Coffee with Komen – Mental Health Tips for Breast Cancer Patients

By Lora L. Hays, LMFT, RPT, Cancer Support Community Central Indiana

The most recent Indiana Cancer Facts and Figures report from the Indiana Cancer Consortium reports 4,415 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year here in Indiana. For many people that may just be a number, but having worked with cancer patients since 1999, I know this number is just the tip of the iceberg. Women are often the glue that hold families, relationships and workplaces together. So, the number of people affected by a breast cancer diagnosis is much greater.

Because of the integral part women play in our society, they often arrive at my door with a variety of stresses and concerns: How will my treatment affect my children?  Will my husband look at me differently after my surgery?  Will I be too sick to work during my treatment?  I have always been active; will this slow me down?  And this doesn’t even count the worries that arise about the actual procedures, treatments and side effects.  It is no wonder that many patients report an increase in depression and anxiety following diagnosis.

Most of us know we need to take good care of ourselves both mentally and physically and we do the best we can. It is even more important for women faced with cancer to do so if they want to have the highest quality of life during and after treatment.

So how do we take care of ourselves mentally? The list below provides some ideas to try when the stresses start to add up:

Breathe: Remember to stop and breathe. Often, stopping and taking a deep breath can be just what you need. There are tons of breathing exercises out on Pinterest and the internet.  When practiced regularly, breathing exercises can create a sense of calmness and peace in the mind as well as the body. A great thing about breathing exercises is that they can be done anywhere.  In the car, at the doctor’s office and even home in bed are all good places to breathe when you need to calm down. And, other people won’t even know you are de-stressing.

Exercise: Exercise during treatment?  Yes! Studies show that exercise produces those endorphins that make us feel good and have a sense of well being.  There are many low impact and gentle yoga classes around town that are designed specifically for people in treatment.  Even going out for a walk and moving can keep the worry at bay and make you feel more confident and in control.

Stay Social: Going out with friends and family to eat and play is vitally important.  Even on days when things seem overwhelming, people who force themselves out of the house find they return home in a much better mood.  Going out with others gives our brains time to relax and regroup by focusing on something outside ourselves.  Even an hour out of the house can make a positive difference in your mental state.

Journal:  Many patients find journaling helpful in managing their emotions.  It doesn’t have to be well-written or pretty. Just getting those thoughts and feelings written down can combat feelings of depression.

Learn Something New:  Is there something you have always wanted to do, try or learn?  Now is the time.  Learning a new skill takes focus and gives the brain little time to dwell on the negative things in life.

Join a Support Group:  The simple act of sharing your story with others going through similar circumstances can give new hope.  To know that other people are having the same thoughts can be comforting.  People in support groups also provide ideas and examples of how to handle problems because they have been there and successfully navigated difficulties.

Talk with a Counselor or Spiritual Advisor:  They can help with those tough questions about “Why Me?” that often arise during the cancer journey, and help finding meaning.  Having cancer provides a new perspective on life and sometimes it takes help to sort thoughts and feelings out.  Don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

The key to keeping ourselves mentally fit and healthy is to stay aware of our emotions and then act if they are leading you down a negative path.  The best mental health is obtained by being proactive.

Additional Resources:

  • Cancer Support Community Central Indiana provides free counseling, support groups, yoga and exercise classes, relaxation and visualization classes and regular fun, social gathering to support health and wellness during treatment and beyond. Visit cancersupportindy.org to learn more.
  • Crisis Hotline can be contacted in case of a mental health emergency. Call 317-251-7575 or text CSIS to 839863.

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