When the trust is gone… Anyone will tell you that once the trust is gone in a relationship, you’re in trouble. It can be very hard to build that trust back up again, a trust that probably took years to grow and nurture. Can a …
Tag: breast cancer support
This week’s guest blog is a brilliant blog about the way in which we compare ourselves to others. It’s written by a clinical psychologist with personal experience of breast cancer and it’s a must read for everyone with cancer. At least… One of the things …
This article is based on a talk delivered by Dr. Colette Hirsch in conjunction with Keeping Abreast in October 2020. Dr Colette Hirsch is a Reader in Cognitive Clinical Psychology at King’s College London and a Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma. One of her current research projects is a trial of a new online intervention to build resilience in women who been treated for breast cancer.
For many women with breast cancer, going through treatment, whatever the outcome, comes along with a rollercoaster of emotions. Even after treatment has ended while there may be a sense of relief that treatment is over, low mood and worry often remain present, or even emerge for the first time. Despite feeling down or worried at times many women living with and beyond breast cancer find ways to focus on other areas of their life and adjust to a “new normal”. One of the factors that enables someone to focus aspects of life other than their cancer can be their level of resilience.
What is resilience?
Resilience is an ability to adjust and continue functioning OK after a traumatic life event, such as being diagnosed with and treated for cancer. Being resilient is not about hiding how you feel, or not feeling sad or anxious, but rather it is about being able to feel the full range of emotions when you need to and also focus on other parts of your life when you want to. So, resilience is linked to better quality of life.
Research shows that in women who have survived breast cancer, higher levels of resilience are linked to feeling less stressed, worried, anxious or low. Resilience is often accompanied by more positive emotions like joy and happiness, as well as people being optimistic, and flexible when dealing with changes.
Can we build resilience?
The good news is that resilience is not a trait, but a process within everyone that fluctuates.
Some people will be more resilient in certain contexts or situations, and everyone finds their resilience changes, even in relation to the same situation over time. That means that resilience can be developed at any stage!
Whilst there are some things that we can’t change, such as our genetic make-up, or previous negative life experiences, other factors associated with resilience can be developed, for example training resilient thinking strategies or developing new coping strategies. These skills are aimed to help people adapt and move on and not fall into the traps of extended low mood, persistent anxiety and unhelpful negativity.
How can we build resilience?
Experiencing a major life event like breast cancer and going back to day to day life after treatment has ended is not an easy task. However, by learning from people who are naturally more resilient and understanding what they do may help others become more resilient themselves. Many psychological and social factors help foster resilience. Everyone is unique and different things will help different people at different times. You might find the below helpful:
- Building a social support network
It’s always good to have friends or family members to could reach out to when things are difficult. This could involve building on relationships you already have and developing new ones. This could include, for example, childhood friends or new people you’ve met during treatment. There are lots of different organisations, both cancer-related and non-cancer related, online and in-person (covid-permitting) that provide great opportunities to build a network of people who you could reach out to for support. www.cancercaremap.org could be a great place to start.
- Keeping things in perspective
Perhaps easier said than done, especially since stressful situations make it difficult to keep things in perspective, but if you’re caught up in day-to-day worries or concerns trying to keep the bigger picture in mind, or thinking about what you would say to someone else in your position can help.
- Accepting change
Accepting and acknowledging the challenge that you experienced during your treatment can help you cope. Similarly, after treatment ends things may have changed for you; maybe your work, your body or your relationships with family or friends could have changed. It can be helpful to try and accept that some things might be different and try and find new ways of doing the things that matter the most to you, rather than dwelling on the past. How about spending some time writing a list of everything you’ve achieved in the last two weeks or month? The achievements don’t have to be big; they could be as simple as cooking a favourite meal or remembering to send a birthday message to someone.
- Having realistic goals
Post treatment one of the ways to bring structure in your life is by having realistic goals. It is nice to have something to look forward to once the weight and purpose of the treatment is lifted off your back. These goals can give you a sense of purpose, binding you to the present and now. Achieving these goals, brings about a sense of accomplishment and it’s important to celebrate every victory and step along the way (no matter how small it may seem!) You could try thinking about something you’ve always wanted to do, and then breaking this down into smaller, manageable and achievable goals that you could start to tick off as you work towards your big goal?
- Being kind to yourself.
It is very important to be kind and understanding to oneself. Trying to develop a compassionate, positive and warm way of speaking to ourselves can help us to feel secure and comfortable. We need to realise that we are only human and after going through such a difficult experience we deserve to take a break, slow down and be kind to ourselves and our bodies for carrying us through. If you notice self-critical thoughts creeping in try asking yourself “would I say the same thing to a friend that I’m saying to myself right now?” or “would anyone else reasonably expect of me what I’m expecting of myself?”
- Getting your basics right.
You have been through a really draining experience and it’s important to take a pause and think about what you need to do to care for yourself and your body. Self-care can support your mental and physical health. Self-care is a bit of a buzzword these days, but it’s important to recognize that it doesn’t need to mean fancy candles and spa days. It can be simple things that prioritise your well-being like:
- Eating regularly and choosing healthy food.
- Exercising regularly (to the best of your abilities).
- Making an extra effort to improve the quality of your sleep. For example by; not using screens close to bedtime, having a regular nighttime routine that helps you relax and fall asleep more easily and avoiding caffeine later in the day.
- Having a routine in your day to give you structure. Trying to keep a good balance between things that give you a sense of achievement or productivity, things that keep you connected to others, things that you enjoy and find fun and things that feel restful.
These factors could really help bolster resilience and put you back in touch with the things that matter to you the most.
We know some people may need more help to bolster their resilience. Our team have developed a new online programme to help foster resilience in women living beyond breast cancer. We plan to adapt this for those currently in treatment and those with recurrence in the future, once we know the approach can help women. We are currently looking for women living beyond breast cancer to help us work out how women find the treatment. If you might be interested in helping us with this please read more about it below.
Our research team is trialing a new online intervention to foster resilience to decrease low mood and anxiety in women who have completed their treatment for breast cancer.
The FRAME Project, short for Finding Resilient Answers More Effectively, allows participants to trial a fully online and easy intervention over a span of three weeks. It involves 10 half hour sessions of listening to scenarios and responding to questions.
We’re looking for women who are based in the UK, over 18 years of age, have completed their cancer treatment within the last 3 years and have not had, or do not currently have, secondary cancer.
For more information and registration, visit www.frameproject.co.uk or email the team at
Whilst 2020 has been a terrible year for everyone thanks to COVID-19, cancer has continued impact the lives of so many people. Which means that it’s been more important that ever to provide support and advice for those going through breast cancer treatment and those …
This is a great blog post from the brilliant Laura giving friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances some excellent advice on what NOT to say to someone with breast cancer. “So you get a free boob job?…” Until you have heard the words “you’ve got cancer” …
Today, Nic writes about being diagnosed with secondary breast cancer…
Completing treatment for my primary breast cancer is quite possibly the most surreal experience I have ever had. My friends and family celebrated their huge sense of relief that I was through the darkness but if I am honest, I felt a bit lost. In the 7 years between my primary and secondary diagnosis I never quite felt brave enough to say I had beaten the ‘big C’ perhaps deep down I knew it would call on me again. So, I immersed myself in all the aspirations I had once had, almost as if I was in a race to achieve as much as possible before the C word reared its ugly head. I wish someone had told me to slow down, to take time to process what I had been through.
My desperate need to claim back every second of my life, every dream it felt like cancer had stolen was in some ways a blessing, I graduated with a first class degree, bought my first house, got married had two beautiful children, achievement after achievement. It was great while it lasted and I am in no way saying you should not strive for all those things you dream off, just be kind to yourself in the process.
My career meant that I was always painfully aware there was always a risk of recurrence and I think in truth that’s why I buried my attention in everything but cancer, but with each year that passed I became a little more complacent, maybe cancer was actually done with me. Just before my eldest child’s first birthday, almost 5 years post primary diagnosis I was brought back down to earth with a bang. The approaching 5-year clear milestone had sent my anxiety into overdrive and I approached my oncologist to ask for a scan. One solitary little lesion in my liver was detected, and I underwent what seemed like a million scans, a biopsy and an ablation to be told the lesion was non-malignant, my head was spinning and the overwhelming sense of relief meant I didn’t think to question any of the information I was given, I was still cancer free and that’s all I needed to know. I went on to have my second child and suffered terribly with back and rib pain while pregnant, I ignored the fact that this could be a symptom of recurrence, and even felt angry when someone (non-specialist) suggested that my pains could be a sign my cancer had returned. Eventually I was forced to face it, secondary breast cancer to my liver and multiple bones.
Thankfully, treatments have advanced at an incredible rate over the years and hopefully will continue to do so. Secondary breast cancer is increasingly being managed more like a long-term condition rather than a terminal illness and while it remains incurable, prognosis is not always as bleak as it may once have seemed. I’ve been taking the same cocktail of meds for 2 and a half years now, of course I know someday this will stop working but to know there are second, third and even 4th line treatment options gives me so much hope for the future.
So, if you have just rung that bell in celebration of the end of treatment, firstly my biggest congratulations! Never question that achievement, celebrate it and at the same time allow yourself to grieve for what you have lost, the time you cant get back, your altered appearance, your hair loss, and that all important sense of normality. Enjoy all those dreams and aspirations you thought you may never get to do, but be mindful of your body, listen to it, it’s scary to face the possibility of recurrence but ignoring symptoms is literally the worst thing you can do. Don’t be afraid to question your specialists, knowledge is power when it comes from a reliable source.
I’m Jo a 46-year-old single mum to two children, Bobby my son aged 13 and Harrie my daughter aged 11. I was diagnosed with stage 3 HER2 positive breast cancer on 23rd March 2017 at the age of 43, in my left breast. This was …
In this week’s guest blog, the very lovely Emma talks about the importance of raising breast cancer awareness, supporting younger breast cancer patients and those who are part of the BAME and LGBTQ+ communities… When you’re diagnosed with cancer there’s a starter pack. No, I’m …
This guest blog is written by Leeanna, the founder of tooktake (a simple dosage reminder system that lets you know if you took, or still need to take your prescription and over-the-counter medication and supplements). Leeanna talks about what to do when your life doesn’t go to plan – how you can adapt and continue to move forward…
Now that my daughter is in college I have had a chance to look back and think about some of the things that I told her over the years. One of the things that I have often reminded her of, is that she didn’t need to plan her whole life at 5, 10, 15, 18, 20 … years old.
When my daughter was little and people asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would take the question very seriously. After all, it’s her whole life she needs to decide for this total stranger right now in line at Target!
She really thought that she should know! What if she made the wrong choice? What if she changed her mind? What if the six-year-old her finds out something that the 5-year-old didn’t know and now she is stuck being “a rollerskating environmentalist” forever. (the roller skates were to help her give out flyers about the environment faster). When she did think of something, she usually tried to combine her most recent interests, which was always one of my favorites.
Being a wee bit indecisive (or perhaps more accurately, impulsive) myself, I told her what I liked to believe. And I still think it’s really good advice that I continue to follow myself.
You don’t have to be just one thing, you just need to do one thing at a time. That was such a relief for her to hear. Even now when she calls in a panic about a life-altering decision she needs to make, I remind her of this. She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know, so she doesn’t need to keep guessing. She can choose what seems right for her at this moment, and see what opportunities and learning come from it.
So now it’s my turn. Breast cancer derailed things for me a bit. Well for over a year, actually. It derailed our whole family. We thought we were all set when we sold our house in California and moved to Arizona. My husband and I started our own design and branding business, it was all going well.
Then one day it wasn’t. Well, the business was, but I wasn’t. Breast Cancer. Out of nowhere. Within a few weeks, I couldn’t work, my husband was taking care of me and trying to work and we were both doing our best to take care of our daughter and make her last year of high school fun. Or as fun as possible given the situation.
A year later, when I was finished with treatment and we got our daughter all settled for her first year of college, my husband and I looked at each other and said: “What’s next?” What do we do now? We realized that we were kind of starting from scratch, again.
For a while that feeling was very overwhelming, but the more we talked the more we understood what we each wanted to do next. We wanted to go back to California (our daughter was ecstatic) and through the craziness of cancer we had both found new passions. My husband had been certified as a meditation teacher used his skills to help me a ton during my chemotherapy and all the wonderful side effects, and really wanted to use those skills to help other people in all aspects of their lives.
And I wanted to share tooktake, the dosage reminder labels that I invented during treatment, with as many people as I could.
So there we were! Packing-up the house again, moving back to CA and starting not one, but two new businesses. It’s still pretty early in the process for both of us, and it’s definitely not easy. But we are enjoying things so far.
So what’s the point of this blog post? One, please stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up – they have no idea – especially high school students, that question sends them into a complete internal panic. Second, when life tosses a few detours in your first plan or your second one, or your tenth, don’t panic. Don’t think “Oh no! What now? Just stop and think “Okay, what would I like to do next?”. If nothing else it’s a more positive way to frame your dilemma.
Then see how it goes. You can always do something else. You might have to start from scratch and work your way up again. But that’s okay. Better to try new things and learn and grow than stay doing something boring or something you don’t like just because you said it’s what you wanted to do when you grew up. T
I’m Harriet, aged 48, married to Andy with three children aged 17, 15 and 11. In April 2018 I was diagnosed with ductal invasive oestrogen positive breast cancer. It’s about six months since I wrote this mammoth blog in a world before lockdown and Covid …
Before my cancer diagnosis I was a very busy headteacher, training for an ultra-marathon. To say I didn’t really have a social life would be an understatement! Weekdays were spent at work and most Sundays were spent running. In addition to this I had a …
Breast Cancer Now is the UK’s first comprehensive breast cancer charity, combining world-class research and life-changing care to build a complete view of breast cancer and make faster progress for everyone affected. Steered by research and powered by care, Breast Cancer Now’s ambition is that, by 2050, everyone who develops breast cancer will live and be supported to live well. Launched in October 2019, the charity was created by the merger of specialist support and information charity Breast Cancer Care and leading research charity Breast Cancer Now.
Two of the brilliant resources on offer from Breast Cancer Now for those going through breast cancer, is the availability of a free helpline and email service. These are manned by experienced breast care nurses and trained staff who have a personal or work-related experience of breast cancer. And this week’s guest blog is a Q&A with one of their amazing nurses, Jane. Hopefully this will give you an idea of how they can help you …
Can you introduce yourself.
I’m Jane Murphy, a Clinical Nurse Specialist at Breast Cancer Now, the research and care charity. I manage and work on our Helpline, providing information and support to people affected by breast cancer or with breast health concerns. Like most of my colleagues who work on the charity’s Helpline, I used to work in the NHS. I was a chemotherapy nurse for nine years, treating and supporting patients with bowel and breast cancer and I found this role very rewarding. I then wanted a role that would allow me to spend even more time answering questions and providing support so began working on a cancer helpline around fifteen years ago, before starting at Breast Cancer Care in 2009. Following Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now merging in 2019 we are known as Breast Cancer Now, the research and care charity.
What does your role involve?
I manage the day-to-day running of Breast Cancer Now’s confidential, free Helpline (0808 800 6000) and Ask Our Nurses email service, helping to co-ordinate the team, ensuring everyone who wants to reach us is able to and that we can respond to those who need our help. It’s really important the team is kept up to date with the latest clinical information and there are a range of ways I make sure we get to know all about the latest developments in diagnosis, treatment and support of breast cancer. This includes arranging two training days a year for the Helpline staff and sharing regular monthly updates of news and research.
What is the process when someone phones the Helpline with a question?
When someone calls, they will hear a welcome message and then be put through to one of our experienced breast care nurses or trained staff. Usually people will get through straight away, but at busy times, there may be a short wait. There’s an option to leave a voicemail and we’ll phone back as soon as possible. Out of hours people can also leave a voicemail and we’ll phone back when we’re next open, usually first thing in the morning. We offer information and the chance to talk openly in a safe and confidential space. There is no time limit, and people can call with a specific query about breast cancer or breast health, or they may just want to talk things through and find more support. Often people can worry about being a burden to family and friends so may not have reached out to speak to anyone.
As well as providing answers during the call, we often follow up by sending a selection of our relevant information booklets. This can be really useful for our callers as it means they can go over the information we provided again in their own time.
We hope that after calling the Helpline our callers feel more informed, more confident about making decisions and more supported with what they are going through.
What do people phone you about? And what would you say is the most common question?
People call the Helpline about a really wide range of topics. Questions about treatment are the most common. For example, someone might ask about making decisions about treatment, which for breast cancer commonly includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and long-term hormone therapies. Many people ask about the possible side effects of treatment, which can be short term, like nausea, or long-term, such as fatigue and intimacy issues.
Other calls we receive from people who’ve had a diagnosis can be about clinical trials, waiting for test results, what to expect at appointments and pain or symptom control.
We also get lots of calls from people who don’t have breast cancer and are worried about their risk of developing the disease or who have noticed an unusual breast change and are not sure what to do.
Is there any sort of criteria that someone needs to meet in order to call you?
No – anyone is welcome to pick up the phone and call us about breast cancer or breast health. Calls are free from all UK landlines and mobiles. We have access to a telephone interpreting service, in over 240 languages, and the Next Generation Text service which helps deaf, speech-impaired, and hearing people talk to each other over the phone.
Can you take calls from a family member?
Yes, we regularly take calls from friends and family of someone who has had a breast cancer diagnosis. They may be worried and want to know how best to provide support, or would like to know more about the potential effects of treatment. They also may be in need of support themselves. We can talk all this through.
Do you have any advice for someone who is worried about something but reluctant to call?
We are here if you need to talk – please don’t feel you need to face everything alone.
On the Helpline we hear from people expressing a range of different emotions, so we want to reassure anyone who may be worried about getting upset or distressed when speaking to us that it doesn’t need to stop them calling.
It can feel daunting speaking about what are often really personal issues, so some people prefer to call when we are closed and leave a message knowing we’ll then ring back the next working day.
We also understand that it can sometimes be difficult to talk to someone about concerns, or that some people would rather receive information in writing, so emailing our nurses may be preferred. Simply email any question – big or small – to our confidential Ask Our Nurses service. We aim to answer emails within three working days but we often respond much sooner than this.
What other support does Breast Cancer Now offer?
Along with our publications I mentioned earlier, Breast Cancer Now offers many different free support services. For example, the charity runs face-to-face services across the UK, including specialist support for younger women with breast cancer and those living with secondary breast cancer, which is incurable. Our Moving Forward courses, delivered in partnership with NHS hospitals, and our Becca app both help people adapt to life after breast cancer – which for many can be the most difficult part of breast cancer.
We also offer peer support services including the Forum, where people can find a friendly online community, and Someone Like Me, which arranges for one of our trained volunteers who’ve had a personal experience of breast cancer to support someone by email or telephone based on their specific needs and concerns.
For support and information call Breast Cancer Now’s free Helpline on 0808 800 6000.