Here's What Breast Cancer Survivors Had to Say About Staying Positive

CURE, 2021 Breast Cancer Special Issue ,

Several breast cancer survivors share how they stay mentally strong while living with breast cancer.

"During treatment for breast cancer, I kept two journals: one to write in at night to chronicle the day, and one I wrote in as I sat in the infusion chair or waited for radiation. The journal I carried to the cancer center helped not only with memory and perspective but also with processing feelings right there in the moment." – Felicia Mitchell

"Living with metastatic breast cancer for more than seven years, I have found keeping to a schedule or routine keeps me focused and more in control of my life. There are so many aspects of this disease that are out of my hands. A daily routine helps me to keep going and have purpose and direction in my life. I thrive on consistency, not surprises." – Marissa Holzer

"To stay mentally strong during breast cancer treatment, pretend your body is on a cancer conveyor belt; you will most likely move from therapy to therapy. I started with chemotherapy, then moved to a double mastectomy, then radiation and finally,
10 years of medication (Tamoxifen). I advise that while you’re on this cancer conveyor belt, keep your mind out of it, i.e., don’t obsess. Don’t think about cancer. Before you know it, you will have survived." – Laura Yeager

"My mental health was almost as big a danger for me during cancer treatment as the cancer itself. After learning I had inflammatory breast cancer, within a couple of days I realized I had raging, uncontrolled medical post-traumatic stress disorder due to medical treatments I had received when I was very young. I quickly knew that I had to do two things: First, honor and respect how I really felt without forcing myself to put on a fake happy face so that I could play the socially expected role of the brave cancer patient. In other words, I had to be true to myself. Second, I had to get into regular therapy to try to deal with the twin traumas of having cancer and having to engage with the world of medicine again." – Brenda Denzler

"During treatment, I kept thinking, 'This too shall pass, it is just a bump in the road of my life.' Fourteen years later, I continue to work hard to not let cancer define me. I am a person who had cancer, cancer is not who I am. My self-care includes exercises to help release stress from my body, practicing my faith, counseling, coffee with friends and some hard-to-find alone time. All these things help me focus on not being defined by the fact that I am a cancer survivor. Being mentally strong takes work, and I think we don’t talk about how to do that enough." – Doris Cardwell

"Part of mental strength and resilience is understanding that sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. I let myself feel the fear and disappointment, but I know that there’s only one way to stay alive, and that is to keep moving forward for as long as I can. I have learned to focus on where I find happiness, to stay connected with the people who love me and to keep my dreams alive. It’s easy to get caught up in cancer, but I am a complete person first, and remembering that helps me find balance and strength." – Martha Carlson

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