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
  • "Nothing compares with finding others who are walking your journey," Ausborn says. "Since I couldn’t find a local support group for my stage IV advanced cancer, I found a woman in my situation on She knows exactly how I’m feeling, physically and emotionally. She understands that it’s perfectly okay to have a pity party. There’s nothing worse than having someone tell you to be more positive."
  • "I attend yoga classes at the cancer center where I receive treatment," Silverander says. "That’s the kind of support group I prefer — everyone focusing on getting healthy together."
  • "My local affiliate of Y-Me sponsored a group for women with advanced disease," Hampton says. "Because it requires a commitment, it made me feel like I was entering a group of women who were deciding to be there for each other for the long haul. If you make friends with women with cancer, you’re going to lose some of them. But the friendships and the depth of those relationships are unmatched."
  • "After my third recurrence, I put myself on the prayer list at church and talked to my pastor about using my time wisely," Byrne says. "I could let it all out with her in a way that I couldn’t with my family."

Considering Your Legacy

Some women say it’s actually therapeutic to think about what you’re going to leave behind.

  • "Before my recurrence, my daughter was in private school and we had two expensive cars," Gaylord says. "I realized I was spending all this money trying to buy happiness, and that’s not where it comes from. I want my daughter to understand what really matters."
  • "I was concerned about the financial future of my children since my husband passed away several years ago," Hudson says. "When I was diagnosed at 36, I didn’t have life insurance. Fortunately, some friends told me how to get the policy I had through my employer converted to an individual policy. It gives me peace of mind that my kids will have something if I go sooner than I want to."
  • "I thought about what I want to teach my 32-year-old daughter," Byrne says. "We made bread and pies, and I’m teaching her to cross-stitch. If I hadn’t had a recurrence, I might not have gotten around to sharing those things with her."
  • "I’ve written letters to my granddaughter in a bound book," Hampton says. "even if I don’t get to see her grow up, this will be tangible evidence of how much I love her — and she’ll know me through those letters."

What Oncologists Want You to Know About Breast Cancer Recurrence

Nothing can match a woman’s depth of emotion upon diagnosis, but an oncologist’s comes close. "You almost feel as if you’ve failed when the first treatment doesn’t work the way you’d hoped," says Aman Buzdar, MD, of the department of breast medical oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston. "It’s so disappointing." Here, what the doctors go through.

They Hate Breaking the News

"I never really get used to it, but my job is to be supportive and optimistic," says Laurie Weisberg, MD, a medical oncologist at Kaiser Permanente in South San Francisco. "I can’t fall apart, even when I’m very close with the patient, because there’s someone in the next room who needs me too."

There’s Always Hope

"Most patients think a recurrence means they’re going to die tomorrow, but we keep more women alive longer than ever," Buzdar says. "New treatments have dramatically changed the course of this disease. Some patients can live for decades after a recurrence." Adds Ruth Oratz, MD, director of the Women’s Oncology & Wellness Practice, in New York: "We see it as a chronic disease, like diabetes or heart disease. The goal is managing it with the fewest side effects."

The Treatments Don’t Have to Be Debilitating

"Most women are surprised that they can live fairly normal lives while they’re going through treatment for a recurrence," says Kimberly Blackwell, MD, director of the breast cancer clinical trials program at Duke University Medical Center. "The goal is to beat back the cancer but keep the patient feeling good — and we’re designing better and better therapies that do just that."

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