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Breast cancer is not the kind of illness anyone ever expects to face. It can be emotionally and physically draining for the patient as well as the family. Hence, after diagnosis, you may experience a range of emotions like distress and denial, coupled with physical changes. There is a significant link between physical and psychological health.
According to studies conducted by the American Psychological Association, mortality rates were 26 times higher in patients with depressive symptoms and 39% higher in patients with acute depression.
Only when your mental health needs are met, can you better handle the demands of breast cancer treatment.
Let us look at some psychological changes that a breast cancer patient generally goes through.
When you first hear the word “cancer” from your doctor, it is natural to be frightened and anxious. You will be worried about treatments, their side-effects, and all the implications for you and your loved ones. Cancer treatments can also have long-term implications for the family and financially. Keep a mental note that you could face fear and anxiety and talk about these feelings with those close to you.
After the diagnosis, you might feel angry. The pertinent question ‘Why me?’ may make you snap at your loved ones, the people around you, or even at yourself. You might experience false guilt, be afraid of the treatment and wonder how your family will react and cope.
Cancer diagnosis raises many fears. It’s normal to be afraid and uncertain about the future. Uncertainty can make you feel angry, afraid, anxious or irritable. However, it is important to know that all these feelings are normal and it’s essential that you acknowledge them. Acceptance is the first step towards a wholesome treatment, recognizing your anger and asking yourself if your anger is hiding other feelings is important. You can release your anger through exercise, yoga or relaxation exercises. Keeping a journal or a blog can help you understand your feelings better.
Even when you are surrounded by friends and family, you might feel sad and lonely. These feelings may become profound in times when you are unable to carry out your regular activities or work and socialize. Serious illnesses like breast cancer can also trigger a sense of losing control of your life and feeling powerless. These feelings, if left unattended, can spiral into depression. To overcome these emotions, you need a plan to handle the changes.
Apart from psychological changes there are, of course, certain significant physical changes women with breast cancer experience.
Chemotherapy can cause hair loss because it attacks cells that quickly divide like those in hair follicles. Remember that this physical change is temporary, and hair usually starts to grow in a couple of weeks after the treatment begins.
Breast cancer treatments can disrupt normal hormone production, and this can lead to interruptions in menstrual cycles. Many women may never regain normal hormone production and might enter menopause. The treatment could cause women to have a lower sex drive. Libido often improves once the treatment is over, but it is better to discuss this with your doctor.
Having breast cancer surgery or radiation may cause lymphedema. Lymphedema is a condition in which fluids collect in different parts of the body and cause swelling.
Many women experience weight gain during breast cancer treatment. The weight gain may be a result of chemotherapy, steroidal medications, or hormone therapies.
Breast cancer can affect your future, but you don’t have to let it affect your perspective.
Talk to your doctor and understand the whole treatment plan, possible areas of concern, and any psychological changes that you might be experiencing. Acceptance of the situation and keeping a positive outlook towards treatment can go a long way in helping the body and mind during and after treatment.
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