You have breast cancer, but you’re not alone or defeated

Let’s start at the beginning.

If you’re like most breast cancer patients, you’ve had a mammogram or other diagnostic test that revealed something was amiss. Those tests were likely followed by a breast biopsy and the news you never wanted to hear. And, it sucks. There, I said it. It sucks. It’s completely okay to sit in the suck for a bit. Your life has been turned on its head. That’s scary, terrifying actually, because you’re looking at a huge unknown filled with the unspeakable. And you’re going to have to face it down. But not now. Now, you can cry and eat as much chocolate as you want.

However, there is one thing that you should not do under any circumstances at this point in your life. Do not go on the Internet.

I mean it. Stop searching right now because this will only fuel the fear, anxiety, and sadness you’re already experiencing. And so much of the information that’s out there is utter crap. I know the urge to research is strong, but for right now, trust me, the Internet isn’t your friend or your doctor. Instead of trolling around online, ask your doctor or nurse navigator for resources and support groups to help you process your diagnosis in a reasonable way.

As you digest this news, you may be thinking how are you ever going to tell your kids or friends or family members? I can only speak from my experience, but my plan to share the information once I knew everything and to tell my three children–then ages 19, 15 and 10–at the same time pretty much blew up in my face and caused them a great deal of pain—not what I was going for, to be honest. I know the desire to protect our children is instinctive and strong. But, there is no protecting them from this news. So be honest with them because even though you’re the patient, your entire family will experience this disease.

Those words apply equally to how you share this news with friends and other family members, with one caveat: Don’t be surprised if some of your friends or family members respond in unexpected ways. Cancer is frightening, and unfortunately, not everyone handles news of this magnitude in sympathetic or supportive ways. I know this is an awful thing to contemplate, but it’s the number one thing that survivors I’ve met, known, or spoken with have told me that they wished they’d known from the start.

In the first few weeks after your diagnosis, you might think you’ve got this. You’re an intelligent, independent, capable adult, right? Here’s the thing, though: The psychic weight of this diagnosis is so crushing that your typical self can malfunction. You may forget things, get confused, or freeze, unable to process or plan. So, gather your team–family members, trusted friends, spouses, partners. You can’t go through cancer treatment, surgery, and recovery without some peeps to help out. Take a team member with you to your appointments. Ask them to take notes on everything the doctors or other healthcare professionals say. It’s important to ask questions about the diagnosis, treatment, risks and benefits of the various treatments, and side-effects. So, ask questions until you understand the explanation. And, don’t be afraid to follow up by phone or text if you have a question after your appointment. I also found it helpful to keep a notebook to jot down a question or concern for my doctors, and at my next appointment, I’d ask them.

As you set out on this new path—not one you asked to be put on, to be sure—you will find the courage, strength, and resilience to walk it one step, one day, one week at time. You’re so much stronger than you know. Be kind to yourself and to the ones who love you. And know that you’re not alone.


Christine Shields Corrigan, who wrote this article, is a two-time cancer survivor and a wife and mother. She has written extensively about family, illness and survivorship. She teaches adult-education classes on non-fiction writing.


Breast Cancer Awareness

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month nationally, an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. More information, including how to help women in need, is available from the National Breast Cancer Foundation ( and the American Cancer Society (