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Research Findings

Coping with a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Coping with a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Women worry about reactions during a time that’s already difficult, study finds.

Shelley Volz, now 59, got the news about her breast cancer diagnosis 10 years ago, right before she was leaving for New York to attend the wedding of her younger brother. Volz waited until after the wedding celebration to calmly tell others. Ten years later, after successful treatment, she is doing fine. While she says she doesn’t think she found it as difficult as many people to disclose the diagnosis, she did think about others’ reactions.

In that sense, she is typical, according to a new study. “Even when women are facing a breast cancer diagnosis, they are still concerned about caring for everyone else, especially the emotions of others,” said study author Grace J. Yoo, a medical sociologist at San Francisco State University’s Biobehavioral Research Center.

Yoo and her team interviewed 164 San Francisco-area breast cancer survivors, average age 57, of different ethnicities to evaluate the “emotion work” involved in telling others about the diagnosis.

In interviews with the researchers, the women talked about their feelings and actions after getting the diagnosis.  Women react in different ways – stifling their own emotions so they don’t appear vulnerable, paying attention to the timing of their news, or sometimes letting it all out, she said.

Women find it somewhat easier to tell friends than family members, she found. “Women are trying to protect older, aging parents and younger children and even their spouses, even during illness. Women are socialized to care about others.”

Ideally, Yoo said, women should do less of that at this time. “It’s a time they should be caring about themselves and what decisions they should be making about breast cancer treatment. They shouldn’t emotionally burn themselves out by caring for others’ emotions.”

Many women said once they told others about the diagnosis they were surprised about the outpouring of help, even from acquaintances. But some feared that if they told, people may not care enough to help.

Yoo’s advice: “You don’t need to tell people immediately, feel free to process it yourself first. Practicing what you will say, by saying it out loud to yourself or writing it down, can help”.

“We tell women to seek out other breast cancer survivors, other women who understand, to increase their resources.” And focus more on getting emotional support than giving it.

Source: Medline Plus

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