Newly Diagnosed


Fear is created not by the world around us, but in the mind, by what we think is going to happen. – Elizabeth Gawain

The first week of a breast cancer diagnosis can be filled with shock, disbelief, and possibly a sense of numbness. It is as if you’re in some other place and time that isn’t really happening. Major details may become a blurr because there are so many. This is a time of increased sensitivity even to minor items. You may become angry or teary-eyed while holding onto the belief that if you had lived some other life, then you wouldn’t have breast cancer. We like to call of these feelings “natural” because the word, “normal” may have you asking yourself, “What is normal anyway?”

You are about to discover just how much your body, mind, and spirit work together.  It’s natural to feel fear of the unknown as you wonder how you’re going to get through each day, each hour, and sometimes…each minute. Your mind may jump past the choices and research of your treatment possibilities and go straight into questioning whether you’ll die. An answer to that question is “yes”.  Yes, you will die some day. We all will die some day. But, today is not that day.

You may not feel all this breast cancer stuff is happening to you–especially if you feel physically fit.  You may repeatedly rehash the scene when you were informed of your diagnosis. And you may continue to do this the more you repeat this story to others. You may also be sensitive to what people say in response to your emotional news. This is the time to acknowledge that you are in a temporary place.  It is a time of information overload and swinging emotions.  Just keep in mind that as in life itself, this too will pass. So take a deep breath and begin thinking about your present wants and needs as you prepare to reach out and vocalize them.


If you have medical insurance, now would be the time to review the policies and coverage. Some plans limit the miles in which you can travel to see a doctor or to seek a second opinion. This can be important if you are seeking a surgeon outside the county.

If you do not have medical insurance, please refer to the California Department of Health Services Every Woman Counts website with the California Department of Health Care Services.


First, it may be helpful to jot down a list of what you think you need in the form of support.  Is it information?  Alone time?  Reaching out to find others who have already experienced breast cancer who may better understand what you are going through?  Could it be a private, round-robin support group with a psychologist and no family members or friends allowed?  Or could it be a casual support group where information and support is exchanged naturally and freely while welcoming families, friends and community supporters. Only you can determine what will be beneficial to your health and well-being at this time.


Your activities will now begin to change as you set numerous doctor’s appointments, complete medical forms, read brochures and books, browse the internet, and hopefully write down specific questions for each doctor. Phew! That’s a lot! Take another DEEP breath! TAKE TIME to grieve and schedule some time to rest. And remember, even though you did not have a choice in getting your breast cancer, you can choose the activities that will help you better cope including deciding who you want on your medical “dream team”.


As you begin meeting with doctors and specialists, there will be more information to take in. You will decide who you wish to share the news of your diagnosis. It is common to become tired in repeating your news to others regarding doctor’s visits and any new piece of information you may find. If this happens, please know that you hold more power than you may be giving yourself credit. The magic word is ASK. Ask for help in whatever it is you think you need. If you have children, and need to break away, ask someone who is willing to help take them to a movie or somewhere they will enjoy so you can have some quiet time. Ask. Ask. Ask. You may feel uncomfortable at first in asking for time, a ride, groceries, someone to accompany you to one or more appointments, etc. This may be a challenge especially if you are not used to asking others for help. If this is the case, write a list of all the people you feel comfortable with your asking. Take the first step in starting and ease up on yourself by going at your own pace.


It is natural during this time for you to have sudden emotions, which can be triggered by songs, comments from others, and in seeing objects or reading certain words and magazines. At this time, you may also find yourself developing a wharped sense of humor that only those with breast cancer can understand. If someone looks at you funny when whipping out a statement that causes you to “gaffaw” but not them, simply let the person know it is your way of coping.


One healthy way in dealing with unhealthy relationships, or those who choose to use constant negative behaviors, is to avoid them. If you are in a relationship that is toxic, the negative behaviors could intensify. Remind yourself that you are valued and unique, and there are people who will miraculously appear during your times of hardship who will treat you with kindness and respect. Visualize yourself gravitating towards those individuals. Also, keep in mind the source from which negative comments come and determine whether the source is a person who love’s and cares for you or that you may have said something to trigger the negative comments. Anger can also be a way to cope…as long as it is not done abusively with the intension to hurt someone. This may also be a time to realize that you are not the only one experiencing your breast cancer. Others around you may need some form of support at this time as well.


Doctors may present you with options that may seem complex. It may be helpful to have someone be with you during these appointments to take notes. Some doctors will even allow you to bring a tape records so you can better review to understand what has been said, and to ask more questions. Simply, ask them if it is okay with them first before turning on the recorder. Either way, respect their wishes.


Once you begin treatment or go into surgery, you may notice a difference in those around you. Some may give you light hugs because they think they may cause you pain by squeezing too hard. Others may take a quick glance down at your chest, then back up to your face thinking you haven’t noticed. Some will become closer in their relationship to you while others may pull away or remain distant. They, too, may feel awkward, afraid, helpless, and weak. Then, there are others who will enter your life as if they were put in your life to perform a kind deed and then leave. This can be quite a humbling experience.

Being newly diagnosed is a time when you can choose to speak up or be silent. It is a time for you to take inventory of what it is that you need from others as well as what you don’t need.

Worrying is like a rocking chair–it gives you something to do, but doesn’t get you anywhere. -Dorothy Galyean