The fall season brings another opportunity to join together for breast cancer awareness. All over the Columbia River Gorge, people have given their time, money and tears to this cause. In most years, these efforts include relays, walks and other fundraising efforts. While the pandemic has limited our traditional in-person gatherings, we still see impressive efforts from local business, nonprofit and social service organizations to fundraise and draw awareness to breast cancer.
At Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc. (GOBHI), we also consider another aspect of breast cancer — the impact this diagnosis has on mental health and emotional well-being. The American Psychological Association reports that breast cancer can be one of the most distressing events a woman ever experiences, and she may not know where to turn for help.
For example, as women begin what is often a lengthy treatment process, they may find themselves faced with new problems and tremendous worry. There are so many unknowns to face, like how it will affect their personal relationships, the impact on their families, how symptoms manifest, how treatment will affect them and the greatest unknown which cancer throws into the spotlight — the unknown of being here another day. Here are some quotes from women who have had a breast cancer diagnosis:
“I fell apart. I felt like my life fractured into thousands of pieces. And I sat there looking at it all I thought, this will never all go back together again. I was lost.”
“When my treatment was all done, I thought now what? Every little cough was attached to the fear — is it back?”
“Being faced with my death taught me how to live.”
The illness can bring up a mix of feelings — denial, anger, fear, worry, stress, loss of control, problems with self-esteem, sadness, depression, grief, guilt, isolation and so much more. All of this can be overwhelming and contribute to depression, anxiety, panic attacks and other mental health problems.
Feelings of anxiety and depression are normal as women face a breast cancer diagnosis, but that does not mean those feelings should be ignored. Treating the emotional conditions associated with breast cancer is as important as treating the physical illnesses. We have known for a long time that our emotional well-being affects our physical well-being and healing. It is not always as easy, however, to seek help for the emotional issues. For some, they feel embarrassed to ask for help because of the stigma associated with mental health problems. It can also be just too daunting to find support for emotional issues when someone is overwhelmed, even emotionally paralyzed, with managing all that cancer brings.
GOBHI has been working in Eastern Oregon as part of the Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization (EOCCO) to remove mental illnesses from the shadows of shame and help more people who can benefit from treatment. Here are some of the ways you can connect with help:
- Call your local mental health provider about treatment options.
- Ask your doctor or oncologist about support services.
- Talk to your physician or cancer nutritionist about foods that support healing.
- Talk to your physician about your anxiety and what they recommend for help.
- Share the healthcare resources below.
In addition, family members may experience significant emotional stress when a loved one receives this diagnosis. It is important that they too find the support they need.
October may be the official month for breast cancer awareness, but each day of the year can hold a different meaning for the women with this diagnosis and for their families. GOBHI joins Columbia Gorge and Eastern Oregon communities to support individuals and their families as they deal with a breast cancer diagnosis and as we work together to let them know — that they are not alone.
Contact Information for help:
24-Hour Crisis Helpline: 1-800-866-9780
National Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Mid-Columbia Center for Living: 541-296-5452
Ari Wagner is the Chief Operating Officer for Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc. (GOBHI). She has been with GOBHI for almost eight years and in the COO role for the last eight months.