Riding Breast Cancer's Emotional Roller-Coaster


Face your fears, advises oncology social worker Karen R. Monaghan.(KAREN R. MONAGHAN)The truth is, cancer sucks: Even those perky cancer survivors you catch sometimes on TV started out feeling miserable—guaranteed.

When people are first diagnosed with cancer and go into treatment, they enter an "adjustment period, coming face-to-face with the losses associated with cancer," says Karen R. Monaghan, LICSW, a clinical oncology social worker at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. "They're very afraid—of going into surgery and what happens. Afraid of the pain and what they'll look like. 'Am I going to survive this?' 'Am I going to feel attractive ever again?' They're pissed off that they're going to lose their hair, then they beat themselves up—'I'm being vain and shallow.'"

3 Women Facing Breast Cancer's Emotions

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And all of it, say experts, is expected. It may even be a necessary part of the healing process. Monaghan suggests allowing yourself a few days to experience and acknowledge all the feelings that may come up, such as fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. If days stretch into weeks and you are still struggling, then you may want to consider seeking help from a therapist or social worker. Or try voicing your fears to a friend or a loved one. You might also try alternative therapies for help relaxing or destressing, such as massage, acupuncture, Reiki, qigong, or meditation. (Some patients also find these techniques helpful in combating some of the side effects of chemotherapy.)

The benefits of joining a support group or visiting an online bulletin board are well established, if not for everyone.