Close to 300,000 American women are expected to receive a breast cancer diagnosis each year. For many, their early reactions are fear, anger, and denial. Those feelings may escalate.
Dealing with the psychological fallout of such a diagnosis can be crucial to patients' physical recovery. As they weigh their medical options, patients also should consider their emotional and mental options.
"Breast cancer is more than skin deep. It's not just about your external body image. It's not just about secondary sexual characteristics. It's not just about breasts. It's more than that. The psyche and the physical body are interconnected, so you really can't address one and not the other," said Dr. Georita Frierson, associate professor of psychology and director of Clinical Training for the Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Program at Rowan University, Glassboro, New Jersey.
She believes breast cancer patients should consider the following, based on research she and others have conducted, as they fight their illness:
1. Severe and acute stress may occur at the time of cancer diagnosis.
2. Physical activity can improve mood and other outcomes in breast cancer patients following diagnosis.
3. The acute distress accompanying diagnosis can lead to lower quality of life for cancer patients.
4. Patients with poorer coping at time of diagnosis may report lower meaning in life in the year following the end of cancer treatments.
5. Cancer treatments have the potential to impact intimate relationships.
6. Patients may have body image distress following breast cancer surgeries.
7. Treatment or recovery can disrupt one's employment, including job loss for some.
8. Distressed individuals can have appetite disturbances and/or dietary changes.
9. The taste of foods may change with stress.
10. Disturbances of taste or eating habits (e.g., food restriction or taste aversions from chemotherapy) can occur in breast cancer patients.
11. Disturbed sleep can occur in breast cancer patients, too.