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After Breast Cancer

Overwhelm is perhaps the biggest emotion within survival of breast cancer.

Breast cancer survivorship brings tremendous challenges to emotional well-being.

Chemo-brain, changes in body image, continual fatigue, fear of recurrence, lymphedema, difficulty with sleep patterns, changes in eating, permanent body changes, are only a few of many concerns a breast cancer survivor copes with, affecting their well-being.

To make sense of the powerful impact breast cancer plays on a survivor's well-being it's essential to look at emotions in opposition to their wellbeing, e.g., emotions such as overwhelm, grief, worry, depression, fear and anxiety.

Between numerous physical changes and emotional responses, its no wonder a breast cancer survivor's well-being often takes a hit.


Overwhelm is perhaps the biggest emotion within survival of breast cancer.

It usually begins at pre-diagnosis with seeing the doctor, continuing on and off through treatment, and certainly at the end of treatment.

Now the survivor has entered into a new chapter of life that doesn't include frequent contact with medical staff she/he often saw during


It's not unusual to see overwhelm escalate after the glow of celebrating survivorship has faded.

Overwhelm can be recognized in statements such as: "What am I suppose to do now.I don't even recognize myself anymore?"

"Everyone thinks I'm fine, I can go back to work, take care of the kids.I am NOT fine!"

Grief, Worry, Depression

Grief, worry, and depression are triplets that hang out together often spiraling a breast cancer survivor's well-being downward.

Thoughts of worry usually blossom, resulting in a sense of sadness or helplessness.€

The survivor will go over these thoughts repeatedly escalating them sometimes into clinical depression.

Clinical depression is defined as lasting two weeks, interfering with daily functioning and affects 25% of cancer patients, National Cancer Institute.

Signs to look for include:

  • Loss of interest in daily activities

  • Persistent sadness or feeling of emptiness

    Sleep disturbance

  • Significant weight loss or gain

  • Loss of concentration

  • Fatigue

  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior

    Certainly not all depression is clinical, but must be observed and appropriately evaluated. Depression can be recognized in the following two statements.

"I just don't know what's happening to me, I can't remember things, I don't look normal, I don't want to be around anybody."

"I'm so worried my spouse will leave me. We just don't seem to talk anymore and sex is out of the question."

Fear And Anxiety

Fear and anxiety are the twins who commonly come together interfering with a breast cancer survivor's wellbeing. These emotions relentlessly ask the questions

  • What if cancer recurs or goes to another organ?

  • What if I have to have more surgery/chemo/radiation?

  • What if something happens to me and I can't take care of my children?

Reading a website with poor information, watching a cancer TV show, and talking with friends, family, others can spur on additional fear and anxiety.

"I'm so scared to go back for my check-up, I keep calling to cancel."

"I can't focus on what people are saying, or what's going on around me. I just keep thinking about cancer."

Nurses Role

For the majority of breast cancer survivors, nurses are on the front lines of their medical care and are trusted. Their patients' well-being is naturally affected by medical knowledge and compassion.

Undistracted, active listening both to words and non-verbal body language clearly empowers breast cancer survivors.

An understanding of common emotions allows nurses to guide their patients to additional resources as needed. These resources may include counseling or a breast cancer survivors' support group.

Niki Barr founded a pioneering psychotherapy practice dedicated to working with cancer patients in all stages of the disease, along with their family members, caregivers and friends. In her book, "Emotional Wellness: The Other Half of Treating Cancer," she describes an "emotional wellness toolbox" patients can put together with effective and simple strategies, ready to use at any time, for helping them move forward through cancer.

Special Coverage

Breast Cancer Awareness

ADVANCE honors those who are dealing with breast cancer - both patients and caregivers.


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