Breast Cancer is hard, we all know that. There is one thing though that can really determine whether our breast cancer journey is just hard, or whether it becomes traumatic and horrific. And the good news is, we can do something about it. That one thing is our expectations.
From the time we are diagnosed we have expectations. Straight away will be the thoughts of what is to come. We have all seen dozens of Hollywood movies, television documentaries and glossy magazine articles showing tragic cancer stories that tug at the heartstrings. Perhaps even members of our family or friends have been through breast cancer in the past. So we are likely expecting the worst.
We go home from our diagnosis and tell our family and friends our news. We expect that they will react a certain way. We also expect that they will support us, come to appointments, help out with household chores or kids or just check in regularly to see how we are.
As we progress through treatment, surgery awaits us. Our surgeons are positive and proud of their efforts. “You’ll be as good as new!” they promise. So we expect to be as good as new!
Imagine how disappointed we are when all these expectations are not met.
Okay, maybe we won’t be entirely disappointed if we find out that our cancer journey is not as dramatic as those tearjerker movies!
But we’ve set the bar way too high (or low), and our expectations are not met by the results we see. So the solution is easy right – we just make sure our expectations are more realistic. The big question is how?
When we are first diagnosed we feel shocked, scared and confused. Our doctors often tell us not to Google, and I agree with them, sort of.
The best way to overcome our unrealistic expectations for our treatment is to learn about the wide range of different types of breast cancers out there and what that means for us. Our doctors can’t explain every term or definition, they often don’t want to tell us about all the options because they want us to focus only on our own situation.
Unfortunately that means when we see others in the media, a friend tells you about her mother, or a colleague about her Aunt, you are comparing apples to oranges, and don’t realise it. Once you learn about all the types, stages etc, how much treatment is changing over even short time frames and how we all seem to react differently, you can change your expectations.
My big mission after my breast cancer diagnosis is to help change the expectation that breast cancer is horrific; that life is over once diagnosed. I want to help people combat that paralysing fear at diagnosis by showing that not everyone has a terrible time and there is hope.
If we can start our journey expecting it to be difficult, but totally do-able, our mindset will be in a much better place. We will think of our breast cancer right from the beginning as something we can get through, like a badly broken leg, Covid-19, or perhaps even pregnancy.
All of those can have fatal results if things go wrong and treatment can be horrible, but we don’t fear them like we do cancer. We know we can come out the other end almost back to normal. Changed, yes, but able to get on with life.
Imagine how much better it would feel if when you were diagnosed with breast cancer, you expected it to be perfectly treatable. Imagine what it would be like for your mind to not immediately go to that emaciated, bald, middle-of-chemo look that media puts into our mind as what a breast cancer patient looks like.
I have searched for a reliable number for the percentage of people diagnosed with breast cancer who actually have chemotherapy (and hence the bald image we have) and haven’t been able to find a proper scientific answer. Instead I did two Facebook polls, one in my own group and another in a larger group. While not perfect, they roughly showed about 40-45% of people do not have chemo.
That is a huge number of people who will not fit that image we have in our minds.
It’s not just chemo either. The surgery required for breast cancer can also be hard, both mentally and physically – but I have heard countless people say that it was much easier in reality than they were expecting it to be. That was my experience too. While it is good that the actual experience is better than what we are expecting, that doesn’t help with the fear at the beginning.
So if right from the start our mindset is scared, expecting the worst and negative, we are going to have a very different experience to starting the journey feeling confident, positive and expecting to live for many years to come.
One of my favourite quotes (I had it as my screensaver for years) is this one from Henry Ford “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right!”
Basically this means that mindset plays an important part of the outcome. I’m not saying that simply believing yourself better will make it happen (although some claim that too), I am saying that by believing that breast cancer can be dealt with easier, the pain won’t be too bad and the treatment is doable, then it will be.
It’s like that glass half full/glass half empty scenario. How you look at a situation really can change how you feel about it.
So by changing what we expect to be in store for us in the months after our diagnosis, we really can change the experience.
Here are some tips to help with your breast cancer journey
- Spend time understanding your diagnosis and what it means. If you are going to Google, only use reputably sites such as BCNA or the Cancer Council (in Australia) and American Cancer Society
- Don’t be scared to research the survivial rate numbers – they are likely a lot higher than what you are expecting. Eg: Even if the cancer is invasive, if it is confined to the breast then the 5-year survival rate is 99%. Of those diagnosed, 65% fall into this category. Link
- Be careful about Facebook support groups. They are a wealth of invaluable knowledge, but remember what you are seeing is skewed towards those with problems or issues. People with no issues or problems tend not to post or need these groups.
- Make a conscious decision to surround yourself with positive thoughts, sayings, and people. Stick little quotes on your mirror, change your phone wallpaper and seek out positive people.
- When those irrational expectations and thoughts take hold, use journalling to help change them to positive thoughts.
Want to read more of my story? Try these posts
- My Bilateral Mastectomy with Tissue Expanders
- My Exchange Surgery – From Tissue Expanders to Implants
- Two Years Post Bilateral Mastectomy
For some breast cancer information, click through to these posts
- What to Take to Hospital for Breast Surgery
- Lumpectomy or Mastectomy: How to Choose
- Things No-one Tells You About Having a Mastectomy
Have you joined a breast cancer support group on Facebook but been completely overwhelmed by some of the posts? It’s fantastic that these groups are an open forum and all sorts of questions, worries and issues are addressed, but sometimes they can be too much. In fact sometimes they can be downright scary.
If you would still like to join a support group on Facebook but not be faced with some of the scarier aspects when you don’t want to see them, come and join Positive Breast Cancer Stories. Here we share positive stories, celebrate milestones and encourage each other rather than deal with the technical information >>
Click here to join now
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