Dr Eddie Column

Breast cancer - the psychological side of beating it

Dr Eddie Murphy


Dr Eddie Murphy


Portarlington Psychiatrist with Operation Transformation

Breast cancer - the psychological side of beating it

Many women are scared that one day they will be told, "you have breast cancer,"

For some it’s the word ‘cancer’, for others, it is the fear of surgery and chemo.

Psychological Aspects

Some women go into denial and are so overwhelmed that they delay seeing a doctor, for fear of bad news. Yet lives are saved by finding and treating cancer early.

Fear is Pervasive

Women newly diagnosed go through an emotional rollercoaster from denial to anger and confusion.

Reality bites when treatment begins. At this point many feel more in control because they are fighting.

Those who survive, fear a return. Many experience treatment-related distress, changes in body image and sexuality, and physical toxicities from chemotherapy.

Some feel depression. These are normal reactions to one of the most difficult trials in life.

Cancer can be beaten

Advances in detection and treatment mean that most people survive breast cancer. When treated at its earliest stage, 98% of patients have full recovery.

Tips on Support

The Psychological Society Of Ireland has ten tips on how to help someone diagnosed with cancer.

1. Being ‘positive’ doesn’t always help. Trying too hard to be positive can end up making people miserable.

2. Admit that ‘I don’t know what to say’. Learn to tolerate your own emotional discomfort. Simply listen and allowing them to express what they’re feeling, even if it doesn’t always make sense or seem logical.

3. Don’t expect emotions to progress in neat stages.  There will be many ups and downs,changing day-to-day (sometimes hour-to-hour).

4. Avoid advice giving. This can make people feel they should be ‘doing a better job’ at coping.  Advising people to keep positive and battle on is not helpful for everyone.   

5. Try not to personalise.  If you’re at the brunt of their anger, your loved one may be angry at the situation, not at you personally. We tend to vent frustrations on our nearest and dearest.

6. Eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. Take care of yourself. You might not have cancer, but this is difficult for you. By taking care of yourself you are in a much better position to care for others.   

7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and say ‘no’ when you need to, so you can focus on supporting a loved one with cancer. Resources like the Cuisle Centre are there to help not only patients but those supporting them.

8. Avoid vague offers like ‘let me know if I can do anything’, be specific and practical about how you might help. ‘I can collect the kids’ or ‘I can bring you to the hospital on Fridays’ are clear offers more likely to be accepted.

9. A surprising way to cut stress is by wanting things to be different. Allowing yourself permission to be who you are in this moment is likely to be more helpful in the long term.

10. A cancer diagnosis propels our minds into the future or back to the past. Focus on the present. Simply bringing attention to your breath can help.