According to the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute, 12.8% of women born in the United States today will develop breast cancer. This is based on current incidence rates and by using statistics for the years 2014 through 2016. In other words, 1 in 8 women has a chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer some time during her life. Unfortunately, the 1 in 8 risk has remained very close to the same from 2011 through 2015.

Recent studies have reviewed the prospect of being diagnosed with breast cancer during the next 10 years and have broken them down by ages and rates of incidence. For example, women age 30 have a risk of 1 in 208 whereas women age 60 have a risk of 1 in 28. These statistics should remind women of all ages that mammography and self- examination need to continue throughout their lives.

A diagnosis of cancer does not affect only a woman’s physical health, it also impacts emotional health. Suddenly, a woman is faced with emotions that can be overwhelming and life seems out of control. Some women go through stages that are not uncommon to those experiencing a life-threatening situation. When first diagnosed there can be a period of denial and disbelief. Anger at “why me” and a challenge to faith. Underlying anger are feelings of fear, panic, frustration, and helplessness. Women often feel that they need to be strong for family and friends and they should not burden everyone with the fear, anxiety, and sadness they are experiencing.

Loneliness is also an emotion felt by women going through treatment. Imagine going to a clinic weekly, sitting for an extended period while receiving IV chemotherapy. Although the medical staff is present, the woman is alone with her thoughts and fears. Family and friends sometimes have a difficult time knowing what to say or how to be helpful. Cancer patients often feel sick and cannot be involved in activities that used to keep them engaged in the world. Then there is the realization that, even though people care, they cannot truly understand what the patient is feeling.

Fatigue, feeling hopeless, and limitations from cancer treatment can lead to depression. Most women can face everyday challenges and cope effectively. However, when a diagnosis of cancer and the treatment that follows, combined with everyday life challenges, depression may occur. Some symptoms of depression can include frequent bouts of sadness, emotionally numbness, decreased interest in things that previously brought pleasure, frequent crying, difficulty concentrating, sleep disruption, decreased hygiene, and often mood swings.

What can a woman do to adjust to cancer and feel in control of her life again? Information gathering from the medical team and from support groups will help to decrease fear and anxiety. Expressing feelings without worrying that sharing is burdening others. Not pretending to be upbeat for the sake of others. Asking for help with chores or errands that are taxing. Defining problems or situations that are troublesome, generating solutions, and implementing the best solution. Finally, developing a “closeness circle”. Try imagining being at the center of a circle and then create a circle around the center and then another and another. Next, thinking about who is in the inner circles and then who are others at the outer circles. What type of emotional or task support are they willing and able to provide? Think about the circles and what are realistic expectations of the people in your circles.

Breast cancer month increases awareness every year, however, once a year is not enough. Breast cancer awareness must be every day.

If you need help, ask for it. Dr. Rebecca Coleman is accepting new patients at 100 E. Pitt Street, Bedford Call 814-977-4417.

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