The 10 Commandments of Emotionally Coping With Breast Cancer

A breast-cancer survivor’s tips on how to avoid judgmental people, deal with a crazy swirl of emotions, and more.

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Thou shalt give thyself time to think

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When you’re diagnosed, you may feel like you have to do something right now. You don’t. Take a deep breath. Slow the spinning in your head before you make any decisions.

Thou shalt honor thy own feelings, whether shiny and happy or tired or angry or scared

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And don’t be surprised to feel all these things within the space of 15 minutes, several times a day.

Thou shalt not judge thy neighbor’s treatment or reconstruction choices or attitude

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I have not seen people in the breast cancer community judge each other. The real armchair quarterbacks are those who have never been through it. Some think you should overcome your fluffy pink cancer by being all upbeat or that you should feel grateful for some life lesson. That’s a big fail. But you may be the naturally optimistic type. You may actually be grateful. That’s OK too. Telling you how you should feel about your diagnosis is like saying you should be six feet tall or have brown eyes.

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Thou shalt love thyself as thy neighbor

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We women are so darn hard on ourselves. Give yourself the same break you would a loved one going through a big diagnosis.

Thou shalt not beat thyself up

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You don’t have breast cancer because you ate the wrong things or didn’t breastfeed or exercise enough.

Thou shalt allow others to help thee

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Your family and friends want to be able to do something for you; let them.

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Thou shalt not bear false witness against science

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You may or may not decide on a certain course of treatment. (See Commandment 3.) You may or may not have a good experience. Others can learn from an honest recounting of your experiences, but that doesn’t make you a medical expert. Celebrities have a special responsibility here.

Thou shalt ask thy doctors questions

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“What is the risk if I do A or B?” or “What does that word mean?” or “Could you repeat that?” Good doctors welcome your questions and concerns. Not-so-good ones need to be reminded that there’s a person attached to the breast.

Thou shalt seize the day

iStock/Christopher Futcher

Cancer is the elephant in the room. But sometimes you just have to pat its big ugly flank and say, “Excuse me, elephant, but I’m going to the beach, or the movies, or the backyard with my kids. I’ll catch you when I get back. Right now, I’m off to have some fun.”

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Thou shalt remember you art more than thy cancer

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You may be a woman with cancer, but you may also be a wife, mom, sister, daughter, employed person, and friend. Let the extent to which cancer becomes part of your identity be your choice.


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