Fundamentals, Psychology

Breast Cancer: How Diagnosis and Treatment Affects the Family After Diagnosis

family life after

Family Life After a Diagnosis of Breast Cancer

A diagnosis of cancer can affect both the patient and other members of the family in many different ways. Telling the family is often one of the most difficult aspects, and many women reported dreading taking this step. For those who have already lost a relative to cancer, the reaction of the family may be elevated from fear to terror. Those with elderly parents in delicate health themselves are often also reluctant to share their diagnosis. Ironically, this reluctance to upset family members so often experienced by women accustomed to being nurturers often places the patients who need the most support in the role of caretaker.

The initial response of most families upon first hearing the news is shock, followed by fear, sadness and sometimes, anger. Once the family has worked through these initial emotions, many women report an overwhelming degree of support. Some of the support takes the form of physical assistance, such as older children taking over some of the household chores, or family members sharing the responsibility of driving the patient to appointments.

The Effects of Treatment on Family Life After the Diagnosis

There are several treatments for breast cancer, including removal of the breast. One of those treatments is a process called ovaries ablation, which suppresses the production of estrogen by the ovaries. Estrogen, a natural hormone which plays a role in regulating cell growth, unfortunately also plays a role in the growth of cancer cells. Part of cancer treatment is the necessity of suppressing the production of estrogen. Patients who have already had children and don’t plan to have more sometimes choose to have an ovariectomy, in which the ovaries are removed through either traditional surgery or laparoscopic surgery, which is less invasive. Recent clinical trials found that disease- free survival rates for women under 50 were highest for those who received ovarian ablation as a treatment to prevent further tumors.

Patients who plan to have children in the future often choose to halt the production of estrogen temporarily through radiation treatments. To prevent a recurrence of cancer, standard treatment options include drugs such as tamoxifen, which affects estrogen receptors. Due to the extremely adverse physical effects of chemotherapy, efforts to develop new drugs that can be effective alternatives are ongoing. Side effects of current treatments include putting the patient at higher risk of future cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.

Emotional Effects on Family Life After a Diagnosis

While necessary life-saving treatments have some physical side effects, they can also result in emotional side effects that can affect family life after treatment. Some physical side effects of ablation include hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. All of these side effects affect the patient’s emotional state, which in turn affect the family after treatment. In addition to the physical and hormonal challenges the patient faces, there is also an emotional impact on family life after a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Anxiety, fear, and depression are common responses to the threat of the loss of a loved one. Another common change to family life after a diagnosis of cancer is that family members become caretakers to varying degrees. The caretaker role increases stress levels, which can impair the immune system. Increasingly, health care professionals are recognizing the potentially adverse effects of prolonged emotional stress. In an effort to ensure the continued health of the entire family after a diagnosis of breast cancer, some have created coping and distress checklists for both patients and caregivers.

They have also developed a number of free online classes to help the family after a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness. Topics included effective communication, stress management, self-esteem, intimacy, and coping strategies. One of the most important sources of support for women facing breast cancer and the family after the diagnosis are the thousands of inspirational stories of other women who have successfully survived it. Many survivors have reported that the family after the experience was stronger and closer than ever.

Sources of Support

There are also a number of both national and international organizations and support groups available for breast cancer patients and their families, as well as cancer survivors and those who have lost a loved one to the disease. Cancer recognizes no national borders, and happily, nor does the compassion of the many individuals who work for organizations that help bring victims of the disease and their families together for mutual support and healing.

One survivor reported learning some valuable life lessons through her experience in successfully battling cancer. While she lost her job as the result of the lengthy treatments, she listed many of the things she felt she had gained. Among them were the ability to stand up and advocate for herself, and a heightened appreciation of health family, friends and life itself. She now runs a small non-profit volunteer organization that raises funds for cancer research. She also didn’t allow cancer to rob her of her sense of humor, judging by the name of her blog, which you can read at

family life after
The Van Moerkerken Family, Gerard ter Borch the Younger, Dutch, , ca. 1653–54, Credit Line The Jack and Belle Linsky Colle
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