Breast Cancer Awareness: The Psychiatrist's Story - `People Are Scared to Spell out Their Feelings' Professor Amanda Ramirez, Consultant Psychiatrist with the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Looks at the Emotional Side of the Disease

Article excerpt

Having a partner, relative or friend to rely on for emotional support can be invaluable in helping a woman cope with breast cancer. We also know that it can actually increase their chance of survival. If a woman has someone she can confide in as soon as she discovers a lump, or has other symptoms, she is much less likely to delay seeking help. The act of telling somebody means less opportunity to deny it and they will almost certainly urge you, even nag you, to see the doctor immediately. The patient's first thought is "Will I live or will I die?", but there are so many other fears she has to face. "Will I cope with this treatment?" "Will my hair fall out?" "Will I be mutilated by surgery?" "Will my husband still find me attractive?" "How will he cope with the kids while I'm having treatment?"

Communication is vital when a woman has to cope with all this. But, unfortunately, channels of communication often break down rather than open up after a diagnosis. People are frightened to talk about it, worried that if they ask questions they may get the answers they don't want. Relatives or friends are scared to ask "How are you?" in case the patient says: "I feel terrible and I'm scared I am going to die." The patient can often see the pain and worry in their faces, so she is frightened to spell out her feelings and cause more hurt and panic. So silence fills the space. …