If the tests show that you do have cancer, your case will be given to an oncologist, a doctor who specializes in cancer treatments. You will probably also be referred to a surgeon. These doctors will discuss the treatment that is best for you. We understand that even if you are partly expecting it, being told that you do have breast cancer is a terrible shock.
Most women say they feel a mixture of terror, anger and despair. They often think they are going to die. They ask “Why Me?” and “What did I do wrong?” They wonder how they can possibly tell their family and friends that they have cancer, and they worry what will happen to those closest to them. Again, these are all normal reactions. Give yourself time to process your emotions and have someone that will listen to you.
Added to some or all of these things, you will probably have to face traveling away from home for some or all of your treatments, depending the course of action that is determined for your cancer. Then, there is trying to understand what is happening to you and the many words you have never heard before, at a time when it is hard to take anything in. Having someone with you at all your appointments is important to hear what is being said, provide you support and are able to ask questions when you become overwhelmed.
At this point try and remember that up to 90% of women survive breast cancer for five years or longer. Many women are completely cured and others may live with cancer for years and still enjoy a good quality of life.
We suggest that you try and keep in mind these things:
- Your feelings are completely normal in the circumstances. Allow yourself to feel them. Cry. Shout. Talk about how you feel. Be kind to yourself and take time to do the things that make you feel good like taking a walk outdoors, sewing, painting, yoga etc. See the experience of other northern women here and if, you need someone to talk to contact us or check out Your Supports & Services
- You will suddenly be faced with lots of decisions and information, at a time when it is hard to take in even the simplest things. Breathe, you are not alone.
Some things to help you cope with this are:
Contact NWT Cancer Nurse Navigators for help identifying appropriate resources, including a copy of a Survivor Care Plan (SCP). If they have not contacted you yet, please contact them first. Phone: 866-313-7989 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org (link: to why use SCP’s)
- You are going to hear and read a lot of unfamiliar words connected with cancer and its treatment, see Unfamiliar Words to help with clarifying these words.
- Leaflets, books, videos and credible websites also have a lot of useful information. Reading or watching videos before your appointments may help you to think about what you want to ask the doctors in your particular case.
- We strongly advise that you use Survivor Care Plan (SCP) or at the very least a journal or binder, that is a record of all your appointments and discussions with your health care team, including phone calls. Here you can make notes of what has been said and by whom. You can also use this to record such things as side effects and how you are feeling, and questions you want to ask. In fact, you can write in it anything you want as well as use it to keep leaflets, reminders of appointments etc. The Cancer Nurse Navigators have SCPs specially designed for the cancer journey, please email or call if you would like one. The Navigators or your local Community Health Representative can also help you with this.
- Take your SCP to every appointment. You may see different doctors and you will be able to show one doctor what a previous doctor said.
- Make notes or record questions you want to ask and take them with you to appointments. Do not be shy about looking at your notes and asking any questions, it is your appointment time to do this.
- Take someone, known as a medical escort, with you to appointments, who can write things down or record them and ask questions for you if you are unable. Alberta Health offers an app (MyCare Conversations App –Google Play Store/iTunes) that you can use to record conversations with your health care providers.
- Even people who speak good English struggle with medical language so, if English is not your first language, consider asking your health provider for an interpreter.
- Never be afraid to say that you don’t understand something and ask for something to be repeated, or explained again, or written down, until you do understand it.
- Appointments are stressful and it makes sense that you may not think of everything you wanted to ask or you may have forgotten to ask about something. At your appointments, ask for a phone number or email so that you can follow up on things if you need more information or want to ask more questions.