“Advanced breast cancer doesn’t have to be a lonely journey,” says Sony Sherpa, MD, a holistic physician in Sacramento, Calif. “Fortunately, you have extensive support and resource options.”
Your doctor and your medical team
Many cancer centers have a support system in place that includes your doctor and other healthcare professionals. Keep in mind that they can’t help you if you don’t share what’s going on. To get the support you need, be open with your questions and concerns.
“Sometimes patients don’t ask questions because they don’t want to bother their doctor or nurse, or because they don’t think their questions are that important,”says Rebecca Crane-Okada, PhD, director of cancer navigation and Willow Sage wellness programs at the Margie Petersen Breast Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “But your doctor is really the first place to start.”
If your doctor or medical team doesn’t seem to listen to you or respect your questions, or if you’re not convinced they have enough experience with advanced breast cancer, look for a new team.
Social workers and counselors
“Social workers, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, or licensed professional counselors help manage grief and loss, cope and adapt, and communicate with family,” says Crane-Okada. They may also have techniques to help you with symptoms like insomnia.
They can also help you with practical matters such as housing, transportation, insurance, and financial aid questions. They can connect you to other resources and services, such as:
- Financial aid
- Where and how to get a wig if you want one
- Help with problems that arise at work
- Insurance issues
- Transport to medical appointments
Ask your doctor or cancer center for a referral. “Many cancer centers and hospitals now provide social workers and oncology counselors who can help you deal with the psychological, physical, and emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis,” says Sherpa.
Spiritual leaders and faith communities can offer comfort and support. They can help you with practical things to make your daily life easier, such as household chores, meals and transportation. They can also make you feel less alone and more supported. “A chaplain may be available to help with spiritual or religious concerns or questions,” says Crane-Okada.
Friends and family
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Friends and family often want to help, but they don’t always know what you need or what to offer. Try to be specific about the things they can do to make your life easier and better.
For example, ask family and friends if they can drive you to appointments, watch your kids, help you with groceries, or just be a shoulder to lean on.
Support groups and communities
Consider joining a support group, which may be led by an oncology social worker. They are a great way to connect with other people going through a similar experience. They can also help you feel less alone, find valuable information, and learn new ways to cope. You can find support groups at local hospitals, cancer centers, community organizations, and online. Try the Komen metastatic breast cancer group or search Facebook for metastatic breast cancer groups.
The amount and types of support you can get from nonprofits and online resources is vast, says Crane-Okada. These range from toll-free help lines, to information about your diagnosis and treatment, to individual counseling services you can obtain through teletherapy.
Try these online resources:
- American Cancer Society
- National Cancer Institute
- Patient Advocate Foundation
- National Coalition of Cancer Survivors
- Cancer Support Community
- cancer care
- Anti-cancer net
You can receive palliative care regardless of your age or the type or stage of your cancer. It is for anyone who wants to feel better, manage their symptoms, and get help for non-medical needs.
Talk to your doctor about your palliative care options before starting treatment. Palliative care often works best when started right after diagnosis and before treatment. If you receive palliative care during treatment, you may have less severe symptoms and a better quality of life.
There is a lot you can do to support yourself while you manage advanced breast cancer.
stay healthy. Eat well. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Avoid smoking. Manage stress as best you can. Stay up to date with your medical exams and tests.
Regular exercise. Physical activity can help you feel stronger, increase your energy and reduce your stress. It can also give you a sense of accomplishment and control. Talk to your healthcare team to create an exercise plan that’s right for you.
Follow rehabilitation. If your doctor recommends cancer rehabilitation, you may seek physical therapy, occupational therapy, pain management, nutritional planning, career counseling, or emotional counseling. These are helpful resources that can help you gain more control over your life and stay independent.
Take care of what’s on your mind. If there is something that seems unresolved in your life, taking care of it now can bring you peace of mind. Consider dealing with whatever makes you feel bad. Maybe you want to fix a broken relationship with a family member or friend. You may be worried about setting up your will and advance directives. These things can weigh on your mind, so it pays to take care of them if you feel up to it.