Managing the emotional side effects of advanced breast cancer

Breast cancer

Managing the emotional side effects of advanced breast cancer

Your treatment and your care team

The psychological impact of advanced breast cancer

The emotional aspects of ABC can often be more distressing and trying than the physical aspects of your disease.

If you’re feeling anxious or depressed, know that you are not alone. Many women feel the way you do. This can be caused by everything from symptoms and side effects of the disease and treatment, to anxiety and uncertainty about what the future may hold, to issues at home and with relationships.

If anxiety affects your day-to-day life, or if you feel sad most of the time, ask your oncologist and/or nurse for help. They can refer you for counselling and psychological support.

“The biggest thing I’ve learnt is don’t wait, just enjoy. Just do it, because who knows what could be happening tomorrow.”
Bridget Gage

BCFNZ support services

Breast Cancer Foundation NZ (BCFNZ) offers a number of support services nationwide, including our 0800 nurse helpline. This connects you with our team of specialist breast nurses for free support and advice. Mybc, our free online community, also connects you with others who are living with ABC.

Cognitive behavioural therapy, such as counselling, can help you cope with feelings of fear, anxiety and depression, as well as any personal, family or relationship issues, including sex and intimacy. By talking about your behaviour, CBT helps you to breakdown your thoughts and problems in order to better understand them and how to process them. Breast Cancer Foundation NZ funds counselling sessions across the country:

Your treatment and your care team

Navigating and finding your way in the healthcare system can be difficult at times. With so many different specialists and appointments, it can be confusing and sometimes distressing just trying to find where you should be and who you need to meet.

Take your time and find out who is who and what their role is. Your key point of contact may be different depending on what type of treatment you are having. If you are currently not having treatment, then your GP may be the best point of contact for you. He/she has oversight of all your health history and receives correspondence and information from all members of your health care team. This gives them a good insight and overview of all your care needs. They can then refer you back to the appropriate person in hospital system if and when needed. Some people even refer to them as their project manager.

It can be a good idea to keep a diary with names and contact numbers of the nurses and doctors taking care of you. List what they do, where they work and what is the best way to contact them. Sometimes it can be by email, for others a phone call or text message. Some people find that it is helpful to have a file at home, or on your phone, to place all your clinic letters and appointments in. It can help you stay organised and feel more in control. It can also be a good idea to share this information with a support person as they can help out if you are feeling unwell. They will also know where to find forms and appointments if needed. This can take the pressure off you a little.

Remembering what medications you are taking can also be a challenge at times. Some people find it useful to keep a list in their wallet or have that list stored in their phone. This can come in handy if a new doctor or specialist asks for them.

Importance of having symptoms well controlled

Having your symptoms well controlled allows you to live as normally as possible, enjoying the things that are important to you, while maintaining your quality of life and independence.

Discuss any symptoms with your doctor or breast care nurse so that a plan for managing these can be made. They can be caused by the metastases, the treatment you receive, or from other medications and can include fatigue, pain, breathlessness, side effects of medication or others.

Discussing emotional symptoms are just as important as the physical so you can learn how to manage these feelings of worry and distress. Each hospital has a team of counsellors and clinical psychologists that can provide emotional support.