How to Cope

Facing a breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. Your stress levels may skyrocket. You may worry about finances. And you may be asking yourself difficult questions, such as whether to write a living will. Education and supportive care can help you deal with the many issues and emotions you're facing.

What Causes Stress Among Breast Cancer Patients?
Stress is common among breast cancer patients. Stressors related to the disease may include the uncertainty of one's future, the unpredictability of disease, disability, and financial difficulties.
Common stress signals can include disturbed sleep, fatigue, body aches, pain, anxiety, irritability, tension, and headaches.

How Can I Reduce Stress?
Stress can build, influencing how you feel about life. Prolonged stress may lead to frustration, anger, hopelessness, and -- at times -- depression. The person with the illness is not the only one affected. Family members are also influenced by the health changes of a loved one. To reduce stress:
•    Keep a positive attitude.
•    Accept that there are events you cannot control.
•    Be assertive instead of aggressive. "Assert" your feelings, opinions or beliefs instead of becoming angry, combative or passive.
•    Learn to relax.
•    Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when you are physically fit.
•    Eat well-balanced meals.
•    Rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
•    Don't rely on alcohol or drugs to reduce stress.

How Can I Learn To Relax?
There are a number of exercises that you can do to relax. These exercises include breathing, muscle and mind relaxation, relaxation to music, and biofeedback. A few that you can try are listed below. First, be sure that you have a quiet location that is free of distractions, a comfortable body position (sit or recline on a chair or sofa) and a good state of mind. Try to block out worries and distracting thoughts.

What Are Some Effective Relaxation Exercises?
Two-minute relaxation. Switch your thoughts to yourself and your breathing. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly. Mentally scan your body. Notice areas that feel tense or cramped. Quickly loosen up these areas. Let go of as much tension as you can. Rotate your head in a smooth, circular motion once or twice. (Stop any movements that cause pain.) Roll your shoulders forward and backward several times. Let all of your muscles completely relax. Recall a pleasant thought for a few seconds. Take another deep breath and exhale slowly. You should feel relaxed.

Mind relaxation. Close your eyes. Breathe normally through your nose. As you exhale, silently say to yourself the word "one," a short word such as "peaceful" or a short phrase such as "I feel quiet." Continue for 10 minutes. If your mind wanders, gently remind yourself to think about your breathing and your chosen word or phrase. Let your breathing become slow and steady.

Deep breathing relaxation. Imagine a spot just below your navel. Breath into that spot and fill your abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow breath out, you should feel more relaxed.

How Can I Make My Life Better?
The most important step you can take is to seek help as soon as you feel less able to cope. Taking action early will enable you to understand and deal with the many effects of your illness. Learning to manage stress will help you maintain a positive physical, emotional, and spiritual outlook on life.

How Do I Keep Track Of My Medical Information?
•    Do not be afraid to ask your doctor, nurse, or other healthcare provider to repeat any instructions or medical terms that you don't understand. Your healthcare providers should always be available to answer your questions and address your concerns.
•    Make use of resources and support services offered by your hospital and in the community. Learning more about your disease will help you feel more comfortable with your treatment.
•    Ask your family and friends to help you sort through the information you receive.
•    Talk with other patients and families about breast cancer and its treatment.

What Types Of Help Are Available?
There are many sources of help available to provide support for patients and their families. Among them are:

Social Workers
Social workers are just one part of the care-giving team who can offer treatment in a compassionate setting. They can help you and your family discuss any concerns about your diagnosis, treatment, or personal situation.
Social workers can provide education, counseling regarding lifestyle changes, and referrals to community or national agencies and support groups. Your social worker can also help your family find temporary lodging in your community, provide information about community resources, and help you with any other needs.

Individual Counseling
Sometimes people have problems that are better addressed in a one-on-one atmosphere. By participating in individual counseling, you may feel more comfortable expressing sensitive or private feelings you have about your illness and its impact on your lifestyle and relationships.

Counseling services can help patients and their families discuss issues of concern and develop and enhance coping abilities. In addition, mental-healthcare providers can create a treatment plan to meet your specific needs. Strategies can be designed to help you regain a sense of control over your life and improve your quality of life, something everyone deserves. If necessary, medicine to treat depression may be prescribed.

Support Groups
Support groups are a very useful sharing experience. They provide an environment where you can learn new ways of dealing with your illness.

Sometimes, others who have been through similar experiences can explain things differently than your healthcare providers. You may also want to share approaches you've discovered with them. And you will gain strength in knowing that you are not facing hardships alone.

Remember that others may share information or experiences that do not apply to you. Never replace your physician's advice with that given to another patient.

The American Cancer Society's Reach to Recovery program offers special help to breast cancer patients. Trained volunteers, who have had breast cancer themselves, visit patients at the doctor's request to lend support. Call 1-800-ACS-2345 for more information.

Financial Counseling
A financial counselor can answer questions you may have about financial issues related to your medical care.

What If I Become Unable To Make Decisions About My HealthCare?
You may want to consider advance directives, such as living wills and durable power of attorney.

The living will exercises a patient's right to refuse or accept medical treatment that artificially prolongs his/her life and provides clear instructions regarding the patient's choice of extended medical care.

This document is prepared while the patient is fully competent, in case he/she becomes unable to make this decision at a later time.

The durable power of attorney for healthcare is the right of patients to appoint another person to speak for them if they become incapable of expressing their medical treatment preference. An attorney should devise this document so that it conforms to state laws and court precedents.

Should I Write A Will?
No one likes to think about his or her own mortality, but everyone should have a will to ensure that those who survive you will know how to carry out your wishes. This document should be prepared with your attorney.

What Should Family Members And Friends Keep In Mind?
The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer is a time of stress and may be difficult for family and friends. Here are some tips for family and friends of someone diagnosed with breast cancer:
•    Feel free to ask the doctor questions if you accompany your loved one to her appointments.
•    Be prepared for changes in your loved one's behavior and mood. Medications, discomforts, and stress can cause her to become depressed or angry.
•    Encourage your loved one to be as active and independent, as possible, to help him or her regain a sense of self-reliance and confidence.
•    Be realistic about your own needs. Be sure you are sleeping enough, eating properly, and taking some time off for yourself. It is hard to offer much help when you are exhausted. If you take care of your needs, it may be easier to meet the needs of your loved one.
•    Don't hesitate to ask other family members and friends for help. They will appreciate the opportunity to help.


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