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The Emotional Stages of Breast Cancer Treatment — Here’s What to Expect

A breast cancer diagnosis is one of the most jarring experiences a person can go through, and psycho-oncologists (doctors who focus on the emotional needs of cancer patients) have identified the stages that occur during a healthy grieving process. Each stage has emotions associated with it, but since every patient is different, the level of these emotions can range significantly, and some emotions may not be present at all.

While there isn't a set order to the stages of breast cancer responses, the three main phases are the initial reaction, distress and an adjustment period. Shock and even denial of the diagnosis are frequently the first emotions, along with anger, as the patient often feels like “this isn't fair.” It's important to realize that the emotions that come with a breast cancer diagnosis are natural and that it's okay to feel them.

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Stress and depression are understandable reactions to breast cancer, but there's a difference between sadness and severe depression. Cure Today recommends that patients who feel depressed should reevaluate their mental state after two weeks. If they still feel the same, treatment options for depression include talk therapy, medication and psychotherapy.

Tying closely into depression and stress are grief and fear. These emotions often manifest as worries about dying or losing a part of the body. One way to ease anxiety and worry is to focus on the things you can control, such as your diet or any tasks related to your treatment.

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Acceptance and adjustment occur once the patient has fully accepted the cancer diagnosis. While acceptance is a good place to be, Health Central notes that this isn't a process that patients can rush. Acceptance comes naturally on its own time. During this acceptance period, patients let go of any guilt they feel and realize that the cancer is not their fault.

Hope and a desire to fight are a more positive variation of anger, usually felt after patients go through their acceptance periods. While these are useful emotions for keeping spirits up, patients should remember that they don't have to stay positive all the time, especially not to please other people.


Every patient experiences emotions differently during the fight against cancer. Watch this cancer patient's interpretation of her emotions through dance.


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