Breast cancer takes a toll: The importance of emotional support and where to find it

Breast cancer is well-known and widespread. It’s estimated that close to 300,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, making it one of the leading cancers in women. That said, a breast cancer diagnosis is by no means easy to accept or deal with. 

Battling breast cancer comes with a multitude of challenges—some of which women don’t expect to face. For example, many women struggle with their body image during and after breast cancer. Their bodies go through changes and can begin to feel like foreign terrain. It’s important to love your body during and after an experience like cancer, but how? Where is the instruction manual? 

Overcoming these challenges is easier said than done, which is why it’s imperative to have emotional support and outlets, both during and after experiencing breast cancer. Fortunately, those who have won the battle can guide and support others who receive a breast cancer diagnosis and encounter these challenges.

How Do I Accept That I Have Cancer?

As stated above, it’s so important to establish a strong and healthy support system. Receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer may create several ongoing grieving processes as a person progresses through treatment. For example, the fear of death at the initial diagnosis, the loss of hair, and learning one will need a mastectomy are all different losses that may trigger the grieving process. You’ll need to have a community of people that you can lean on as needed as you face such a terrifying and brutal ordeal.

Though family can be a great emotional support system, it can be hard for families to be the sole emotional resource for someone in crisis, as they are all experiencing a level of crisis. One of the best resources you can find for yourself is a group of other people who have or survived breast cancer. 

Yes, your family, friends, and co-workers love and support you in every way possible. However, it’s different when you can connect with someone who has been where you are and knows exactly how you feel. 

Breast cancer survivors and those who are still battling breast cancer can build each other up on the hard days and the not-so-hard ones. There are many women out there who have had their bodies warped, poked, and prodded because of chemotherapy and surgery and they’ve come to love themselves and their new bodies.

How Do You Cope With Living With Breast Cancer?

Being diagnosed with breast cancer—or any type of cancer for that matter—can make you feel isolated and scared. During and after these difficult times, it’s crucial to lean on and support one another. Connecting with people who have or are experiencing breast cancer can help boost your confidence and provide you with much-needed support. Finding a community of breast cancer warriors and survivors can serve as the support system that many women need to push through. 

Speaking with a mental health professional, both as you go through breast cancer and after, is also an excellent way to process your emotions. With such intense emotions as fear, grief, sadness, depression, and bitterness (among others) stewing within you, it can be hard to get everything you need out. A clinician is there to get you a safe, non-judgmental space where you express whatever you need to and explore how these emotions could be cropping up in other areas of your life.

How Does Breast Cancer Affect You Mentally?

Being diagnosed with breast cancer can come with a lot of challenges, like mastectomies and declining body image. In addition to the physical tolls, there are mental tolls that come with breast cancer, too. Aside from body image, there’s grief, stress, and a journey of self-acceptance and self-love

It’s hard enough to receive this type of diagnosis, let alone bear the emotional toll it can take. When faced with the decision to have a mastectomy, many things can run through your mind: 

  1. Will it work? Will all of my cancer be removed?
  2. Will I be able to love myself and my scars? 
  3. How will I look like a woman after the surgery? 
  4. Will my partner look at me differently? 
  5. What if I go through this and it still comes back? 

You don’t have to deal with these thoughts and fears alone. Others have been where you stand and are willing to help you get through this. For those who have had these thoughts and overcome these hardships, you can be the light and guidance that another woman needs. 

How Do You Survive Cancer Emotionally?

As you go through the experience of breast cancer, it’s normal to go through several different stages of grief. It’s not one smooth, straight shot through recovery. Here are some simple ways you can process and manage your emotions:

1. Lean on others.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of leaning on a community of fellow breast cancer warriors and survivors. While the support of our family and friends is important, connecting with others who have experienced breast cancer can aid in building strength and resiliency. Support groups could just be the thing you need to improve your mental well-being. Plus, sharing your survivor stories can be extremely therapeutic. 

2. Let it out.

Expressing your thoughts and feelings can be very therapeutic — not just for you, but also those around you that are being affected by your diagnosis. It is important to share your emotions and allow yourself to be taken care of and loved. It can also help your loved ones by opening a space where they can share their emotions (when appropriate). 

3. Be patient with yourself.

Another important thing to do is to give yourself time to adjust to the changes in your body and appearance. Practicing self-acceptance and self-love is key, but it’s not something that happens quickly, nor is it something you can force. Working toward self-love and acceptance can be accomplished through mindfulness, positive affirmations, and surrounding yourself with people and things that bring you joy. 

4. Talk to a professional.

Support from the breast cancer community and your loved ones is essential. However, you might need a little extra guidance and support along the way. If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, talking to a mental health professional can offer added help and support. More specifically, counselors and therapists can provide you with effective coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult emotions and overcoming some of the other mental roadblocks standing in your way of happiness. 

How Can We Support People With Breast Cancer?

Though breast cancer is something thousands of women experience every year, each person’s journey will be different — and so will their needs. Here are some practical steps you can take to support loved ones experiencing breast cancer:

  • Offer to listen: Though your loved one may have difficult thoughts and feelings about their breast cancer journey, it can be hard to talk about the intense, and even dark, emotions they feel without the concrete knowledge that you want to hear it. Make sure they know that you are there when and if they want to talk about anything they’re going through. It can also help to clarify whether they want advice, understanding, or silent support and solidarity.
  • Give them emotional space: To support your loved one with breast cancer, there needs to be room for everything: the good and the bad. It’s not up to you to decide how your loved one feels that day, what they need, or how they will face this. Some days will be better than others: some will be for talking, others for laughing, and others still for silent companionship. The grief, anger, and sadness that come with breast cancer will affect everyone differently, and the best way to support them is to be flexible and patient.
  • Perform acts of service: Letting someone know you care doesn’t always have to involve listening or being near them. Doing small acts of kindness like cooking a meal, cleaning their house, helping them with chores, taking care of their kids, or any number of other tasks can be as touching as a loving word or touch, and can take a huge burden of stress off of them in the process.
  • Ask them what they need: At the end of the day, any random kind gesture can pale compared to the emotional impact of doing something your loved one very much wants or needs — and it’s as easy as asking them. If you can get them to list a few things that would make a huge difference to them, then you’ll have a clear list of practical, meaningful steps you can take to support them during this trying time.

Mentally and emotionally overcoming a traumatic event like breast cancer won’t be a straightforward process. You’ll have your highs and lows, and that’s okay. Just be sure to lean on your support system, which ideally consists of your loved ones, fellow breast cancer warriors, and a mental health professional. And remember to offer that same support to other warriors and survivors along the way.

Table of contents

How Do I Accept That I Have Cancer?

How Do You Cope With Living With Breast Cancer?

How Does Breast Cancer Affect You Mentally?

How Do You Survive Cancer Emotionally?

How Can We Support People With Breast Cancer?

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Emily Simonian

Emily Simonian, M.A., LMFT

Emily Simonian is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) who has direct training and experience working with family and relationship issues, as well as working with individuals. She also specializes in treating stress/anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, as well as self-esteem issues and general self-improvement goals.

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Hannah DeWitt

Hannah is a Junior Copywriter at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree in English: Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University. Previously, Hannah has worked in copywriting positions in the car insurance and trucking sectors doing blog-style and journalistic writing and editing.

We only use authoritative, trusted, and current sources in our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our efforts to deliver factual, trustworthy information.

  • Breast cancer – statistics. (2023, February 23). Cancer.Net.

We update our content on a regular basis to ensure it reflects the most up-to-date, relevant, and valuable information. When we make a significant change, we summarize the updates and list the date on which they occurred. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  • Originally published on October 27, 2020

    Author: Madison Bambini

    Reviewer: Emily Simonian, LMFT

  • Updated on September 27, 2023

    Author: Hannah DeWitt

    Changes: Updated by the Thriveworks editorial team, adding information about how to accept and cope with a cancer diagnosis, the mental and emotional impact of breast cancer, and how best to support loved ones with breast cancer.

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