“You have breast cancer.” These may be the most frightening words you’ve ever heard. You may feel scared, angry, crushed—or in complete denial. You probably won’t remember anything your physician tells you, and will have no idea how to begin dealing with your problem.

How I felt when I heard I had breast cancer…

First of all, realize that a diagnosis of breast cancer is not a death sentence. Breast cancer is a very treatable disease, and survival rates today are higher than ever before. There are more than two and a half million women who have been handed the same diagnosis many years ago, and are still leading happy, productive lives.

The best approach you can take is to resolve, right now, that you will do everything you can to be successful in your battle against breast cancer. Tell yourself that losing this battle is simply not an option. This positive attitude will be your best ally.

Initial steps you need to take to reclaim control over the situation:

• Understand your feelings
• Decide how, when, and with whom to share the news
• Assemble a support network
• Gather the information you need
• Actively participate in planning your treatment.

Learning that you have breast cancer is an experience that is probably unlike any other in your life. Don’t try to suppress the turmoil that you are experiencing. Cry, get angry, shout. Show whatever emotion helps you, because there is no right or wrong response, and you are entitled to feel whatever you are feeling.

The first few weeks after your diagnosis may be the hardest to handle. On some days, questions like “Will I die?” or “Will my husband still love me?” will invade your mind and incapacitate you. On other days, you will be overcome with joy just to hear a single piece of good news. This emotional roller coaster may be difficult to manage, no matter how strong you are. Don’t be too hard on yourself if your emotions slip out of your control every once in a while. You don’t need to be a superwoman in perfect balance all the time.

Find someone you can talk to about what you are experiencing. This should be a mature, well-adjusted person who can listen without passing judgment. Sometimes very close friends or family members may be too involved in the situation to remain objective. At least initially, it may be best to speak to someone who is more objective, and doesn’t have a need to “make it all better.”

A good resource for talking about your feelings may be another woman who had breast cancer, or an organized group of breast cancer survivors who meet regularly to offer mutual support, and an opportunity for open communication.

In addition, don’t be embarrassed to seek professional help. Group or individual counseling can help you come to grips with your feelings, so you can start on the road to recovery.

Facts to Remember About Breast Cancer

• Breast cancer is not a death sentence—98% of those diagnosed are successfully treated if the cancer is detected early.
• Breast cancer can often be treated with breast-conserving surgery—preserving the natural appearance of the breast.
• Excellent options for reconstruction are available if a mastectomy is necessary.
• In most cases there is no need to rush your decisions. Take time to learn as much as you can, and to decide what choices are best for you.
• A positive attitude and active participation will improve the outcome of your treatment. Resolve that you will survive this challenge.