What Are the Typical Emotions After Breast Cancer Diagnosis?

Photo: Living with Breast Cancer

Question: What are the typical emotions a woman might have after a diagnosis of breast cancer?

Answer: The range of emotions that a woman experiences after a diagnosis of breast cancer are fairly typical and fairly well known. And we like to tell women right up front this is likely what you're going to be experiencing because women often feel that there's something strange about the several weeks after a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Most women tell me that initially they felt absolutely numb or blank. It was: I can't believe this; I can't believe that this is happening; I can't believe this is happening to me now. Many women say that they experience the feelings of, my God, they mixed up the slides in pathology; this is somebody else's bad news; this just can't be me. The period of numbness lasts for several days, and then most women describe a period of emotional upset -- a combination of feelings of anxiety, sad moods, slightly depressed mood. Many women talk about having several weeks of difficulty sleeping or insomnia.

Some women say, I lost the whole thing from my memory. Surgeons notice that women often seem not to remember what was told to them. But doctors understand how hard it is for a woman who's just been told that she has breast cancer, and that's why we make ourselves available so you can have repeat visits with the doctor, his or her nurse, to hear again what our thoughts are about the diagnosis and what various treatment considerations are.

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