Breast Cancer in women

How breast cancer affects you

Being diagnosed with a serious illness can be overwhelming, and reactions differ from person to person. Here women discuss the impact a breast cancer diagnosis had on them.

Most women felt shocked and upset when they were told they had breast cancer. Some described how they switched off and dissociated themselves from the news. One woman described her sense of disbelief and denial as she already had other illnesses to cope with. Another recalled the feelings and questions she had at the time.

Some women described feeling angry at the diagnosis and timing of it. One of these women, who was interviewed two weeks after being diagnosed, recalled feeling anger as well as a sense of bereavement. Other women felt alone, isolated or lonely. Some said they did not want to talk to other people at this time.

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One woman, who was diagnosed at the age of thirty, described bottling up her feelings and anxieties about her young children. Concern for children was mentioned by several women, as well as concern for other family members.

Two women described coping very much alone and one of them said she told very few people. Another found her family's reaction difficult to cope with (see ‘How it affects families’).

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Some women discussed dealing with the reactions of others, including pity, distance and unease. A few said they felt left behind while other people were progressing with their lives.

Fear was another common feeling. Other women said they’d felt depressed. One woman described feeling empty, and another recalled switching off from her feelings completely and relying on her faith.

Several women did not feel shock at the news of their diagnosis. One explained how she wanted to talk about her illness with all her friends, and commented that she did not feel the shock that she had been led to expect at the news of her diagnosis. Some women said that they expected the news of their diagnosis and treated their illness as a 'hiccup'.

A few women continued 'on autopilot' while things happened quickly from diagnosis to treatment. Several described how it felt peculiar to know that they had cancer but not to feel unwell. Maintaining a positive attitude helped some cope, while others talked about fighting their illness without allowing it to control their lives. Some women also talked about the unfounded fears and myths associated with cancer. One woman described how she saw her illness as a minor interruption that, these days, is much easier to deal with than many other conditions.

Last reviewed May 2015.
Last updated June 2010.

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