A metastatic breast cancer diagnosis may affect your mental health and well-being. Reaching out to friends, family, healthcare professionals, and other support resources may help you manage the challenges of your diagnosis and treatment.
It’s normal to experience a wide range of emotions following a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, including stress, anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and depression. These emotions may negatively affect your mental health and emotional well-being.
As you discuss your treatment options with your doctor, keep in mind that treating the physical symptoms of metastatic breast cancer is just one part of a comprehensive plan.
It’s also important to address the mental and emotional effects of your diagnosis and treatment. This may help improve your overall quality of life and ability to follow your treatment plan.
Here are 12 tips for coping with the challenges of a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
A metastatic breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. You may not feel ready to make treatment decisions or talk with others about your diagnosis right away.
Give yourself time to process new information and challenging emotions.
It’s OK to take some time to yourself to process your diagnosis and emotions, but don’t wait too long before reaching out to others for support. Social isolation may increase the challenges you’re facing.
Try to be open about your feelings and fears with them. Remember that it’s OK to feel frustrated or angry. Talking about negative emotions may help you process them.
It’s also OK to take breaks from talking about your condition. Let your friends or family members know when you’re not in the mood to discuss it.
Your cancer care team may include multiple doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.
It’s important that you feel comfortable and well-supported by your care team members.
If you find it difficult to communicate with any of your care team members or you’re unhappy with the care they provide, consider looking for a different doctor or other healthcare professional.
Let your care team know if you have questions or concerns about your recommended treatment plan. They may recommend changes to your treatment or refer you to another specialist for care.
A mental health professional can help you cope with your diagnosis by listening to your concerns and helping you develop strategies to manage stress, body image concerns, and other challenging experiences.
They can help you learn how to explain and talk about your condition with friends, family members, and others.
Let your doctor or mental health professional know if you think you may be experiencing depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition. They may recommend a combination of medication and counseling to treat it.
Consider asking for a referral to a counselor who specializes in supporting people with cancer.
You can also use an online directory such as FindaPsychologist.org to look for a counselor near you.
A patient navigator is a nurse, social worker, or community health worker who can help you manage the practical challenges of a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
For example, they may help you:
- connect with social and financial support services in your community
- find ways to pay for your treatment and get the most from health insurance
- overcome barriers to accessing treatment, such as lack of transportation or child care
- learn about your right to workplace accommodations or other legal rights
You might also find it helpful to meet with a financial adviser, lawyer, or other professional who can help you manage the financial and legal aspects of your care.
Getting professional support for managing the practice challenges of your breast cancer diagnosis may help reduce your stress.
There are many things that you can’t control about a breast cancer diagnosis. Focusing on things that you can control and taking a proactive role in your own care may help you feel less helpless or disoriented.
- Ask questions during your cancer care or mental health appointments.
- Ask for brochures or other resources to help you learn about your condition and treatment options.
- Let your care team know about any changes in your physical or mental health.
- Take steps to make healthy lifestyle changes.
Support groups provide a space to talk about your experiences with people who are facing similar challenges. Some groups meet in person, while others connect online or by phone.
You can connect with a support group through a non-profit organization, such as:
You can also ask your cancer care team about local support groups.
Participating in community activities may help limit feelings of loneliness and isolation while helping you stay physically and socially active.
For example, consider:
- attending events at your local church, social club, or community center
- signing up for a music class, art class, or other recreational activity
- joining a club related to one of your hobbies
Volunteering for a community organization or charity is another great way to stay engaged and active.
What gives you joy in life? What helps your life feel meaningful or imbued with purpose?
Seeking out sources of joy and meaning may help provide comfort and build resilience.
You might also find it helpful to develop a gratitude practice. For example, consider writing down three things that you’re grateful for each day. These may be small sources of joy, such as a ripe piece of fruit that you enjoyed for breakfast or a nice conversation that you had with a friend.
Developing a gratitude practice may help you appreciate simple sources of joy and comfort.
Limiting or avoiding sources of stress may help you manage depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges. It also has a positive effect on your blood pressure and overall health.
You may find it helpful to practice stress-relieving exercises, such as:
- deep breathing exercises
- mindfulness meditation
- guided imagery
- tai chi
Taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music, or taking part in other relaxing activities may also help relieve stress.
Breast cancer symptoms or side effects from treatment can make it harder to exercise on a regular basis, but finding ways to stay active may benefit your physical and mental health.
Regular exercise may help reduce stress, fatigue, and some other symptoms or treatment side effects.
Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist who can help you develop an exercise routine.
They may recommend low impact activities, such as walking, water aerobics, or gentle stretching. They can also help you learn which higher-impact activities may be safe for you.
Eating a well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet can help support your physical and mental well-being.
Your doctor may refer you to a registered dietitian who can help you meet your nutritional needs.
Try to eat a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods, including:
- lean proteins
- whole grains
- healthy fats
Your doctor or dietitian may also encourage you to avoid or limit certain foods, such as:
- highly processed foods
- fried foods
Let your doctor or dietitian know if breast cancer symptoms or treatment side effects are affecting your appetite or ability to eat a variety of foods. They can share tips for meeting your nutritional needs.
When you have metastatic breast cancer, taking care of your mental health and emotional well-being is important.
Staying positive may be challenging. Take advantage of every resource available to you to support your well-being.
Let your doctor know if you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health challenge. They may prescribe medication and counseling. You might benefit from speaking with a mental health professional.
If you’re having thoughts of suicide or can’t stop thinking about death, call 911, or call 988 for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.