7 Things You Need to Know If You’ve Just Been Diagnosed With Breast Cancer

If you or someone you love has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, your mind is probably spinning. Here, our resident breast cancer columnist, Nancy Brier, shares seven things she learned from her experience that everyone should know:

1. It’s going to get better. 

Getting a cancer diagnosis is a crazy, surreal experience. It’s for other people, I thought, when I got my diagnosis. What I learned is that those first moments, when the news is fresh and raw, is the hardest part. It might not feel like it now, but trust me, it really does get easier. Hang in there.

2. Deep breathing works.

We’ve all heard about the benefits of deep breathing exercises. Yoga teachers, mindfulness trainers, psychologists, even medical doctors tell us that slow deep breaths help body and soul. If you’ve never tried it, now’s a good time to start. A few times a day, slow down and pay attention to your breath. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.

MORE: Four topics to discuss with your doctor after a cancer diagnosis.

3. A second opinion is mandatory.

You need a second opinion, no exceptions. I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Michel Choueiri, a top oncologist who trained at MD Anderson and UC San Diego, and he urges all cancer patients to pursue a second opinion. In my own experience, it saved me from an unnecessary mastectomy and changed the course of my treatment. I’m really glad I did it, and I hope you’ll consider it, too.

4. An advocate can save your life. 

Take someone with you to every single appointment. Someone you trust who can be a second set of eyes and ears, to help you process information, make decisions, and be your ally. If that’s not possible, get a recording app on your phone and record all your appointments. Information comes at you so fast, and it’s so complicated, that you’ll need time to review it and digest it later. I never had a medical practitioner who objected to my recording devices. It really helps.

5. Help is out there. 

While you’re in treatment, a lot of people will offer to help you, even people you don’t know very well. Take it. Cancer is exhausting, and having a few dinners in your freezer or someone to run your errands can be a Godsend. I know it can feel weird to accept help, but you can pay it forward later, when you’re well again.

MORE: Seven tips for caregivers and families of cancer patients. 

6. Attitude is everything.

A friend of mine referred to chemo as poison. I immediately corrected her, because for me, chemo was a life-saving elixir. It saved my life. There’s one aspect of cancer treatment over which you have complete control, and it’s your attitude. Do your best to embrace a sense of optimism and wonder.

7. Faith can offer comfort.

No matter what your religious affiliation is, leaning on a higher power can help you cope with cancer. I’ve always been spiritual, but cancer treatment has sprinkled my life with unexpected beauty I otherwise would have missed. Even if you don’t believe in a higher power, you can tap into a sense of spiritual wonder through art, nature, kindness and generosity. Find an outlet for faith and let it work miracles in your healing.

Cancer presents overwhelming challenges. But it brings gifts, too. Many people walk this path along with you, and I wish you a meaningful journey and a full and lasting recovery.

MORE: Keep up to date with Nancy’s journey through her Lump in the Road column on Breast Cancer News.

Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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