28421677; PMCID: PMC5430085.