Diagnosed with Breast Cancer: What now?
The first days after diagnosis – what decisions do I need to make? Here’s a checklist to help.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer and all the information that comes with it can feel overwhelming at first. We have prepared a checklist with practical information and tips to help you make decisions in the time between getting the diagnosis and starting treatment.
- Take your time
Breast cancer is not a diagnosis that means you have to immediately undergo your treatment. Cancer does not happen overnight. It usually takes months, if not years, for it to grow to the point where it becomes noticeable. So, take your time to get over the shock of the diagnosis and to think over your options.
Important: It can be hard to take the diagnosis in, especially if you have been feeling fit and well beforehand. Your doctor or breast care nurse will let you know about the different treatment options available and how much time you can take until you decide what to do next.
- Prepare for your appointments
- Attending an appointment can feel stressful and there is a lot of new information to remember, so it can be helpful to bring a partner or friend along. It also helps to write down the most important points during the conversation and to go over them at the end with the doctor or nurse.
- It’s easy to forget your questions once you are in there, so it is worth thinking about exactly what you want to know and writing the questions down beforehand.
- If you don’t understand something, ask the doctor or nurse to explain it again – they will be happy to do this.
- Do you want to know more? Then ask for more information sources – such as brochures, good websites and local support groups.
Note: Doctors have questions, too! It helps to prepare the answers for these before your appointment. They include things such as: When did the symptoms first appear? Have you any other health problems? Have you ever been in hospital in the past and if so, why? Has anyone else in your family had breast cancer? Do you take any medicines or supplements? If you do take medication, it’s worth bringing a list of them (name and dose) with you.
- Find out about your treatment options
Some women like to know as much as possible about their diagnosis and do their own research; for others the information their doctor provides is enough. You can decide how much or little information you get and how much you want to be involved in making choices about your treatment.
Note: When doing your own research, make sure the information is trustworthy, reliable and up-to-date. Sites such as Breast Cancer Care, Breast Cancer Now, Macmillan Cancer Support, and the resource page of Cancer Research UK are good places to start your internet search. Many of these also provide a free helpline where you can talk to a professional about your worries. You will find links to these and other useful sites below.
- Find a medical team you trust
After diagnosis you will be assigned to a multidisciplinary team (MDT) of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. They will recommend the best treatment options for you based on the results of your tests, your general health and the latest research. Your main contact will be your own breast care nurse or key worker, who will support you at every stage and who will be available to answer questions at any time during working hours.
Many hospitals have a breast unit and a specialist breast care team, and it is recommended that investigations and treatment are carried out at these centres. If these services are not available at your local hospital, you can ask for a referral to a larger hospital that provides them.
Note: It is also a good idea to visit your GP or practice nurse soon after you have been diagnosed, as they can provide information on the support available in your area.
- Get involved and choose your treatment
Your team will review the results of your tests and recommend the best treatment options for you based on the current treatment guidelines for breast cancer. These are developed by experts and updated on a regular basis. However, these guidelines are not rigid, so don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Note: Some women want to get a second medical opinion before committing to a treatment plan. If you choose to do this, your GP or hospital team can arrange this for you. It might take a few weeks to get an appointment, and it is recommended to bring your previous results with you to avoid having to repeat tests.
- Manage your work
Your diagnosis is a private matter, and you do not have to share it with your employer. However, if your employer doesn’t know that you have cancer, they don’t need to provide the support that you are entitled to by law. More information on cancer and work can be found in the links below.
Note: Employees who miss more than seven days off work (including the weekend) need to provide a “fit note”. The hospital doctor or your GP can provide this for you.
- Seek and accept help
Being diagnosed with cancer can feel like being on an emotional rollercoaster. Some women feel sad and depressed after diagnosis; others are irritated and angry. These are all natural reactions.
It can be hard telling people, but it usually helps to share your emotions and fears. You can choose whom you share your diagnosis with. Talking about it with your family and friends can not only reduce your stress, but it can also help them to worry less and support you better.
Some people find it useful to talk to others who are going through the same process. Support groups in your area, online forums or Facebook groups can be a great way to share experiences. See the links below for useful contacts.
If your diagnosis and treatment are making you feel extremely anxious, you may wish to visit a professional therapist or psychologist. Your breast care nurse or key worker can give you more information about the services near you.
Here are some useful links that can help if you have more questions:
Information after diagnosis
The following sites give an overview of what to expect after being diagnosed and guides to different types of breast cancer treatments:
- The NHS Guide to treatment https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/breast-cancer/treatment/
- Breast Cancer Now https://breastcancernow.org/about-breast-cancer/have-you-recently-been-diagnosed-with-breast-cancer
- Breast Cancer Care https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/information-support/facing-breast-cancer
- Macmillan Cancer Support https://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/breast-cancer
- Cancer Research UK https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/breast-cancer
- Cancer Research UK provides a list of organisations and resources to help at every stage of your diagnosis and treatment. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/breast-cancer/living-with/resources-books
Support groups can help you connect with others who are affected by cancer and many provide free information and advice. These links can help you find a group near you:
- Macmillan Cancer Support https://www.macmillan.org.uk/in-your-area/choose-location.html Phone 0808 808 0000
- Breast Cancer Care https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/in-your-area
- Breast Cancer Haven https://www.breastcancerhaven.org.uk
Cancer and Work
Tips and practical advice on how to manage work after your diagnosis:
- Macmillan Cancer Support Work and Cancer brochure https://www.macmillan.org.uk/documents/getinvolved/campaigns/workingthroughcancer/workandcancer.pdf
- Breast Cancer Care on employment https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/information-support/facing-breast-cancer/living-beyond-breast-cancer/finances-practicalities/breast-cancer-employment
These booklets set out the standards of care you can expect while having treatment:
- Breast Cancer Now guide to breast cancer treatment in England and Wales https://breastcancernow.org/sites/default/files/public/best_treatment_guide_-_england_and_wales.pdf
- Breast Cancer Now guide to breast cancer treatment in Scotland https://breastcancernow.org/sites/default/files/public/best_treatment_guide_-_scotland.pdf