Dedicated to the care of breast cancer and all breast conditions
Dr Sarah Rayne is no longer practising in
Johannesburg and this practice is closed.

These pages are for information only,
and current only until 2018
I’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer- help!
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I’ve noticed a lump in my breast
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I have breast pain               
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I need advice about breastfeeding
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Coping with cancer  
Most people recollected exactly when they were told they had cancer, and how. Over the time of your diagnosis and treatment, women will have lots of conflicting and overwhelming emotions. Most patients expect to feel anxious around treatments, but often the time between diagnosis and the start of treatment can be difficult. Even after all physical treatments have finished, the psychological effects of a cancer diagnosis can linger with a wide range of emotions. At some point most patients may feel:
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • A sense of helplessness
  • A sense of powerlessness
  • Vulnerability
  • A sense of unfairness

Expecting or undergoing treatment can also be a daunting experience. Before starting treatment you may be afraid of being made sick or losing your hair; afraid of becoming disfigured or having pain; have financial fears about how you will afford treatments; fears about your family. Discuss all your fears and anxieties with your doctor who will have the time explain and allay them. Understanding more about you treatment may help with your fears, and having your doctors understand your concerns helps them to reassure you. There is lots of great information available to help you understand your care pathway, and lots of support networks available to speak honestly to you, and support you and your family through this.
I know someone who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer
A woman’s breast cancer diagnosis can affect her whole family and her community. The whole family (and friends) will need to understand and cope with the diagnosis. They may have feelings of shock, confusion, helplessness or an overwhelming desire to help. We all deal with these conflicting emotions in different ways and sometimes family, friends and work colleagues will find it difficult to determine how best to support- resulting in too much or too little involvement.

The more someone knows about breast cancer and the treatment options available the better equipped they will be to deal with it. It is important for a partner, family, friends and health care practitioners to speak openly rather than pretending there are no problems or concerns. Sometimes it may be helpful to speak to breast cancer survivors, a psychologist or a social worker.
My partner has just been diagnosed with breast cancer
Children coping with a cancer in the family
My friend has just been diagnosed with cancer
My partner has just been diagnosed with breast cancer
One of the hardness life events is coping with illness in your intimate partner. There may be feelings of fear, confusion or helplessness and an overwhelming concern which prevents communication. The key to navigating this difficult time is to maintain open and honest communication between partners with time protected to spend alone and discuss feelings. Loving words and physical touch will remind your partner of your care. Another source of stress may be a change of role and responsibilities within the family, and concerns over financial well-being.

When a breast cancer patient requires spending a long period of time in hospital, there can also be difficulty maintaining good contact and communication, and the supporting partner may have a feeling of isolation or uselessness in their contribution to the treatment of their loved one. Often unrealistic expectations may need to be addressed, and it is important try and maintain life in the same way as it was before the diagnosis.

Intimacy issues between the patient and her partner should be addressed. It can be problematic because each partner must attempt to cope with their feelings.It may be difficult to express love physically in the same way as before, due to physical changes or emotional preoccupations. Finding new ways to express love and gain satisfaction is part of new methods of communication.

Some sexual problems may stem from the treatments for cancer themselves and others may be a result of emotional changes. Communication between partners and involvement of healthcare providers can often help identify problems which can be solved. Understanding unrealistic expectations or unhelpful feelings of anxiety or guilt will help the situation immeasurably, and there are many healthcare workers who wish to give help and advice.

Here are some good resources to help you help your partner

Macmillan Cancer Support: Cancer, you and your partner
American Society of Clinical Oncology: Talking With Your Spouse or Partner
American Cancer Society: Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer
Children coping with a cancer in the family
Children whose close relative (mother, sister or grandmother) has cancer are often aware of a change in their lives and those surrounding them. Even young children can sense that something is wrong and this may frighten them. There may be a change in the daily routine or absence of a loved one, and this can cause fear which manifests as anger or tantrums. They may consider that they are responsible and require reassurance that this is not the case. Open and honest communication is best, addressing all fears and discussing their feelings. They may have lots of questions which should be encouraged and answered in a way they will understand.

Telling children and young people the truth about illnesses and cancer, at a level they can understand and cope with, will reduce the stress, guilt or fear they may feel. Spend additional time with them and ensure that they have opportunity to spend quality time with the cancer survivor. Older children and teenagers may be expected to take on additional responsibilities in the family and it is important to remember they are still children who need loving support.

Here are some good resources to help you help your children

National Cancer Institute: When Your Parent Has Cancer: A Guide for Teens
Parenting with cancer: Telling the Kids Mom or Dad Has Cancer
American Cancer Society: Telling Your Child You Have Breast Cancer: 5 Things You Need To Know
My friend has just been diagnosed with cancer
Breast cancer will directly affect at least 1 in 31 women in South Africa but many many more who know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer (or any other cancer). Its really normal to feel tremendous compassion but also feeling awkward because you don’t know how to talk to them or help them. This can be especially different if you have not heard from the person themselves, so you don’t even know if you SHOULD approach them.

Remember some people want privacy while others are happy to share. If you have been told news about someone else, determine whether it is confidential (in which case keep it to yourself and respect the right to privacy) or whether they are happy for people to know in which case you can approach them.

Simple offers of support and love, staying in touch, being available to listen or just hang out are all positive ways you can offer support.

Patients sometimes say to me that ‘call me if you need anything’ isn’t helpful because requires them to think of something they need- rather offer to babysit, bring a meal, keep them company waiting at an appointment. In the same way some patients find it difficult to hear stories of other people’s treatments (successes and failures) and opinions about the best way to treat cancer. Second opinions are brilliant, but only from someone qualified to give one.

Here are some great resources to help you help your friend or colleague.

American Cancer Society: What to say when someone has cancer
American Society of Clinical Oncology: Supporting a friend who has cancer
National Women's Health Resource Center: Supporting a friend who has breast cancer
TeensHealth - advice for teenager: My friend has cancer, how can I help?
Huffington Post Health: 22 ways to help a friend with breast cancer