Your feelings about breast cancer, your treatment, and the effort it will take to get better can impact how well you stay on track with treatment. If you experience depression, as some people with breast cancer do, you may feel like you don’t have the energy to keep up with your treatment plan. Or you may at times feel overwhelmed by or even angry about the constant rounds of appointments and medications. This can happen for a number of reasons:
- It‘s not easy to feel independent and active one day if you’re starting treatment the next day. Sometimes you might miss your treatment or appointment “on purpose” — because you just want to get on with your life and act like the disease never happened. Taking a pill also can be an unwelcome daily reminder about breast cancer. You may just want to “give yourself a break” at times.
- You may question how much the treatment plan will actually help you. If your doctor or nurse hasn’t given you enough information about what the treatments are intended to do, you may question whether they can really do any good. If you distrust doctors or medicine in general, this can make you feel even less motivated to stay on track.
- You may feel like you should be finished with treatment long before your doctor says you are. If you’re beyond your initial treatment, you may not be able to imagine how the cancer could come back — particularly if you’ve had “heavy duty” treatment, like mastectomy and chemotherapy. So you may not understand why long-term treatment and follow-up are necessary.
It is important to deal with whatever feelings that could keep you from taking your medication or going to doctors’ appointments. The following tips may help:
- Think about breast cancer as a chronic disease. Chronic conditions — think of diabetes, high blood pressure, or asthma for example — are not immediately life-threatening, but they have to be kept in check over time. It may be helpful for you to think of cancer in the same way while you are in treatment. Over a period of years, you will need to see your doctor regularly and follow your treatment plan through to the end.
- If you have questions about your treatment, ask your doctor or nurse. Your doctor or nurse may not offer detailed explanations unless you ask for them. Make sure you understand why each treatment is needed and why it has to be taken for a period of months or years. Just knowing how it all works can help you feel motivated to stay on track. If you ever have any doubts about whether your treatment plan is working, tell your doctor or nurse.
- Ask for help with any emotional distress or depression. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between depression and fatigue caused by treatment. Talk to your doctor or nurse about how you're feeling and ask them to help you find ways to feel better. A counselor who works with people affected by breast cancer can be a big help.
- Join a support group or ask to be matched with another survivor. It may be easier to stay on track if you can talk with other people who are further along in their treatment for breast cancer. Your doctor or nurse may be able to refer you to a support group or match you with another breast cancer survivor. You can also visit the Breastcancer.org Discussion Boards. Here you’ll find a supportive community available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, where you can get information, advice, and encouragement.
"Patients really under-complain, especially older women and women who are minorities. I think one of the biggest errors is toughing it out. If you don't speak up, you may not be able to tolerate your therapy over the long haul."
— Jennifer Griggs, M.D., MPH