Looking for C.U.R.E.

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Home Support Coping Coping Mechanisms and Support Options Available to Patients Diagnosed with Breast Cancer

Coping Mechanisms and Support Options Available to Patients Diagnosed with Breast Cancer

E-mail Print
Download this file (copingmech.pdf)PDF

The diagnosis of breast cancer can bring on an overwhelming range of emotions.  Denial, anger, fear and depression are very common when coming to terms with the disease, its prognosis and treatment.  It is easy to feel scared and alone in the face of breast cancer, and through this article we hope to provide information on coping mechanisms, their importance, and where to turn to for social support and help.

There is no defined way to react to a diagnosis of breast cancer.  Every person reacts differently, and that's fine!  Crying, shock, feelings of numbness and being overwhelmed are all normal reactions.  Just as people react in different ways, there are many different ways to cope with a diagnosis of breast cancer.  There is a difference, however, between reacting and coping.  While people react in a multitude of ways, there are some coping mechanisms that are considered healthier and more effective than others.  Below we will outline some of the more constructive ways to cope with a diagnosis of breast cancer.

According to research, one of the most important aspects of a good coping mechanism is social support.  Confide in someone, whether it is family, friends or a social support group.  At the end of this article, you will find a link that provides tips on how to break the news of your diagnosis to different family members.  Based on research found in medical literature, support from any source can help reduce depression, emotional distress and anxiety.  It can decrease feelings of social isolation, and help improve your mood and outlook.  Support has not been shown to decrease the rate of recurrence of survival, with the notable exception of one study conducted in 1989 whose results have never been reproduced.  Social support will undeniably improve your quality of life.

While your family and friends can be an important and powerful source of support, you might find it necessary to seek help and support from others.  These people include other survivors, support groups, physicians, nurses and social workers.  It is important to have an outside social support network as well as family and friends as your diagnosis can often cause emotional strain on those closest to you and it is very beneficial to have a support network at all times.

Many different kinds of support groups exist including those in your community, online, religious and spiritual and those affiliated with the American Cancer Society. The purpose and type of support offered can vary from group to group and it is important to find the one that best suits your needs. According to the Susan G. Komen website, support groups are classified as “emotion-focused” or “information-based.” Emotion-focused groups emphasize sharing feelings, and are best for people who are open to communicating their fears and hopes with people outside of the family and friend circle. Others prefer to only share these feelings with their close family and friends and information-based groups that focus on patient education are more beneficial. Support groups also vary based on the stage of your breast cancer. Some groups are geared toward those recently diagnosed, some provide support during treatment, and others give support to women and men who have achieved remission. Many online discussion boards and support websites also exist, and links can be found through the American Cancer Society website.

Often physicians and other health care workers are overlooked as sources of support. This can be due to multiple factors, both from the patient and health care provider. The Susan G. Komen website offers a brochure entitled “Talking with your doctor.” The link can be found below. Some key points include doing a little bit of research about your diagnosis ahead of time, asking open-ended questions, taking notes, and giving your health care provider feedback on what was or was not useful.

Another important and beneficial coping mechanism is staying active and eating healthy. It is important to keep your immune system boosted and maintain a healthy lifestyle in the face of a diagnosis of breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, recommendations include eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, grains and fiber, and low in fat. Drinking plenty of fluids, getting a good night’s sleep and exercise are also important. One study showed that yoga and meditation exercises improved emotional well-being, mood and general quality of life in a diverse population of breast cancer survivors. Simply choosing an activity you enjoy, such as walking, biking or swimming, can improve your health in many ways.

Below are some links for further reading:

Talking with family members and loved ones: http://www.breastcancer.org/tips/telling_family

Talking with your doctor: http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/HealthCareProviders.html

Stories of hope: http://www.breastcancer.org/community/stories/


Susan G Komen website: http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/Support.html

Spiegel D, Bloom JR, Kraemer HC and Gottheil E. Effect of psychosocial treatment on survival of patients with metastatic breast cancer. Lancet. 2: 888-91, 1989.

Schmid-Büchi S, Halfens RJ, Dassen T, van den Borne B. A review of psychosocial needs of breast-cancer patients and their relatives. J Clin Nurs. 17(21):2895-909, 2008.

Moadel AB, Shah C, Wylie-Rosett J, et al. Randomized controlled trial of yoga among a multiethnic sample of breast cancer patients: effects on quality of life. J Clin Oncol. 25(28):4387-95, 2007.


Shreya Sengupta, Shikha Jain, MD