For some women, a metastatic diagnosis is their first breast cancer diagnosis. Other women may find themselves back on the emotional roller coaster they thought they got off after previous treatment. Sometimes this means feeling angry, scared, stressed, outraged, or depressed. If the cancer is a recurrence, some women may question the treatments they had or may be mad at their doctors or themselves for not being able to beat the disease. Still other women may deal with the diagnosis in a matter-of-fact manner. There is no right or wrong way to come to terms with the diagnosis. You need to do and feel what is best for you and your situation.
Many people find that it helps to concentrate on understanding the new breast cancer diagnosis, learning all they can about different treatment options, and taking the time to get other medical opinions. Information can give you a feeling of control, which can help you manage any fear you may have.
"Loss of control is a huge issue for women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer," said Musa Mayer, author of Advanced Breast Cancer: A Guide to Living with Metastatic Disease and patient advocate. "The process of gathering information and learning about the disease and treatment can be very stabilizing and help women feel more in control."
A number of women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer have said thinking about the future frightens them because they're not sure what will happen. Some feel that living in the moment and living life to the fullest helps them deal with the fear and stress of an advanced cancer diagnosis. Having a goal or a hobby can be a welcome diversion — you can focus on something besides the cancer and live outside yourself for a little while. There are many things that can help maintain a feeling of being in the present moment. Examples include spending time with loved ones, making art, journaling, listening to music, or being with a pet. Achieving small, daily successes that build toward a larger goal also can offer comfort and stability.
Some women with metastatic breast cancer may feel the urge to withdraw from social connection. But in interviews and publications, many women living with metastatic breast cancer have said that distancing themselves from loved ones wasn't very helpful in dealing with their diagnosis.
Still, it's important to remember that everyone deals with fear and stress differently. Coming to terms with the diagnosis will take time and be different for everyone.
You can visit the Breastcancer.org Stage IV and Metastatic Breast Cancer Discussion Boards to connect with others who’ve been diagnosed.
You can also read our blog interview with Sage Bolte Ph.D., MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, Managing the Emotions Around Metastatic Breast Cancer for tips on navigating the fear, anger, and loss of control that can feel like a roller coaster.