Receiving a breast cancer recurrence diagnosis can be devastating. As you work with your cancer care team to explore treatment options, it’s also important to consider ways to care for your psychological health.
Mental health treatment options, such as counseling and support groups, can help you cope with a breast cancer recurrence and build the emotional resilience you’ll need to stick to your treatment plan.
When it comes to prioritizing mental health, people with diagnosed breast cancer recurrence have many treatment options. Here are a few types of treatments and techniques to consider.
Psychology, psychiatry, or counseling
This typically involves meeting in person with a therapist for regular sessions to talk about what you’re going through. These one-on-one sessions typically take place in a private practice, hospital, or healthcare center.
Along with talk therapy, your provider may use other techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy to help improve your mental well-being over time.
The goal of therapy is to help you sort through your emotions and come up with strategies to help you deal with them. Psychiatrists may also prescribe medication to help keep your mental health in check.
It’s helpful to find a provider that specializes in cancer and oncology and understands what you’re experiencing.
Your primary care physician or your health insurance company can help you find a mental health professional in your area.
You can also look for a psychologist using the American Psychology Association’s search tool. If you need to seek help quickly, MentalHealth.gov recommends a crisis line and a treatment referral line.
Certain types of mental healthcare, like counseling and psychology, can be done virtually through teletherapy. You can receive teletherapy through video chat, phone calls, and even text messaging.
If you’re new to the idea of therapy, teletherapy can be a good way to start. It’s easy to schedule a visit and choose your preferred mode of communication. It can all take place in the comfort of your own home.
Teletherapy is also a good option for people who live in more rural areas and have trouble finding the right providers nearby. As with in-person therapy, finding a provider with experience working with people with cancer diagnoses will offer you the most benefit.
You can find a list of popular online therapy services to consider through the American Psychological Association.
Cancer support groups
Support groups offer the opportunity for people with recurring cancer to connect with others who are going through a similar experience. These groups give you the opportunity to talk about your emotions and feel less alone.
Some in-person support groups are led by professionals, while others are a little more informal. They get together regularly, typically weekly or monthly.
Online support groups are also available, which can be a great option if there are no in-person groups near you.
CancerCare, a national organization that provides support services for people affected by cancer, has a free, 15-week online support group specifically for people with breast cancer. They also have other resources to help you find the right breast cancer support group.
Ask around to learn about practices from private teachers in your community or nearby cities. You may also be able to find online videos, apps, or programs that you can sign up for to do at your own pace.
Religious counselors and prayer can help you maintain a positive attitude and find more meaning in life during times of stress. Getting in touch with your spiritual side can help soothe your soul. It can also help you bridge any disconnect you’ve been feeling as a result of your diagnosis.
You can access spiritual services through your local church, mosque, synagogue, or other religious centers.
While not typically considered a mental health treatment, massage therapy may help alleviate one of the main symptoms of stress: muscle tension. It can be a deeply relaxing experience that can also promote a sense of calm for people with cancer.
There are a variety of different types of massage, like Swedish, deep tissue, or craniosacral. You may need to experiment with a few different types in order to discover which one helps you the most.
You can find a massage therapist through the American Massage Therapy Association.
It’s common for a breast cancer diagnosis or recurrence to be a distressing experience.
Research has shown that around 25 percent of women experience post-traumatic stress disorder after initially receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, according to American Society of Clinical Oncology.
A study that tracked more than 244,000 people diagnosed with cancer found that 11,457 participants were diagnosed with mental health challenges, including mood and anxiety disorders, after finding out they had cancer.
When breast cancer recurs, the feelings you had after your first diagnosis can resurface, sometimes even stronger than before. A
While no two people react to a diagnosis of breast cancer recurrence in the same way, many will experience intense emotions as they cope with the news and explore treatment options. That’s why it’s so important to seek the support you need.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed or upset over a breast cancer recurrence. However, negative emotions can impact your ability to adjust to treatment and maintain lifestyle habits that can benefit your health. You may find it difficult to sleep well, exercise, eat healthy meals, or tap into your social support network.
Negative feelings may also drive people to turn to alcohol, cigarettes, and other substances, which could impact treatment.
Mental health can also impact your physical health. A 2009 meta-analysis from the journal Cancer found that depression increased the risk of death among people with a cancer diagnosis.
Tapping into mental health resources can give you the tools you need to cope with cancer recurrence, stay strong through treatment, and make positive changes in your life.
Sometimes, the emotional toll of breast cancer recurrence and the stress of ongoing treatment can turn into something more serious.
Here are some signs that you should seek help to prioritize your mental health:
- excessive feelings of sadness
- inability to focus or a sense of detachment from reality
- trouble performing everyday activities
- significant mood swings
- excessive fears or worries that affect your daily routine
- withdrawal from people and activities you love
- feeling significantly more or less hungry than usual
- extreme tiredness and very low energy
- insomnia or other sleep problems
- aches or pains from an unknown source
- consuming high levels of alcohol or other substance use issues
If you experience suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or use their live online chat — both services are free and available 24/7. Another option is to call 911 or go to the closest hospital emergency department.
Taking care of your mental health is vital to your physical health, your sense of well-being, and your ability to manage daily life with cancer. It’s common for people to experience difficult feelings while living with cancer, and seeking help can make a difference.
Taking care of your mental health is an important component of your treatment plan. It can also help improve your outlook.
You can find emotional and psychological support through mental health services, such as support groups, teletherapy, and one-on-one counseling.
Complementary and alternative medicine, such as massage therapy and meditation, can also help reduce stress and promote relaxation, which can improve your quality of life.