February 6, 2024

Navigating Life After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. With many new medical terms, tests to undergo, and treatment decisions to make with your doctors, it’s normal to feel confused about what happens after a breast cancer diagnosis. This blog aims to help provide some guidance on several key aspects of navigating this difficult journey. While a breast cancer diagnosis presents many challenges, arming yourself with information on what to expect in the coming days and months can help you feel more in control during this difficult time.

Understanding Your Diagnosis

Understanding your breast cancer type and severity is an important first step in your treatment journey, and your doctor is your #1 resource. If you schedule an appointment with one of our breast cancer surgeons in New Jersey, they can clearly explain what type and stage of cancer you have to help you understand appropriate treatments and prognosis rates. Also, be sure to ask for clarity on your next steps – typical tests or scans recommended and which specialists you should be set up with. Don’t be afraid to take notes, bring a supportive friend or family member along to appointments, and tell your doctor if you need them to slow down or explain acronyms. Being informed on what to anticipate in the coming weeks can provide some sense of control.  

Additionally, getting a second opinion, whether on your actual diagnosis or recommended treatment plan, can give you greater confidence in moving forward. Speaking to another specialist may provide new perspectives and ensure all bases are covered when analyzing your case. A second opinion may also give you more treatment options or alternative considerations that work better for your lifestyle and priorities. Don’t worry about offending your doctor – seeking additional insight is your right as a patient.

 Breast Cancer Types and Stages

  • Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) – early pre-invasive cancer cells in milk ducts 
  • Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) – cancer that has spread into breast tissue (the most common type)
  • Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC) – cancer that began in the breast lobes
  • Stages 0-IV – higher stages indicate larger tumors and more extensive spread
  • Treatments vary by stage – early stage may allow lumpectomy option, higher may start with mastectomy

Breast Cancer Treatment Options Explored

Your multidisciplinary medical team, including your breast cancer surgeon, will tailor a treatment plan specific to your diagnosis and cancer properties. They will assess the size and location of the tumor, whether cancer cells have spread to lymph nodes, if the cancer cells have certain receptors, and your overall health and preferences. This comprehensive evaluation of your unique case will determine whether they recommend lumpectomy or mastectomy, the need for radiation or chemotherapy, and the appropriateness of hormone therapy or targeted drugs. Your entire care team will collaborate on this customized treatment protocol with the aim of providing you with the best possible outcomes and quality of life after diagnosis.


The main types of surgery for breast cancer are lumpectomy (removing the tumor and some surrounding tissue), mastectomy (removing the entire breast), and lymph node removal. The recommended surgery will depend on what stage of cancer you have, whether it has spread, your preference of keeping or removing breast(s), and coordination with other treatments. Discuss options thoroughly with your surgical oncologist. 


Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs given orally or intravenously to kill rapidly dividing cancer cells. It may be given before surgery to shrink tumors or after to kill any remaining cancer cells. Chemotherapy regimen plans are tailored to your breast cancer type and stage. Side effects like hair loss, nausea, and fatigue are common but preventative medication can help.


Radiation uses high-energy x-ray beams aimed directly at cancer sites most at risk for recurrence. Most patients receive radiation after lumpectomy or mastectomy. Treatment schedules vary in length from just a few days to six weeks. Fatigue and skin irritation are common side effects.

Hormone Therapy

As most breast cancers have receptors sensitive to hormones estrogen and progesterone, they can spur cancer growth. Hormone therapy tablets block the production of these hormones. This treatment is used more commonly in post-menopausal women with early-stage, hormone receptor-positive cancer to help prevent recurrence. Side effects include hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness.

Managing Your Physical Health During Treatment

Going through treatment for breast cancer often comes with challenging physical side effects that upend your daily life. Coping with fatigue, nausea, pain, and emotional stress on top of procedures and medication protocols can be draining. Be gentle and listen to what your mind and body need each day. Adjust your schedule to accommodate light activity, plenty of rest, and self-care practices that nourish you. Communicate openly with your care team so they can help you manage side effects. 

Good nutrition provides energy for healing and helps you better tolerate treatments. Small, frequent meals with a focus on whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and limited sugars, salts, and unhealthy fats may be better tolerated. Stay hydrated with water and nutritious drinks. If you are struggling with a lack of appetite or digestion issues, speak to your medical team about tips or medications that can help. 

Light movement every day, like walking, yoga, and household chores, keeps your body strong. Studies show exercise can reduce fatigue, nausea, pain, and emotional distress during treatment while boosting energy. Aim for 30 minutes daily, adjusting for your energy level. Build restorative rests into your day before you get overtired. Gentle stretches, massage, or meditation can nourish during this time. Listen to what your body asks of you each day.

Impacts of Your Diagnosis on Emotional and Mental Wellbeing 

It’s completely normal to experience a spectrum of emotions after a cancer diagnosis. Give yourself grace – anger, sadness, fear, and grief often come in waves amid hope and perseverance. Prioritize self-care and don’t hesitate to seek mental health support. Connect regularly with trusted loved ones, support groups, or a counselor for encouragement. Be honest with your care team about emotional struggles so they can provide resources too. Managing stress through self-care habits can help emotional health.

Stress Management Techniques:

  • Gentle movement – walking, stretching, yoga
  • Deep breathing exercises 
  • Guided visualization/imagery recordings
  • Listening to soothing music 
  • Mindfulness and meditation 
  • Massage and acupuncture
  • Spending time outdoors in nature

Mental Health Resources:

  • Hospital/Cancer Center Social Workers 
  • Therapists/Psychologists specializing in cancer patients
  • Support groups – in-person or online for cancer patients 
  • Religious/spiritual counselors  
  • Journaling and meditation apps
  • Online cancer communities offering forums 

Setting boundaries with work and social commitments and asking loved ones for practical support can help reduce additional pressures. Honor what nourishes you in this stage of life – together, we will get through the challenges one step at a time.

Support Systems and Communities

 Navigating breast cancer can be one of the most challenging experiences of your life. While it may feel lonely, there are many groups, communities, and loved ones ready to support you along the way. Seeking out connections through online forums, local support groups, or cancer centers provides invaluable space to share your feelings and find camaraderie along the journey. Fellow cancer patients intimately understand the barrage of emotions and struggles involved – offering empathy, encouragement, and practical wisdom. If possible, bring a close friend or family member with you to appointments to take notes and be an advocate. 

Communication with loved ones is also integral, especially surrounding developing realistic expectations of your capacity amidst treatment, caregiving needs, and shifts in the relationship dynamics grief can catalyze. Have honest yet compassionate conversations explaining your diagnosis, treatment plan, and any physical or emotional support you need from each person. Draw clear boundaries if expectations become unrealistic for this season. While challenging, involving a counselor helps facilitate difficult but necessary conversations to nurture relationships, so you feel supported. If both parties commit to open, thoughtful communication and flexibility during this transient time, bonds often grow remarkably stronger. You don’t have to walk this road alone – take comfort in the community rising up around you.

Planning for the Future: Post-Treatment Care

Embarking on life post-treatment may mix relief with new anxieties about cancer recurrence.  However, developing a ‘new normal’ focused on restoration, connections, and purpose is possible. Discuss extensive ongoing health monitoring your doctors will provide – like mammograms, MRIs, and bloodwork to ensure continued remission. 

Immediately following your treatment, adjustment may be challenging due to potential side effects and lifestyle changes, so be gracious to yourself, celebrating milestones while allowing time to process grief over how cancer shifted your health or perspective. Seek counseling if you are struggling. Lifestyle changes like eating cleaner, exercising, and reducing stress help with the transition, improving longevity and quality of life. Remember that healing is a non-linear process. With courage and support, the ‘new normal’ unfolds one step at a time. Take comfort in all you have overcome and the exciting adventures ahead.