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

CURE2021 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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