Coping With Recurring Metastatic Breast Cancer

Most people have heard the metaphor of breast cancer being a roller coaster. When you are diagnosed a second time, that feeling of “not again” can take away your breath like the steepest drop on even the most daring ride. And metastatic breast cancer brings even more twists and turns.

Woman in medical gown talking with doctor

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This ride is different in yet another way. While you can often picture and anticipate the end of the ride with early stage breast cancer—we are surrounded by pink survivors who have been there—the end of the ride is uncertain, or even unthinkable with metastatic disease.


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There is nothing that can take the edge off the emotions of “not again” other than to say it is normal to feel that it is harder this time around. You may need to accept that the public, and even women and men with early stage breast cancer, may not appreciate how different it is to be diagnosed with metastatic disease, but there are people who do get it. The metastatic breast cancer community is strong and growing.

Drawing on Your Energy to Face Treatment

Many women with a recurrent metastatic breast cancer talk about how it’s harder to pull together the energy to fight the battle again. This is another aspect of “not again.” Whereas the first time you may have felt ready to face anything—you could get “psyched up” to take on the challenge of treatment easily—this time you may simply feel tired.

How can you pull yourself together and get ready to fight off those sneaky cancer cells once again? It may seem overwhelming at first, but you don’t need to find a way to energize yourself alone.

A good first step is to find a few friends or family members who can, in a way, get psyched up for you. Do you have any friends who are cheerleading types? The kind who stay out there cheering even when the other team is winning? If not, do you have a local metastatic breast cancer support group? If your answer is still no, check out the metastatic breast cancer support community online. Let others help bring energy to your fight.

It’s also helpful to be gentle on yourself and give yourself some time. Many women have said that it takes longer to get ready to take on cancer again, and that is okay. Most of the time, even with metastatic breast cancer, you don’t need to begin treatment the day you are diagnosed.

Expressing Your Emotions

We’ve been learning that there are stages which follow a metastatic cancer diagnosis similar to those seen with death and dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Yet rarely does anyone progress through these stages in order. Rather you may experience all of these seemingly at random, sometimes all in a single day or even hour.

Anger is common. It’s not fair for anyone to have to cope with metastatic breast cancer. It’s normal to ask a million questions why. Some of these questions can be heart wrenching. “Should I have had radiation?” “What if…” You may feel like your body has failed you and let you down. You may feel terrified, not just for yourself, but for your family.

Sharing Your Feelings

These emotions are normal, but you can’t carry them alone. It’s very important to be able to express what you are feeling, and you are honoring yourself in doing so. Plus, most of us have seen what happens when we hold emotions inside. Anger held back towards one thing can result in anger erupting over something trivial or unrelated.

Unfortunately, our society has made it difficult for many people with metastatic cancer to fully express their frustrating and conflicting feelings. We read obituaries of people being “courageous” and “taking it all in stride.” We hear people comment that you have to stay positive. This does a great disservice to people who are living with an incurable disease.

One of the best things you may do for yourself is to identify a friend or two with who you can let down your hair and rant and rave and express all you are feeling. Who do you know who is non-judgmental? Who do you know who is comfortable just listening, and doesn’t feel a need to fix things which aren’t fixable? Find that person or people in your life and share. With the right person, it is not only emotionally healing and honoring yourself to do so, but it is more courageous to be real.

The Ugly Duckling of Breast Cancer

While the pink ribbon movement has been awesome in raising awareness about screening and early stage breast cancer, it has left a shadow which can hide those who are still living with incurable disease. These myths and misunderstandings can lead to a multitude of hurtful comments. “Won’t you be happy when you’re done with treatment again?”

With metastatic breast cancer the feeling of being alone in a crowd can be intense. Most breast cancer events are filled with early stage survivors. People with metastatic breast cancer have even been kicked out of support groups; it is too difficult for some people with early stage disease to realize that some people die from the disease.

We don’t have any wonderful suggestions for you on how to deal with these feelings of being the ugly duckling of breast cancer. There are several organizations that are trying to raise awareness about metastatic breast cancer. Now we need to focus our efforts on finding treatments to cure metastatic disease.

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  1. Mosher CE, Johnson C, Dickler M, Norton L, Massie MJ, Duhamel K. Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer: A Qualitative Analysis of Physical, Psychological, and Social Sequelae. Breast J. 2013;19(3):285-292. doi:10.1111/tbj.12107

  2. National Cancer Institute. Feelings and Cancer. Updated August 20, 2018.

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