Just been diagnosed

A diagnosis of breast cancer can be challenging emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially. There is support available for all aspects of your care but for now the most important guidance we can give is take things one step at a time.

You may be offered lots of advice from many different sources. We suggest you...

  • Think about what you need to get you through this time – information, practical help and emotional support
  • Be an active participant in your health care
  • Get the information you need to manage your health in the best way for you
  • Ask questions, until you understand the answers
  • Don't rush your decisions
  • Speak up if you have concerns or questions
  • Consider taking someone close to you to all medical appointments
  • Find a medical team that will work for and with you – you can ask for a second opinion.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help
  • Be gentle on yourself
  • Try to stay well informed without getting overwhelmed with information

We know that this can be a difficult and confusing time for you and your loved ones. Please do not hesitate to call us on 9324 3703, if you would like to talk with one of our specialist breast care nurses or counsellor.

My Journey kit

The My Journey Kit is a free comprehensive information resource. It has been developed by women who have had breast cancer for women newly diagnosed with breast cancer and is produced by the Breast Cancer Network of Australia.

To request your copy telephone the Breast Cancer Network Australia on 1800 500 258, Monday to Friday 9am - 5pm or order online at www.bcna.org.au.

Tips for getting the most from your medical appointments

Very often women leave their medical appointments without having the information that they require, or with unanswered questions. This can be very frustrating, especially if you have felt rushed or that your questions have been dismissed or not answered fully. Sometimes women have not realised what it is that they needed to know until they have left their appointments or how to go about asking the right questions. This is where chatting to one of the breast care nurses at Breast Cancer Care WA can help. Part of our role involves helping women to understand their treatment plans so that they can be an active participant.

Being fully informed can make a huge difference to the choices that you make throughout a cancer experience. Also, taking someone with you to your appointments is a great bolster to your confidence – often even the most articulate people can lose the art of speech when confronted with medical personnel!

If you have questions that you wish to ask, write them down and ask your support person to jot down the answers as your doctor explains them so you’re not distracted by trying to write and listen and formulate your next question all at the same time.

If you don’t understand something the doctor says or you have concerns or doubts, speak up and ask them to clarify what they just said. Very often people say ‘yes’ when the doctor asks if they understood, but really they didn’t.

If you need more time to make a decision before you commit to a plan of treatment, ask if you can have some more information and come back in a weeks’ time to discuss it further – this gives you more time to make a fully informed decision about your care.

Some doctors have general information sheets available, some are happy for you to take a tape recording of the conversation. (Ask permission before you switch it on, however.)

Some questions you may want to ask…

Questions about the test results
  • What are the test results and what do they mean?
  • Can I have a copy of my pathology report?
  • Can you explain my pathology report to me?
  • Is my breast cancer hormone receptor positive or HER2 positive? What does this mean for me?
  • Can you write down what you have told me so that I can read it again later?
Questions about breast cancer
  • Where is my breast cancer?
  • Can this form of breast cancer be inherited? Should I be tested for this?
  • What are the chances of it coming back in the same breast after treatment?
  • What are the chances of getting it in the other breast?
  • What are the chances of it spreading to other parts of my body?
  • Will it be possible for me to have children and breastfeed after treatment for breast cancer?

The stage is used to decide what treatment options are recommended. From the pathology report breast cancer is initially scored as a Grade. This will be 1 , 2 or 3. The grade of the cancer describes how the cancer cell appears and grows. The grade can influence the medical teams treatment decisions for you. Grade is different to stage. Stages of breast cancer are numbered from 0 to IV:

  • Stage 0 refers to ‘pre-invasive’ breast cancer such as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
  • Stage I, Stage IIA and Stage IIB (early) refer to early breast cancer
  • Stage IIB (advanced); Stage IIIA, Stage IIIB, Stage IIIC and Stage IV refer to advanced breast cancer (locally advanced breast cancer or secondary breast cancer).

Source: Cancer Australia

Questions about your treatment

Your doctor may fully describe your treatment but some treatment options may not be decided until after surgery. These are some of the things you may also want to know:

  • What are my treatment options?
  • Which treatment do you recommend?
  • What are the benefits of each type of treatment?
  • What are the risks and side effects of the treatment?
  • How successful is the treatment?
  • Can I bring a friend/family member to my appointments?
  • Do you mind if I tape record our discussion?
  • Can you write down what you have told me?
  • I’d like to think about it before making a decision – will a couple of weeks make a difference?
  • Where do I go for the treatment, will I have to travel?
  • How long will the treatment take?
  • How much will the treatment cost?
  • Are there alternative/complementary treatments that might help me?
  • Can I have alternative/complementary treatments at the same time as the prescribed treatment?
  • Can I take The Pill (oral contraceptives) during the treatment? What are the risks if I get pregnant during treatment?
  • Can I take The Pill after the treatment?
  • Will I experience early menopause?
  • Can I have Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) during or when I’ve finished the treatment?
  • Can I work while on the treatment?
  • What impact will being pregnant have on the timing of my treatment?
  • Can I have a second opinion?
  • What if I decide not to have the treatment?

Source: Cancer Australia

Your feelings

If you have been given a diagnosis of breast cancer you may be experiencing a storm of emotions. You could feel fear, anger, disbelief, confusion or you might just feel numb. Some women say that it is as if it is happening to someone else. All of these are normal reactions to what is overwhelming news!

Sharing your feelings with someone else can help you to cope with your diagnosis and to sort out all of the information that you will be given. It may be helpful for you to talk to a close family member or friend about the details of the diagnosis and the treatment options you may be given.

Knowing as much as possible about your diagnosis can also help you to understand what is happening to you. You can access more information from this website or contact one of our Breast Care Nurses on 9324 3703 or email info@breastcancer.org.au. We also have a boutique library that contains books, CDs and tapes that may be of help to you.

Above all remember that you do not need to rush into decisions about your treatment if you do not understand them.

Breaking the news

There’s no easy way to break the news to friends, family and colleagues. No-one has come up with a magic formula. For some women it doesn’t go according to plan and the news just tumbles out. Others find they can choose a quiet, private moment, over a coffee or a drink. The important thing is to tell someone, so that they can help you in your journey.

The news that a loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer can be every bit as devastating for family and friends. Remember too that this diagnosis will affect those around you in possibly as many ways as it affects you, although they may express it differently.

Children are perceptive and pick up on changes around about them. Keeping things from them can cause confusion and insecurity. Depending upon their age and development, they should be given as much or as little information as satisfies them about what is happening. They may need reassurance about how this will affect their basic needs, such as who will care for them if, for example, their primary carer (mother) is away for treatment.

The teenage years are a period of transition from childhood to adulthood and can be confusing at the best of times. When a parent is diagnosed with cancer, teens need information, support, practical tips and advice. The nurses and counselors at Breast Cancer Care WA can support you through this time. We can readily access information to support your family and your child's educators. The following websites are excellent resources:

www.myparentscancer.com.au – a resource of National Breast and Ovarian Cancer
www.canTeen.org.au – the Australian organisation for teens living with cancer, including the siblings and offspring of those diagnosed
www.nowwhat.org.au – a resource of CanTeen specifically for teens whose parents have been diagnosed.

Breast Cancer Care WA has volunteers who have been similarly affected, who are willing to help you through this difficult time. Contact the Breast Cancer Care WA on 9324 3703 or info@breastcancer.org.au for help.