- Question from Pooh: I notice you say that fear and anxiety, sadness and anger are normal. What about the individual who experiences these emotions to an extreme degree and requires more than a support group?
- Answers - Lillie Shockney, R.N., B.S., M.A.S. There certainly are individuals who do have difficulty coping and would benefit from one-on-one therapy from a psychiatrist or psychologist. There is nothing wrong with seeking out one-on-one therapy for that purpose. What is important is the individual acknowledging it to herself, whether she sees it happening to herself, or her family and friends point it out to her; then going ahead and taking the steps necessary to get help so she can psychologically cope with what is happening.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. It's very normal to be pretty angry and pissed off about all that has happened through the breast cancer experience. Your life has been disrupted and intruded upon in so many different ways. I think it is healthy to recognize and express the complicated feelings that come with breast cancer. It's a package deal. Feelings like anger, embarrassment, shame, and guilt are all normal and can make you feel terrible inside. Many of these feelings you may be afraid to express. A support group may be one place to air some of these issues, but for sure, if you are really struggling with them, individual help can make a huge difference.
- Gwen Darien I think the other thing that is important is that there is no statute of limitations as to when these feelings go away. There is often a surge of anxiety after treatment or after the first year and your checkup is clean; years later, anxiety comes and goes, anger comes and goes, ebbs and flows. There is no right way to respond to it and you have to allow yourself to feel what you are feeling. I remember when I was in treatment with lymphoma, someone I worked with said, "She had breast cancer a year ago and she is still feeling sorry for herself." That was up there in the top 10 insensitive remarks I heard. A lot of the remarks are paradoxical when you have an anxiety attack, and you can't predict what your reactions will be, or how long you will have these feelings.
- Lillie Shockney, R.N., B.S., M.A.S. One important message from all of this is don't try to go it alone. Recruit family and friends to support you and help you. Anger that is not expressed and is subsequently turned inward will result in depression.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. It is important to express your anger, but you do definitely have to be careful of how you direct it. I have a patient right now who is experiencing tremendous anger and it feels like a poison in her home and workplace. At the same time her husband is trying to support her, he will get an attack of anger. Together we are working through this with an experienced therapist, but you do have to be aware of the people you are with who may have trouble dealing with some of that anger.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Tackling Fear featured Lillie Shockney, R.N., B.S., M.A.S., Marisa Weiss, M.D. and moderator Gwen Darien, Editor-in-Chief, MAMM Magazine, answering your questions about how to manage breast cancer fears.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in June 2001.
The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.
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