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Living with Breast Cancer: Your Emotions

Being diagnosed with a serious illness like breast cancer can be a shock. Your diagnosis and treatment may trigger a range of emotional responses. This is a normal reaction and you should give yourself permission to feel the emotions that you experience. Your response is unique to you - there is no right or wrong way to feel.

Know that you don’t have to go through this alone: there are supports available to help you through your diagnosis and treatment.

Emotional Responses To Diagnosis

After being diagnosed with breast cancer, you may feel that every part of your life has suddenly changed. It is not surprising that strong emotions arise when you learn that you have a serious illness. Some of the thoughts and feelings you may experience during this time include:

  • Initial shock when you receive the diagnosis

  • Fear of dying

  • Anxiety due to what you know or have heard about going through breast cancer treatment

  • Anger for a range of reasons – a sense of unfairness that you have cancer or feeling like your body has let you down

  • Fear about permanent changes to your body

  • Concern about the possible impact on your family

  • Doubt about your future plans, such as your career and relationships

Some of these feelings may begin before you are diagnosed; having an abnormal test result and waiting for a diagnosis can be a very stressful time. Not all of the feelings you experience may be negative, however. You may have been feeling that something was wrong with your health and experience a sense of relief at having the issue diagnosed and knowing that you will now be treated.

Initially, you may want to share the news of your diagnosis with a couple of friends or family members who are close to you. If the emotions you are experiencing seem intense or overwhelming, you may want to take some time to gather your thoughts and feelings before telling others. This can help you think about and explain what kind of support you need during this time.

Emotional Responses To Treatment

It will likely take you some time to adjust to the changes that result from your diagnosis and treatment. Depending on the treatment plan that you and your health care team decide on, you may receive treatment over many weeks or months. During this time, you may experience a range of normal emotions, including:

  • Psychological stresses arising from your treatment and its side effects 

  • Anger about having to go through treatment or thoughts and feelings of “why me?”

  • Anxiety about the next phases of your treatment and possible side effects

  • Fear that your treatments will not work or that the cancer will return

  • Shame or guilt that you have cancer

  • Guilt about the demands that your condition might impose on your family and friends or that you are letting people down by being sick

  • Sadness or depression from the feeling that things won’t get better. You may experience a lack of motivation to do things you used to enjoy, a sense of hopelessness or desire to withdraw from family and friends

It’s normal to experience different emotions as you move through various stages of treatment. Having surgery, for example, is a very different experience than having chemotherapyChemotherapy:
A treatment method that uses medication to destroy cancer cells.
or radiationRadiation therapy:
(Sometimes called radiotherapy) A treatment method that uses a high energy beam to destroy cancer cells by damaging the DNA of cancer cells so that they can’t continue to grow.
. How you respond to completing each stage of treatment is also individual to you. Some people choose to celebrate, while others quietly reflect on their experience. You may feel relief that each step brings you closer to the end of treatment or feel anxious about the next stage and what to expect. It can help to share your thoughts and feelings with your health care team so they can understand if your treatments may be leading to changes in your mood and how best to support you.

If you are a man diagnosed with breast cancer, you may also feel stigmatizedStigma:
The shame attached to something seen as socially unacceptable. For men with breast cancer, there may be a greater sense of embarrassment about a breast cancer diagnosis because it is often thought of as a woman’s disease.
or alone because breast cancer is often thought of as a “woman’s disease.” There may also be a sense of frustration or anger about few male-specific sources of information.  You do not have to face it alone. Share your thoughts and feelings with those closest to you – they can be an important source of support.  You may also wish to speak to your health care team for advice.  Visit our male breast cancer page for more information and resources for men diagnosed with breast cancer.

Support During Diagnosis And Treatment

You do not have to face the challenges of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment on your own. Many other people have gone through breast cancer treatment and were able to return to the activities that were important in their lives.

You can ask your health care team for referrals to social workers, psychologists, counsellors and other support services. Some people find it helpful to seek counselling from the Supportive Care Program at the cancer centre or hospital where they receive their treatment.

Family and friends can be an important source of support during this time and you may find it helpful to talk to a trusted loved one about what you are going through.  Your loved ones will also want to support you in other, more practical ways, but may not know what to do.  Accepting help may not be easy – try starting with something simple, such as asking them to help you prepare a meal, or drive your children to school when you have treatment.

Other options to consider are peer support or joining a breast cancer support group.

Peer supporters are people who have been through breast cancer themselves: they offer support to others who have been newly diagnosed or are going through breast cancer treatment.

Support groups are usually made up of women who have experienced breast cancer and meet regularly to talk. These groups are typically led by a mental health professional and/or a trained volunteer. There are breast cancer support groups in almost every region and on the Internet.

Peer support and breast cancer support groups offer a way of connecting with others who have had or are going through a similar experience and can help you to feel less alone. It can give you a way to express your thoughts and feelings, ask questions, and learn strategies for coping with your diagnosis and treatment from those who understand because they have been there themselves.

In addition to reaching out for support and connecting with others, try to be kind to yourself and find ways that you can support yourself during this time:

  • Take care of your physical health, this will help support your mental and emotional health – try to get enough sleep, eat nutritious foods, and keep as active as  you can

  • Know your limits:

    • While talking about your feelings is important, it’s just as important to let others know when you may not feel like talking about breast cancer

    • You may not be used to talking about how you feel. Share as much as you are comfortable with or start by sharing small amounts of information

    • Some people may tell you to “be more positive.” This may not be helpful to you. Don’t force yourself to try to have a “positive” attitude. Your emotional response to your diagnosis and treatment is your own – there is no right way to feel

  • Take time for yourself. Set aside a day or evening to relax and do activities that you enjoy. You may find it helpful to try simple relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, or meditation

  • Take time to reflect on what you’re feeling and experiencing. Find a way to explore or express your emotions in a way that works for you.  Examples of activities you may find helpful include:

    • Going for walks or spending time in nature

    • Listening to music or watching movies that you connect with

    • Meeting for coffee or tea and talking with a friend or loved one

    • Writing down your thoughts and emotions through journaling or online blogging (if you want to share your story with others)

    • Creative outlets like music, art, crafts and gardening

  • If it is helpful to you, read about the experiences of other women who have had breast cancer. Although everyone experiences breast cancer differently, it can help to know that you are not alone 

If you are concerned about the emotions you are experiencing or they are interfering with your day to day activities, it is important to tell your health care team. Drawing on the experiences of many other people with breast cancer, they can help you to tell the difference between normal responses and medical conditions like anxiety and depression that may need to be treated.



Breast Cancer Care UK. Coping Emotionally. Accessed January 14, 2014.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer (2013). Guide to Understanding Your Emotions. Accessed January 14, 2014.