Whatever emotions you experience as you come to terms with the end of life, you will need some kind of outlet for them. Find someone in whom you can confide. Your usual support network of family and friends might be able to play this role — but they might not. You may have one friend or relative who “gets it” and can handle talking about the end of life and your emotions. If not, there can be other sources of support, such as:
- A social worker, psychologist, counselor, therapist, or other mental health professional who focuses on the needs of people with metastatic cancer. More hospitals are offering psycho-oncology services, which help people with the mental and emotional challenges of cancer. Your healthcare team often can give you recommendations.
- Other people facing metastatic breast cancer, whether in an in-person support group or through a peer-to-peer matching program. Ask your doctor or nurse if your hospital offers these programs. Online message board support groups are another option: You can use them at your convenience, and sometimes it’s just easier to communicate about difficult topics in writing than in person. Breastcancer.org has a discussion forum just for those with stage IV/metastatic breast cancer. The organization Living Beyond Breast Cancer offers an annual spring conference called Thriving Together where people living with metastatic breast cancer can meet and participate in a variety of programs and sessions.
- Members of the clergy or other spiritual leaders, if you have someone you trust for guidance.
- A friend, coworker, or acquaintance with whom you can talk, perhaps because they’ve experienced a life-threatening illness or helped someone through it. Some people find that individuals who are not necessarily their closest friends step up in unexpected ways and provide the support they need.
If you’re really struggling or feeling stuck, consider seeking professional help. For intense anxiety or depression that takes over your life and interferes with eating, sleeping, and other everyday activities, medication can be a helpful treatment. Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications can be critical to getting back on an even footing. These medications may just provide a bridge as you adjust to the news and organize your thoughts and plans. Or you may benefit from taking them over the long term. Don’t hesitate to raise the possibility of medication and professional therapy with your doctor.
“The first year I was diagnosed, I was a jumble of emotions that took me months to sort out. Between the oncologist and my primary physician, I was prescribed numerous antidepressants that gave me horrible feelings. I finally had a revelation that I was not really depressed; I was experiencing anxiety and the antidepressants were worsening the condition. Once I was able to define what I was feeling, I was prescribed the right type of anti-anxiety meds and it helped make all the difference.”
—Breastcancer.org community member