Breast Cancer Patients on Coping with Recurrence

Women who have experienced a breast cancer recurrence tell you how to cope — and hope.

By Ginny Graves
  • "I made a list of things I might need help with, so when people called and asked what they could do, I’d give them an item from the list," says Linda Oken, 64, a retired computer consultant in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. "I got the help I needed, and my friends got to do something."
  • "One of the hardest things for friends to deal with is seeing you bald because it shows that you’re sick," Wellborn says. "But I learned the first time that if I can laugh about it, my friends know how to respond. When I lost my hair with my recurrence, I got an old wig and made a comb-over one day and a mohawk another."
  • "Everyone has advice or suggestions about treatment, care, and recovery," Oken adds. "I listen, but if someone is too intrusive, I say, ‘Thank you. I know you really care about me, but what you just said makes me feel worried (or sad or scared). What I really need to hear from you is just that you care.’ "

Putting Fear in Its Place

No one has a second — or third — bout of cancer without massive anxiety. But you don’t have to live your life in fear.

  • "Continuing to work has given me a reassuring sense of order and normalcy," says Lucille Byrne, 59, an associate hospital director who lives in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. "Everyone at work knows, but they still see me as a colleague, not a cancer patient."
  • "I try to schedule worry time," Oken says. "When I start worrying in bed at night, I pull out a piece of paper and write ‘I will worry about this in the morning at 10:30.’ That eases my mind and helps me get to sleep."
  • "Music helps me cope," says Renae Bridewell, 57, a buyer for a power company in Grand Forks, North Dakota. "I lie down in a dark room with great Christian music playing and always get up refreshed, with an ‘I can do this’ attitude."

Finding Joy Every Day

You’re not going to die tomorrow, but it can be good to live as if you might.

  • "When I was diagnosed the second time, we bought Mattie, a long-haired dachshund puppy," Silverander says. "Having a lapdog in bed with you when you’re not feeling well is wonderful."
  • My husband and I are members of a travel club, and I told him, ‘We’re going to be on the bus every trip. I don’t care where it’s going, we’re going with it!" says Linda Hand, 62, a secretary in Clanton, Alabama.
  • "After my diagnosis, I left my job as a computer analyst and began volunteering part time in breast cancer advocacy," says Vicki McFadin, 55, from Clayton, California. "People thought I was crazy, but this is a passion. My job was just a job."
  • "My husband and I love to dance — especially polka — and we do it as much as we can," Wellborn says.

Becoming Involved in Your Treatment

During a first bout, you get to know your doctors. If it comes back, you’re already part of a team, which may give you a sense of power and control.

  • "When my doctor was going to put me on Abraxane, a chemotherapy drug, last year, I asked if he would also put me on Avastin, because I had heard that they worked well together," Silverander says. "Now I’m on both drugs — and feeling great."
  • "I don’t blindly follow my oncologist’s recommendations," says Beth Ausborn, 47, a retired model home coordinator in Birmingham, Alabama. "I do a lot of research on my own. There are more drugs than ever for advanced breast cancer, and you need to keep changing when your cancer becomes resistant to treatment. That’s how you try to stay one step ahead of it."
  • "I was in a clinical trial for Tykerb, and I’m about to start another for a new gene therapy," Hampton says. "With a trial, you get top-notch care and close supervision as well as the opportunity to try something that might really help."

Seeking Support

Groups for women with advanced cancer are hard to find, but there are still plenty of options if you get creative, as these women did.

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