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The Voice of People With Breast Cancer


Our Voices Blog

The views and experiences expressed through personal stories on Our Voices Blog are those of the authors and their lived experiences. They do not necessarily reflect the position of the Canadian Breast Cancer Network. The information provided has not been medically reviewed and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your healthcare team when considering your treatment plans and goals.

The Mental Health Impacts of a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Experiencing a breast cancer diagnosis is overwhelming and while the overall physical impacts of the disease are well-known, the mental health impacts are often less discussed. The shock of being diagnosed, the fear of recurrence, and the anxiety that comes with living with a breast cancer diagnosis, among other mental health effects, are not considered. As far as the public knows, breast cancer is a physical disease that lasts only as long as its treatment. However, we know that is nowhere near the truth. To highlight this, we asked community members to comment on what impact their breast cancer diagnosis and experience has had or continues to have on their mental health.

Below we provided some of those responses.

Breast cancer can cause PTSD

I’ve never felt so alone in my own battle. Chemotherapy brought me to the brink of death, it felt like I lost part of my memory. I have PTSD, but I’m still here 7 years later. – Grace

Treatments and a series of medical mistakes left me with Major Neurocognitive Disorder and medical PTSD. I'll never work again. It literally destroyed my life and made my husband my caregiver for life when I was 46. No one talks about this. The neuropsychologist who did my assessment said this is actually typical in breast cancer patients but minimized and dismissed as "brain fog" and depression/anxiety. The psychiatrist and social worker at my cancer centre insinuated I was malingering. It took a 9-hour assessment to stop them from pushing me back to work. – Olivia

I was diagnosed with PTSD after my second breast cancer diagnosis. I had two years of therapy with a psychologist, but I still suffer from PTSD. There is not much mental health support for cancer patients in Newfoundland. Once treatment is done, the rest is just in your mind. – Judy

Stress, worry, and anxiety are constant

The anxiety is huge. I’ve never had panic attacks before but once a month or so, I wake in the middle of the night with incredible anxiety, and I have to talk myself down. – Jennifer

I developed depression and anxiety. It has been over three years since my diagnosis, and I still struggle with both. – Becky

Lots of anxiety and stress. – Katharina

On the plus side, I’m so incredibly grateful for every day and this thing called life! On the negative side, I definitely experienced anxiety over things that didn’t cause me anxiety before. – Lisa

Trying to maintain a positive outlook is important

Of course, it completely challenges every ounce of mental stability you once had. But truthfully, that challenge has pushed me to be more aware of my thoughts, and work on manifesting positivity. Understanding what your mind and body need at different moments has also helped me accept that I can cry, and not let my whole day be bad or sad. I can smile, and it doesn’t mean I accept or succumb to my disease. My mental state is stronger than it ever would have been without this journey because I choose that to be true. – Wendy

It’s been 15 years for me now. I’m thankful that constant worry lessens and eventually even goes away. – Debbie

It’s been a year and I still have anxiety. My mind is sometimes still foggy and still very emotional. Hearing about other people’s experiences help me a lot. It shows that it’s not only me that is suffering and going through this. It also gives me hope that someday we are all going to get better. I try to be positive. I pray to God to heal all of us suffering from disease. – Amy

Having a support group makes things more manageable

The mental impact is a collision of your world as you know it at that very moment of diagnosis. The trauma that your mind goes through instantaneously is guttural betrayal by your very own body. My mind was racing with a million questions and fears. Those first few weeks were awful as it’s so hard to understand what will happen next. Telling family was difficult to see their own fears and sadness. I needed a connection with others who have experienced this and sought out online breast cancer support groups on Facebook. This was and continues to be a lifeline of support. Reaching out to other women and reading their experiences has helped me better understand that what I feel and think is not uncommon, and I am not alone. I have come to realize that the physical side effects are managed and will start to subside. The mental side effects may fade from the initial shock of diagnosis but will continue to be there under the surface because the fear of dying was and is so very real and you cannot unring that bell. It becomes life before and life after cancer. – Dawn

I was diagnosed stage IV from the start, back in February 2019. I went through every emotion possible. I was anxious and could not sleep and lashed out at everyone. Educating myself helped, as well as joining stage IV groups on Facebook helped. We are now in 2022 and I've learned to live with it but it's something that is always on mind. It’s not something that I can forget about, as much as I try to carry on with my day-to-day living. – Vicenza

The negative mental impacts never go away

I thought I would just jump back into my life after a year-long battle. That wasn’t the case. – Christine

It challenged my mental health like nothing before it. Even after treatment is complete, I still struggle with the anxiety and worry of what tomorrow brings. – Joycelyn

The fear of recurrence is real

You now live in constant fear of it coming back! That and the completely lack of help in dealing with the pain caused by the side effects from treatment. Dealing with surgeons in Ottawa not supporting the choice to choose to be flat or not providing decent surgical results. It's like they tried to make PTSD a part of cancer. – Missy

Very afraid of it coming back. – Silvana

7 years past my diagnosis on February 9th, I still live with the fear of it returning. I once had a health nurse tell me that I had to be prepared to give up a year of my life to gain back the rest of my life and that thought helped me get through it the first time. – Cheryl

It’s been 7 years for me. One of my oncologists said it would take a while to recover. I thought it was great advice to remember on those low days that come with breast cancer and treatment. I also live in fear of it coming back; I wonder if I would have the strength to fight again. – Jennifer

*Comments have been edited for clarity

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