Diagnosed with Breast Cancer: What now?
The first days after diagnosis – what decisions do I need to make? Here’s a breast cancer checklist to help.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer and all the information that comes with it can feel overwhelming at first. We have prepared a checklist with practical information and tips to help you make decisions in the time between getting the diagnosis and starting treatment.
- Take your time
Breast cancer is not a diagnosis that always requires immediate treatment. Cancer does not happen overnight. It usually takes months, if not years, for it to grow to the point where it becomes noticeable. So, take your time to get over the shock of the diagnosis and to think over your options.
Important: It can be hard to take the diagnosis in, especially if you have been feeling healthy beforehand. Your doctor or breast care nurse will let you know about the different treatment options available and how much time you can take until you decide what to do next.
- Prepare for your appointments
- Attending an appointment can feel stressful and there is a lot of new information to remember, so it can be helpful to bring a partner or friend along. It also helps to write down the most important points during the conversation and to go over them with the doctor or nurse.
- It’s easy to forget your questions once you are there, so it is worth thinking about exactly what you want to know and writing your questions down beforehand.
- If you don’t understand something, ask the doctor or nurse to explain it again – they will be happy to do this.
- Do you want to know more? Ask for more sources of information, such as brochures, good websites and local support groups.
Note: Doctors will have questions, too! It helps to prepare the answers for these before your appointments. They include things such as: When did the symptoms first appear? Do you have any other health problems? Have you been hospitalized in the past and if so, why? Has anyone else in your family had breast cancer? Do you take any medicines or supplements? If you do take medication, it’s worth bringing a list of them (name and dosage) with you.
- Find out about your treatment options
Some women like to know as much as possible about their diagnosis and do their own research; for others the information their doctor provides is enough. You can decide how much or how little information you need and how much you want to be involved in making choices about your treatment.
Note: When doing your own research, make sure the information is trustworthy, reliable and up-to-date. Sites such as the American Cancer Society (cancer.org), BreastCancer.org, the Young Survival Coalition and Living Beyond Breast Cancer are good places to start your internet search. Many of these also provide a free helpline where you can talk to a professional about your worries. You will find links to these and other useful sites below.
- Find a medical team you trust
After diagnosis you will be assigned to a multidisciplinary team (MDT) of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. They will recommend the best treatment options for you based on the results of your tests, your general health and the latest research. Your main contact will be your breast care nurse or navigator, who will support you at every stage and who will be available to answer questions at any time during working hours.
Many hospitals have a breast unit and a specialist breast care team. If your health insurance allows, you might choose to have your treatments done at one of these specialized facilities.
Note: It is also a good idea to visit your primary care physician soon after you have been diagnosed. They can provide additional information about the support available in your area.
- Get involved and choose your treatment
Your team will review the results of your tests and recommend the best treatment options for you based on the current treatment guidelines for breast cancer. These are developed by experts and updated on a regular basis. However, these guidelines are not rigid, so don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Note: Some women want to get a second medical opinion before committing to a treatment plan. If you choose to do this, your primary care physician can help arrange this for you. It might take a few weeks to get an appointment. You should bring your previous results with you to avoid having to repeat tests.
- Manage your work
Your diagnosis is a private matter, and you do not have to share it with your employer. But if your employer doesn’t know that you have cancer, they can’t support you with information about medical leave and other resources. More information on cancer and work can be found in the links below.
- Seek and accept help
Being diagnosed with cancer can feel like being on an emotional rollercoaster. Some women feel sad and depressed after diagnosis; others are irritated and angry. These are all natural reactions. It can be hard telling people, but it usually helps to share your emotions and fears. You decide whom you share your diagnosis with. Talking about it with your family and friends can not only reduce your stress, it can also help them to worry less and support you better.
Some people find it useful to talk to others who are going through the same process. Support groups in your area, online forums or Facebook groups can be a great way to share experiences. See the links below for useful contacts.
If your diagnosis and treatment are making you feel extremely anxious, you may wish to visit a professional therapist or psychologist. Your breast care nurse can give you more information about the services near you.
Here are some useful links that can help if you have more questions:
Information after diagnosis
The following sites give an overview of what to expect after being diagnosed and guides to different types of breast cancer treatments:
- The American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org/
- BreastCancer.org https://www.breastcancer.org/
- Young Survival Coalition https://www.youngsurvival.org/
- Living Beyond Breast Cancer http://www.lbbc.org/
- After Breast Cancer Diagnosis https://www.abcdbreastcancersupport.org/
- Young Survival Coalition provides a searchable database of organizations and resources to help at every stage of your diagnosis and treatment. https://www.youngsurvival.org/directory
- The American Cancer Society’s Breast Cancer page offers research news, downloadable information and stories of hope. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer.html
Support groups can help you connect with others who are affected by cancer and many provide free information and advice. These links can help you find a group near you:
- Cancer Support Community https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/
- Young Survival Coalition Face2Face Network https://www.youngsurvival.org/meet-in-person
Cancer and Work
Tips and practical advice on how to manage work after your diagnosis:
- Living Beyond Breast Cancer Job and Financial Concerns http://www.lbbc.org/learn/living-breast-cancer/job-and-financial-concerns
- American Cancer Society on employment https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorship-during-and-after-treatment/staying-active/working-during-and-after-treatment.html
- Cancer and Careers website https://www.cancerandcareers.org/en
This website outlines the standards of care you can expect while having treatment; it is updated regularly and approved by an editorial board of physicians:
- American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/breast-cancer/types-treatment