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Information central for parenting with breast cancer.

Setting the Foundation

Understanding Your Own Feelings

How It Helps Your Kids

Understanding your own feelings is the first step to helping your children thrive in the face of breast cancer. Experts agree that kids fare best when they acknowledge and accept their mom’s illness. Ideally, our children’s response to our disease will be, “My mom has cancer, but we’re going to be okay.” If we want to achieve this sort of acceptance in our kids, we need to find it in ourselves first.

Common Feelings for Breast Cancer Patients

While every woman is unique, many breast cancer patients share similar feelings:


Perhaps the most common feeling women have after hearing, “You have breast cancer,” is fear. We’re afraid of cancer because of the effect it may have on ourselves and those around us.

Who will take care of me?
What will this do to my kids? My marriage? My career?
What if I die?


Anxiety can make us feel generally apprehensive. It can blanket us, almost unnoticed at first. We may experience shallow breath, rapid pulse, restlessness, and mucle tension. Sometimes anxiety blooms into a panic attack. Symptoms of panic may include dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, fear of losing control, and fear of imminent death.


Women may feel angry when they’re diagnosed with breast cancer.

Why is this happening to me? This will ruin my life.

The anger may be directed toward a specific target, like a mother who had breast cancer or the physician who diagnosed it. Some women are angry because their friends or family don’t support them as they would have hoped. Anger may be nonspecific and generalized, a feeling of rage that can boil over at the smallest provocation.


Some women feel embarrassed by their diagnosis.

Everyone will talk about me.
People will know my business.
Friends will stare at my chest.

Women may feel exposed, both literally and figuratively, because breast cancer affects an intimate part of a woman’s body. They may be uncomfortable talking about their breasts because they associate breasts with sexuality.


Sometimes women even feel guilty about having breast cancer. They may believe that their own behaviors caused their illness.

I should have done regular breast self-exams.
I got cancer because I didn’t eat right.
Why did I wait so long to see a doctor?

Women may also feel guilty about the impact of their illness on those around them-financial stress for a family already struggling to pays the bills, more responsibility for a co-worker who has to pick up the slack, disappointments for children whose routine will change.


Another common feeling is sadness or grief for something lost.

I feel sad all the time.
It seems like someone died.

Many women experience a physical loss-their hair, their figure, their breasts. As important, many women feel an emotional loss-the sense of security and normalcy, feelings of attractiveness and sexuality, even the sense of immortality.


Women can feel helpless and out of control.

I can’t handle this.
It’s too much for me.
How will I manage?

In many households, particularly those with younger children, mothers are used to running the show. They plan their children’s extracurricular activities, their family vacation, and their nights out with their spouse. They often oversee the finances, maintain the house, and manage the health insurance. The emotional and physical challenges of breast cancer can render them helpless. Competent women find themselves with no control over their bodies, their homes, their children-even what’s for dinner.


Nearly every woman feels confused, especially immediately after receiving the initial diagnosis.

I don’t know what doctor to choose.
I can’t figure out what type of surgery I should have.

I’m getting too much advice from too many people.

She may be confused by the options for treating her cancer and overwhelmed by the weight of the decisions she must make. It’s a paradox: Women are required to make some of the most consequential decisions of their lives at the very time that their emotional state renders them least capable of doing so.


Many women feel hopeless, whether their prognosis is good or not. Hopeless thoughts often include the word “never.”

My partner will never want to have sex with me again.
I’ll never look normal.
I’ll never get through this.

Some women believe they are going to die or that treatment will fail or that cancer will come back. Mothers who hope to have more children may feel hopeless about their ability to conceive after chemotherapy. Women may be so overwhelmed by their diagnosis that they may believe their life is ruined.


An unexpected, yet common, feeling mothers experience is jealousy. Women often put their lives on hold while fighting breast cancer, but the world around them goes on.

I hate watching my kids play with the babysitter
when I’m sitting here feeling lousy.
I resent my co-workers for going forward without me when that
project was my idea in the first place.

Moms with breast cancer often find themselves literally and figuratively sitting on the sidelines, feeling as if the world is passing them by. Many women feel sorry for themselves. They see their friends, family, and co-workers going on with life as usual when their own life is anything but normal.

Other Feelings

A breast cancer diagnosis can elicit many other feelings such as denial, shock, bewilderment, frustration, resentment, self-loathing, self-pity, despair, shame, and disbelief.

Accepting Your Feelings

An important part of coming to terms with your emotions is recognizing that your reaction to having breast cancer is reasonable and normal. Your feelings, no matter how strange or uncomfortable they may seem, are legitimate.


Click here for a worksheet that can help you identify your feelings about breast cancer.

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