Do not be surprised if you go on an emotional rollercoaster after diagnosis (and way beyond). During the initial few weeks, you may find you experience emotions that you never knew existed. Your moods may change from being tough and being a fighter to a blubbering wreck within the same hour!
Some breast cancer patients require anti-depression medication but others breeze through it. There's absolutely no right or wrong way to behave.
During the first few weeks (maybe even months) you may find you hardly sleep. Somebody said to me that the last thing they thought about before going to sleep was "I've got cancer" and the first thing they thought when they woke up is "I've got cancer". It's ever present. For me, I really didn't sleep for about a month. If I did sleep, I'd wake up an hour later, maybe crying or terrified. It would then take ages to go back to sleep. It felt like being on a cancer rollercoaster. I'm not sure when the turning point came for me. I think I slept better after the lumpectomy, had more sleepless nights before chemo started and once chemo was underway managed to sleep much better.
I really cannot express how the first few weeks and months you feel like your life may be over. You may well walk around and look at people who are carrying on as normal and be jealous that their lives haven't changed - you may feel angry that this has happened to you. People will tell you to be "positive" but honestly, I wanted to scream when I was told that. What, be positive I have cancer? No thank you!
For me, it was about having the strength to get through it. You WILL find the strength to get through it - you'll probably find an inner strength you never knew you had. Don't get me wrong, you'll still have very dark days and be scared stupid at times (especially when you know somebody or hear about somebody who has died from breast cancer) but you WILL get through it.
Allow the time to "grieve" your diagnosis. If you need to fall apart, fall apart. Our bodies and minds are wonderful things and they will repair themselves but do what YOU need to do to get through this.
What's interesting is how others react to you and how it makes you feel. For example, I said to my husband, right at the start, "don't treat me like a cancer patient. Treat me like your wife as you always have done". What I didn't count on was that he thought that meant I wanted him to ignore it! He was carrying on as normal and even was out when he knew I was poorly and might need some help doing dinner. Thankfully our marriage is very strong and after a few weeks of this I actually broke down and said "Please stop expecting me to carry on exactly as normal because there are days I can't and I feel like you don't care". He was so upset and astonished - he hadn't realised that he had over compensated by doing nothing! Thankfully all it took was that chat to get things on a more even keel! I never like asking for help (from anybody) but I've realised, I need to do a bit more of that.
Unfortunately it's not always as easy as that and cancer can take a huge toll on relationships - both for better and worse. If your relationship (with a partner, friend, child etc) is suffering, please make sure you speak with a specialist cancer counsellor. They see this all the time (unforunately) but will be able to hold your hand and get you through it, often with practical advice.
You will also find out who your friends are! Some just drop out of your life because they can't cope. Others are jealous that you are getting attention and are horrible to you (honestly I would never have believed that could happen but it does and it's not a nice human trait). Some run away and avoid eye contact with you - they are scared and don't know how to deal with it. Real friends though show their true colours. They're there for you, through thick and thin. They WANT to be with you and hold your hand or just listen or even better, give you a big hug. I can't tell you how much I love a few of my friends who have just been there for me. They know who they are. I love them to the moon and back.
One of the big emotions you may also feel is guilt. I would never have thought this would happen but I feel constantly guilty. Guilty because I'm putting my family through this crap, guilty that my friends are having to support me and more importantly, guilty at how this may be affecting my daughter. My way of dealing with this is that I actually didn't ask for this and how I deal with it is so important. I can chose to wallow and do the "poor me" thing or I can get on with things and to the outside world look strong so that hopefully if they're ever in the same position, they won't be as scared as I was/am.
Interestingly, how others react to you has a real impact on how you're feeling and dealing with things. I've written about this in my blog but it's worth putting here as well. I am NEVER seen without my safety net of wig and make up. They give me confidence and I think I may even fool the world that I'm fit and healthy!!!! However on my one and only trip out without either, I was reduced to a blubbering wreck and felt about as low as I could ever go - and that was because of two words that were meant with kindness and sympathy but made me feel like a victim. I was going to the Doctors and suffering with Klebsiella Pneumonia which is quite a serious infection. I was feeling so ill that I just put a beanie on. No make up. I drove to the doctors surgery and outside were 5 women having a chat. They looked at me as I got out of my car and all looked away. They looked embarrassed. As I walked past, one of them said "poor woman". I KNOW this was meant with kindness but the effect it had on me was I felt a victim. I felt that cancer had taken over and I was no longer me. I wasn't Michele. I was the cancer victim - the walking dead. I cried all the way home and it affected me for days.
Bottom line - if you're suffering please ask for help. You won't be the only one. Take all the help you can get. xxx