6 Steps to Take After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

6 Steps to Take After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

A diagnosis can be paralyzing. Follow these oncologist-recommended tips to move ahead.

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By Ediva Zanker

Apart from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. Perhaps you know someone who was recently diagnosed—or you have been diagnosed yourself.

Being told that you have breast cancer is undeniably a shock to the system, giving rise to a wide range of emotions and questions about what to do next. We spoke with Delia Gauqueta, MD, an oncologist from Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Here she offers sage advice based on her years of experience treating breast cancer patients and walking them through what is, for them, a whole new world of unchartered waters. 

Process the information

2 / 7 Process the information

According to Dr. Guaqueta, the first and most important thing a woman can do is take time to breathe, process the information and accept her diagnosis. She says that women tend to either completely ignore the fact that they have breast cancer, or immediately want to run into treatment. But deciding on a course of action takes time and consideration. “It’s important that the person first understand that she is now a cancer patient and that her life will change,” Guaqueta says. And while it may be tempting to just not think about it, “the sooner you give yourself the time to accept the fact that you have cancer, the sooner we can start helping you.”

Let go of guilt

3 / 7 Let go of guilt

There is obviously a wide range of feelings a woman experiences after a breast cancer diagnosis, from sadness about how her life will change to fear and anxiety about the future.  

Patients may also feel guilt-ridden. Even though there are certain lifestyle-related factors known to increase risk, such as drinking alcohol, being overweight and a lack of physical activity, the majority of breast cancers happen at random, or because of damage to a cell’s DNA. Still, some women think that if only they had changed certain habits, they would have been able to prevent getting the disease. “Guilt isn’t really healthy,” says Guaqueta. “I always counsel my patients not to try to find a ‘why.’” Instead, focus on moving forward and getting through your course of treatment, making healthy changes along the way. 

Share the news

4 / 7 Share the news

There are a couple of approaches you can take in sharing information about your diagnosis. Guaqueta says she gives patients the option to speak with loved ones themselves, or to make an appointment to come in and discuss it together. The advantage of a family appointment is that the doctor can answer everyone’s questions at once. Meeting together is also a form of emotional support, reinforcing the idea that you’re not going it alone. It also helps to have a second set of ears taking in the information.

Guaqueta is adamant that her patients let family members, including children, know right away. “The sooner you discuss your diagnosis, the sooner you're able to move forward with the rest of the things that you have to do,” she says.

Learn your family history

5 / 7 Learn your family history

Even though the majority of breast cancers are sporadic, genetics can play a role. “There is a small percentage that actually can be familial,” Guaqueta says. “That’s why it’s important to find out if there is a family history of cancer, specifically breast cancer and ovarian cancer.” If you haven’t done so already, bring this information to your oncologist’s attention. That way, Guaqueta says, the doctor can assess whether or not there is a possible genetic predisposition behind it. This is important information to have, especially if you have children. “Most likely your daughter will start screening mammograms much earlier than the general population,” she says.

Get a second opinion

6 / 7 Get a second opinion

Guaqueta says she encourages patients to get a second opinion, especially if they have any doubts or concerns. Getting a second opinion can never hurt, and is helpful for your piece of mind. Doctors are accustomed to patients getting a second opinion, so don’t stress about bringing it up with your oncologist. If anything, getting a second opinion will make your relationship with your doctor a more trustworthy one. 

Join a support group

7 / 7 Join a support group

Coping with a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can be overwhelming for a patient and her family. A third party support group can be especially helpful for patients to talk to women who share the experience.  “When women join support groups, they can see the light at the end of the tunnel because they also meet people that have already gone through it,” Guaqueta says.

The hospital where you’re treated may have a support group specifically for breast cancer patients. The American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program offers one-on-one peer support, rather than a group setting. Contact may be in person, via phone or online, based on your location. If you prefer “virtual” support in a community setting, check online for a breast cancer group that fits your needs.