So, I know you remember that flashlight moment when you heard, “You have breast cancer”. After the shock, you focused on treatment giving you little mental or physical space to even think about how you and others might be feeling. Moreover, it is only later that you may realize that not only your body but also your mind and spirit have been reshaped.
Also, each of you will be at a different point on the timeline of your cancer diagnosis. Because you are more than a statistic, your cancer journey can be different than anyone else’s. So, finding your way forward will require that you have the tools to navigate the road that is best for you. Also, in this post we will talk about how to overcome fear of the unknown with breast cancer.
How to Overcome Fear of the Unknown With Breast Cancer
Dr. Louise Lubin is a clinical psychologist who has worked with women with breast cancer for 40 years. Also, so many of my readers have questions about fear after breast cancer and how to cope with the uncertainty, I am excited to have her share her expertise and tools from her new book, Your Journey Beyond Breast Cancer". So, let's jump into hands-on steps for how to cope with fear after breast cancer and what tools you can use.
Tools for Overcoming Fear of the Unknown After Breast Cancer
I have walked along this path as a therapist with women with breast cancer for 40 years. Although I am not a survivor, I have tried to be a helpful and compassionate guide and companion along the way. Also, this sisterhood of women have been my teachers providing me with many life lessons. However, the challenge of breast cancer requires you to take charge of your health yet accept that you need not and cannot do it alone. Moreover, there will be times of fear and loss that may occur long after the initial diagnosis and treatment. So, this is part of the ever-changing process when you face a serious life challenge.
Also, there will be many different life events or “triggers” that cause you to feel uncertain and anxious. So, you may worry about how you will manage your treatment or how your family will handle changing roles and responsibilities. Moreover, any event, such as “your cancerversary” can remind you of the losses you have had. It can be a scheduled doctor visit or scan that forces you to think about if you are really cancer-free. But, although with time and good health, this fear becomes less, the uncertainty of reoccurrence may continue to be in the background of your mind and may not completely fade.
So, I believe that we all need tools when facing the challenge of cancer. Meanwhile, let’s look at some mind/body/spirit tools offered in my book, Your Journey beyond Breast Cancer- Tools for the Road to help you move along your journey to manage fear and loss.
Helping You Overcome Fear of the Unknown
Claim Your Body
Your autonomic nervous system reacts to your fears about the future as if you were in real physical danger. So, try to become aware of how your body reacts when you feel anxious or afraid. Awareness is the first step to creating change.
Also, the fastest quickest way to calm your body is to use your breath.
Shifting Your Awareness
- First, close your eyes and breathe. So, notice your body, how the air feels when you breathe in, how your heart beats, and the sensations you have in your stomach and gut.
- Second, with your eyes still closed, purposefully shift your awareness away from your body to everything you can hear, see, smell, or feel through your skin.
- Lastly, use your senses to shift your awareness outside yourself.
So, by shifting your awareness back and forth several times between what’s going on in your body and what’s going on around you, you learn in a physical way that you can control which aspects of your world—internal or external—you notice. Likewise, you can gain a sense of control over how you react to physical sensations and become better able to manage anxiety. Also, you can grow your ability to observe your thoughts and sensations. In a stressful situation, the goal is to respond, not just react.
Redirect Your Mind
Whether you recognize it or not, you are always talking to yourself. Although this “self-talk” is automatic and just bubbles up, you can redirect your thinking. So, you are more than your thoughts
Your self-talk can be encouraging or deflating. What you think impacts how you feel. When you are fearful, your self-talk focuses on what will happen. Also, the uncertainty of cancer creates” WHAT IF…. “. thinking. What if the treatment doesn’t work? What if ____ (fill in the blank) can send you down many different dark fearful roads. So, to focus on what is under your control –which is WHAT NOW you must shift gears.
The next time you begin to feel anxious or overwhelmed, imagine this stop sign.
As soon as you notice feeling anxious, STOP what you are doing. What are your early warning signs? So, do you tense up in your body or in your face? Does your breathing change? Do you raise your voice? What exactly do you do? Also, pay attention when it is happening and remind yourself – “I must pay attention NOW”
T- TAKE A BREATH
When you are upset, your body and thinking are affected, and your breathing gets shorter. So, slowing down your breathing using abdominal breathing, you can think more clearly and use better judgment. You use different parts of your brain when you are calm rather than when you are fearful. So…. Let yourself exhale and feel your body relax ( like the energy that comes from a sigh). Also, you are then better able to RESPOND rather than REACT.
O – OBSERVE
With clearer thinking, you can begin to sort out your feelings. Also, ask yourself- “What am a telling myself right now?” “Am I reacting to old patterns?” “What other choices do I have in this situation?” “Is there another way to think about this now?”
P – PRACTICE OTHER CHOICES
So, when you are open to change, you can sort out what might be possible. Focus on what might work for you. STAY AWAY from thinking about what is fair or unfair- right or wrong or should or should not when you are sorting out a situation. So, try not to evaluate and unglue your opinions. Acknowledge what is happening, but don’t JUDGE. Keep the focus on what you can do NOW.
Embrace Your Spirit
When you focus on your spirit, you connect to your inner essence, soul, or higher power. Your spirit can also be your sense of being part of a universe greater than yourself. Some find this in organized religion, nature, one’s creativity, or in relationship with others. So, I believe that rituals are helpful ways to honor your feelings as well as provide healing to your spirit.
Create Your Personal Ritual
A ritual is “any detailed method or procedure faithfully followed or practiced”. A healing ritual can be anything that reflects and creates value for you. So, rituals work best when you believe in their power and can create a sense of hope and faith. Also, rituals can be as simple as lighting a candle, talking a pleasurable walk-in nature, planting something that will grow, or even having a special meal. Whatever it is, it is honoring your experience.
How to Create Healing Rituals to Overcome Fear of the Unknown
You may want to create a ritual that involves others or just mark your special time by yourself. So, for many, prayer is a ritual that brings comfort and calm. Use your imagination to create a healing ritual. Honor the importance of your experience and find a way to mark it that feels nourishing and healing to you. Also, some women have created their own altars in their homes to find refuge and peace. Women have managed the loss of their hair by creating a special time to cut their hair off before treatment with important people in their lives. So, a wonderfully creative woman took her hair and made a nest for the birds in her yard.
While you must accept your vulnerable feelings of fear, you can still take more charge over how your body responds. Moreover, you can challenge your internal voice and focus on what is under your control- the present moment not the unknown future. Also, by honoring your spirit and seeking to find hope, you send compassion and loving energy to empower you to move forward.
So, my hope is that you will take charge of your own healing and seek out the support and guidance you need on your journey beyond breast cancer as you navigate fear of the unknown.
Start Your Journey to Overcome Fear of the Unknown
Breast cancer survivor, lover of style, beauty and all things pink! Inspiring you to thrive through adversity.