By Crystal Adkins, MSN, APRN, ANP-C, PMHNP-BC
October is breast cancer awareness month. Unfortunately, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women trailing behind lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the chance that a woman will die from breast cancer is 1 in 39 (about 2.6%). Sadly, my maternal grandmother was one of the 2.6%. I never had the opportunity to meet her because she lost her fight to breast cancer at the young age of 29 on Christmas day in 1967. My mother was in first grade and recalls her mother playing the piano and the organ at their local First Baptist Church. Back then breast cancer treatment was not as advanced as it is today. My grandmother underwent a bilateral mastectomy and radiation treatment without success.
During my time practicing as a Registered Nurse, I was blessed to work on an oncology floor where I learned more from my patients than they learned from me. It takes a certain type of person to work with cancer patients. Some of those nurses have turned into my dearest friends. Lisa Klien, a 20-year oncology nurse veteran and friend of mine is currently in remission from breast cancer. She shared with me that during her treatment with chemotherapy and radiation, the mindset was everything. She made a point to have a positive mental focus not only for herself but also for her family. Looking back she said, “I can honestly say that because I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it has put me in a much stronger place with my family ties, especially my husband and children. For that, I am forever grateful.”
Like Lisa, I frequently do my best to approach life with a glass-half-full attitude. However, at times riding the emotional rollercoaster can be pretty cathartic. You might find yourself feeling anger, rage, sadness, anxiety. You might try to bargain with God to cure you. You might mourn your old life, your body, the loss of the person you thought you would be. Perhaps you are feeling helpless or hopeless. Each person’s journey is unique. Often these stages overlap and certainly are not linear. I encourage you to be kind to yourself as you make your way to acceptance.
I want to share some of my favorite coping skills with you. Cognitive reframing is incredible. Lisa provided a great example of how cognitive reframing can be used to change the way you view your life with breast cancer. She is able to say she is grateful for the togetherness it brought her family. With cognitive reframing, the situation (cancer) doesn’t change you, but how you choose to respond to it does.
Embrace the support of your family and friends. I understand you will need time alone to process your thoughts and that is perfectly okay! Just don’t get stuck there! Like you, your loved ones are scared too. They want to be supportive and more than likely don’t know-how. Be honest with your needs. Tell them exactly how they can help you. I encourage you to allow your family and friends the honor of supporting you when you need it. Truth be told, they probably need it too. Consider adding local breast cancer support networks to your social calendar. You might end up with new friends for life!
Consider creating a mantra or perhaps use a positive affirmation to keep your mind focused on your strength, courage, and tenacity each and every day. Mantras are super helpful when you feel discouraged or weak.
My last bit of advice is to not forget who you are. You are not your cancer. Your cancer is not you. Remind yourself of your favorite hobbies, places or activities. Rekindle your long lost passion for playing music, reading or painting? Or tackle your list of “one-day” activities! Now is the perfect time to learn something new!
In closing, don’t forget to utilize your already tried and true coping skills. Whatever has worked for you prior to your cancer diagnosis is more than likely going to help now, whether it is meditation, prayer, deep breathing just to name a few. Focus on whatever it is that makes you feel refreshed. This is your journey to discover what is best for you.
For more info. or to schedule an appointment please call Crystal Adkins, Brighter Life Psychiatry (786) 453-7956 www.BrighterLifePsychiatry.com