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Rebecca’s top tips for coping with the emotional side of pain

Rebecca struggled with joint pain as a side effect of her treatment. She shares how taking care of her emotional wellbeing helps her manage her pain.

I was 30-weeks pregnant when I was diagnosed

I found an area of thickening in my breast when I was pregnant with my second child. I had just had a baby seven months earlier.

Because it was a thickening rather than a lump, I did not go to my GP for some time. I guess that sounds quite ignorant now, as the area of thickening was not normal for me. But I was only 37, so breast cancer never crossed my mind as a possibility.

I was 30-weeks pregnant when I was diagnosed with invasive lobular breast cancer.

I had six cycles of chemotherapy altogether, and two while pregnant. After that I started taking tamoxifen, had a lumpectomy and further surgery to remove more tissue, and radiotherapy.

I felt like I wasn’t being a good mum

The day I had my second surgery was the day I kind of broke mentally. This volcano of anger just erupted, and I knew then that I wasn’t coping emotionally.

I was handed a leaflet for a cancer support centre, which I did reach out to. But up until that point, I felt like the focus was more on the physical side of treatment. If someone had stepped in to see how I was doing emotionally, I might have thought about getting help earlier.

I also experienced extreme fatigue. I felt like I wasn’t being a good mum because I had no energy. That affected my sense of self. I also had a lot of fear about my children losing their mother.

I developed osteoporosis

After taking tamoxifen for nine years, I found a lump above my collarbone and was diagnosed with a recurrence of breast cancer. There was a great deal of grief to process at this point, but I also felt a drive to live life while I can.

I had more chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and then I was put on letrozole and Zoladex. Because of my treatment plan, I was offered a DEXA scan to check my bone density, which showed that I had thinning of the bones (osteoporosis). I would not have known I had osteoporosis as I didn’t have any symptoms at all, and it doesn’t cause me pain.

I had sore, stiff joints

The side effects of the letrozole, however, caused so much stiffness in my joints that I found it uncomfortable to walk in the evening.

It’s difficult for me to run due to my joint issues, but I walk every day and sometimes I do gentle weights or go cycling. I make sure that I don’t put my body under any additional strain.

I am angry and sad that I can’t run anymore due to side effects, but I focus on the fact that I’m here for my children.

I’m really focused on the process that gets me to emotionally accepting whatever I’m going through physically. Once I can cope emotionally, I can manage my pain better.

Rebecca’s top tips for coping with the emotional side of pain

1. Stay engaged with the medical process

Stay informed about your treatment. When I understood what was happening to me, I felt better. I would always go to the specialist prepared with any questions I had. I appreciate not everyone likes to be like this, but if it helps you to be more involved rather than passive, you may find it helps you cope with how you’re feeling.

2. Look at what’s in your control

I’ve adjusted my lifestyle to help me manage ongoing pain and side effects, such as sore and stiff joints. I make sure I eat very healthily, don’t drink or smoke, and exercise daily. To support myself physically and emotionally, I find it helps to focus on what’s in my control rather than what’s out of my control.

3. Check in with yourself emotionally

Ask yourself if you’re coping with what’s going on and be aware that everything that’s happening to you physically has an emotional impact too. If I ever felt really angry or upset that I had breast cancer, osteoporosis, or sore joints, I would look for emotional support.

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