Coping With the Emotional Stress of Metastatic Breast Cancer

Learn about communication, support, and self-care for managing the emotional challenges of MBC.

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Updated on December 1, 2023

Metastatic breast cancer, or MBC, is a difficult diagnosis to receive and a hard condition to manage day-to-day. It can cause a wide variety of symptoms depending on the area or areas of the body affected, including cognitive impairment, pain, fatigue, disability, and many others. Treating MBC can involve chemotherapy, biologic therapy, radiation, surgery, or a combination of several methods, which can take an additional physical toll on the body.

In addition to the physical symptoms and side effects, MBC may also bring emotional challenges. While the diagnosis of MBC affects every person differently, many patients describe feelings of distress, loneliness, anger, depression, or anxiety. It is important to know that these feelings are normal. It is also important to recognize that there are ways to cope with these feelings and help maintain a sense of control.

Communicate with your healthcare team

Making decisions about treatment can be a major source of stress for patients who are living with an advanced cancer, such as MBC. Working with healthcare providers (HCPs) who you feel comfortable with and who understand your needs as a patient—including your emotional needs—is important to minimizing stress over these decisions. As much as possible, make sure you have a complete understanding of your diagnosis and your treatment options. It may also help to have a loved one accompany you during appointments. If you are thinking of getting a second opinion, it is helpful to have copies of all your test results.

Find support where you need it

Support can mean many things and it can come from many places. It may be as simple as having a friend or a loved one to speak to about your experience with breast cancer. It also helps to have someone help you with chores or errands. Pets or animal-assisted therapy are other possible sources of emotional support for people living with an illness. There are support groups that meet locally and online, which can connect you with other patients who are living with MBC. Working with a counselor is another way that many patients with MBC find support.

Practice self-care

Living Beyond Breast Cancer, an organization that provides information and support for people with breast cancer and their loved ones, has a number of recommendations on self-care while living with MBC.

While metastatic breast cancer can make exercise a challenge for some patients, many stay physically active. Exercise can help strengthen the body, relieve tension, and may even reduce fatigue. Some patients continue with sports and activities they have pursued throughout their life. Others take up new activities. Yoga, for example, may be beneficial. Studies have shown that practicing yoga can help reduce pain and improve overall quality of life for patients with MBC.

Before starting or continuing an activity, it is a good idea to discuss potential safety concerns with your healthcare team.

Be sure to make time for yourself and the activities that are meaningful to you. This can be a creative pursuit, such as writing, music, painting, or crafting. It can also be a trip to visit a museum or attraction, or going to a concert or a play. Spirituality may also be another important aspect of self-care. Many people living with an illness work with a religious or spiritual teacher. Many others practice meditation and other mindfulness activities.

Expore our article 5 Resources for Patients With Metastatic Breast Cancer, which includes links to Living Beyond Breast Cancer and other sites with information and support for people living with MBC.

Article sources open article sources

Carson JW, Carson KM, Olsen M, et al. Yoga Practice Predicts Improvements in Day-to-Day Pain in Women With Metastatic Breast Cancer. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2021;61(6):1227-1233. 
Hsueh EJ, Loh EW, Lin JJ, Tam KW. Effects of yoga on improving quality of life in patients with breast cancer: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Breast Cancer. 2021;28(2):264-276.

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