- Question from RobinGrl: I'm curious as to how others will look at me now that I've had breast cancer. I feel as if everyone KNOWS. Is this normal and how do I deal with it?
- Answers - David Spiegel It's not uncommon, particularly just after you have been diagnosed, to feel very different and exposed in a certain way.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. One thing that many of my patients have described is a loss of their privacy. They believe that wearing a wig is a sign to everyone else that they have a serious illness, and many of my patients feel embarrassed, too, by feeling so exposed and vulnerable.
- David Spiegel That is a good point. You are sort of trying on a new identity. That is another advantage of a support group. The thing that makes you weird and different to the outside world is your ticket to the group. You get to try on a new identity as a person who has cancer in a setting where that is the norm, not the exception. Hopefully it is a kind of transition period. If you have been recently diagnosed, you will get beyond it. One thing one of my patients said, "You will find this hard to believe, but whole days go by when I forget I have cancer." It takes a while to get there, but it does happen.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. How might this woman who wrote in protect her privacy from someone who might unintentionally invade it?
- David Spiegel You have to be willing to accept the fact that people will learn you have cancer. Some research done at Stanford with people who have more obvious disabilities like being in a wheelchair found that the most useful thing they did was work the word into the first sentence so that the person they were talking with, and the person being talked about knew that they both knew what each other was thinking. Sometimes you can diffuse it a bit if you make a comment yourself about having a wig or getting out of chemotherapy. Like it's not such a big deal that you can't talk about it. That sometimes puts people at their ease and you can talk about something else.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Feelings about Breast Cancer featured David Spiegel, Ph.D. and moderator Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about the emotional effects of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in October 2000.
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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