Reliable, non-medical advice from a breast cancer survivor about what you need to know when first diagnosed with breast cancer.
Tears filled my eyes as I stared at the blurry images illuminated on the screen and my body shook with fear. I tried to focus on the what the doctor was saying.
A handful of words registered in my brain.
Tumor, Lymph Nodes, Biopsy
And, then the devastating realization came crashing down on me.
I had breast cancer.
As I walked out of the doctor’s office, I had so many questions, and very few answers to what lay ahead for me.
If you’re newly diagnosed with breast cancer, you probably feel the same way. Here is some non-medical advice I learned during my breast cancer journey.
What–Ifs and Worst-Case Scenarios
When you’re first diagnosed with breast cancer, the fear of the unknown can be overwhelming. Your mind conjures up all sorts of what-ifs and worst-case scenarios.
- What if it’s terrible?
- What if I lose my hair, breasts, or even my life?
- What if I have to have chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, etc.?
- What if I miss my son’s graduation, my daughter’s cheerleading competition, or another special life event?
The what-ifs are unlimited and based on one thing – fear of the unknown.
So my first piece of advice to you is don’t allow these what-ifs and worst-case scenarios to take over your thoughts. Until you receive a complete diagnosis from your doctor and know your exact treatment plan, don’t think about what could happen.
Because what we imagine could happen is usually much worse than what happens.
So, as my grandmother always said, “Don’t go borrowing trouble.”
For the time being, don’t worry about all the what if’s. I know it’s difficult but for now, push those thoughts and fears aside and instead focus on preparing for whatever treatments lie ahead of you.
What Happens After Your Breast Cancer Diagnosis?
So, you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, now what?
Appointments, Tests, and Procedures
Plan on lots of poking and prodding by medical staff in the coming weeks. You’ll have many appointments and tests. Such as biopsies, blood tests, scans, doctors’ visits, and whatever else your oncology team needs to create your treatment plan.
Take comfort knowing that each test, scan, and appointment you have gives your medical team more knowledge and information they can use to treat your cancer. And it gets you closer to your treatment and healing.
Waiting for Results and Treatments to Begin
Expect there to be several weeks between the time of your diagnosis and the beginning of your treatment. You’re probably screaming, “What’s taking so long? Get It Out!” And that’s understandable, but your oncology team has to find out exactly what type of cancer you have, decide on the best treatment plan is for you, and then schedule your treatment. All of this requires time, tests, and preparation.
It’s important to remember your cancer didn’t grow overnight, and you do have time for your doctors to get the information they need and find the most effective treatment for you. Your medical staff will work as quickly as possible to establish your plan, but your oncologist needs to know as much as possible about your cancer before beginning any treatments.
And you want them to be thorough because the more effective the treatment, the better the outcome will be for you.
To give you an idea of how long this process can take, it was six weeks between my first diagnosis and the start of my chemotherapy. My friend, Sherry, had a mastectomy eight weeks after her diagnosis. While another friend, Mary, only waited four weeks between her diagnosis and having a lumpectomy.
All three of us had different types of breast cancer, different stages of the disease, and different treatment plans.
So, while I know waiting for your treatment plan to begin can seem like an eternity, it is necessary. Try to be patient and try not to worry.
What You Can Do While Waiting to Begin Your Breast Cancer Treatment Plan
Don’t sit around worrying and waiting for your treatment to begin. There are so many things you can and need to be doing.
Get Out and Enjoy Life
Make sure to get out and have some fun. I know this sounds strange, considering what you are going through. However, you’re going through a stressful time, and doing something enjoyable helps take your mind off your situation and relieves your stress.
The weekend after being diagnosed, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law came to visit. We planned our get-together months prior, and the timing was perfect. We went to the local tourist places, ate out, talked, and laughed the entire weekend. Their visit was a blessing because, for that brief time, I was able to forget about everything going on with me medically.
Remember, Google is not your friend.
Don’t sit on your computer and Google breast cancer. I know you have questions and concerns, but until you see what your treatment plan is, you’re only going to give yourself more anxiety than you probably already have. And you won’t get the answers you are looking for on the internet.
Your oncologist should give you all the medical information you will need, and your treatment will probably be different from anything you read about on the internet.
If you still have questions, ask your oncology doctor. Ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable with the process and get the answers you need.
Get to Know Your Oncology Team
This is also the time to get to know your oncology team. Check your doctor’s and the facility’s credentials. (Yes, you can Google this. 😉 ) And as I mentioned above, ask them questions. If you’re uncomfortable with the answers, get a second opinion. It is your body, your life, and you do have options.
However, getting second opinions takes more time. If your oncologist feels confident that they can treat your cancer correctly and you feel comfortable with the treatment plan, then get started on that treatment as soon as possible.
Organize Your Medical Information
Take advantage of this time to organize your medical information. Decide how you will keep track of your appointments. While I keep my appointments on my cell phone calendar, I also find writing them in a datebook is helpful. This way, I can easily find the dates of my procedures, months or even years later.
It’s also helpful to have a notebook or file system to store the mountain of information, medical bills and receipts, insurance statements, etc. you will receive during your treatment. The more organized you are at the beginning, the easier it will be to keep track of your medical information and finances.
Simplify Your Life
Any breast cancer treatment you receive will take time and energy. And you want to be able to devote as much time as possible towards your healing and recovery. This time before your treatment is an excellent time to consider ways to simplify your life.
It’s also the perfect time to eliminate all those things that aren’t important or necessary in your life. Especially things you may feel obligated to do but don’t want to do. This is your time to say “No” and not feel guilty about it!
You need to focus on the most important things to you – the first being the care of yourself.
Take Care of Your Health
And you need to take extra good care of yourself during this time. Concentrate on eating healthy, doing light exercise, and getting a good night’s sleep. Doing this will help you feel better, relieve stress, and make you stronger and healthier for beginning your treatments.
And don’t forget to be kind to yourself. Get a massage, take a lavender bubble bath, buy a new outfit, or do whatever it is that makes you feel better. Do this often before, during, and after your treatment is over. You deserve to spend extra time and attention on yourself, and it’s good for you.
Take care of your mental and spiritual health
Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself mentally and spiritually. Worry, stress, and fear are bad for your health. The best thing you can do for yourself is keep a positive attitude and believe everything will work out.
For me, this meant spending time with the Lord in prayer, asking Him to take care of everything, and trusting Him to do it. It meant believing in the healing promises I found in the Bible and listening to songs that lifted my spirits and gave me hope.
It also meant having a support system to help me during this time – my husband, my children, and close family and friends who listened to me and let me cry, but didn’t let me wallow in self-pity. People who loved and encouraged me through my cancer journey.
Make the Most of This Time of Waiting Between Diagnosis and Treatment for Breast Cancer
While the time between diagnosis and treatment seems like a pattern of “hurry up and wait,” the tips above can help make this time easier and more productive.
So, what questions or thoughts do you have about this post? Please share them in the comments below.
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