Breast Cancer Care and Mind are calling for better mental health support post-diagnosis after a survey found eight in 10 women with breast cancer in England were not told about how their diagnosis could impact their mental health.
Lauren Faye, 28 from Bristol, was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2016 and had a lumpectomy and radiotherapy. She has since struggled with social isolation and anxiety.
“The biggest barrier to adapting to life after breast cancer was my anxiety. I completely stopped trusting my body and lived in fear of there being something wrong with me,” she said. “To this day, there’s always a worry festering in the back of my mind about the cancer coming back.”
Faye said her last hospital appointment felt like an anti-climax because she had been so caught up in finishing treatment that she didn’t anticipate how hard moving forward would be.
“I felt isolated from my friends as I had no energy to go out with them, and I had to watch from the sidelines as they all got on with their careers, relationships and lives,” she said.
“At the end of treatment, the impact of breast cancer on my mental health wasn’t even mentioned by my healthcare team, nor was I referred to support, let alone given any.”
It wasn’t until she called Breast Cancer Care’s helpline that her emotions were acknowledged and she realised her feelings were normal.
The survey of nearly 3,000 breast cancer patients revealed one third (33%) experience anxiety for the first time in their lives after their diagnosis and treatment and 8% had a panic attack for the first time as a result of their breast cancer diagnosis or treatment.
Worryingly, almost half of those surveyed (45%) experience continuous fear that the cancer may return, a fear that can severely impact day-to-day life.
Breast Cancer Care and Mind warned that when the routine of hospital appointments suddenly comes to an end, women with breast cancer can often feel alone, lacking in adequate support and unsure where to find help.
More than one in 10 women with breast cancer leave the house less after finishing hospital treatment due to emotional and physical long-term side effects.
Samia al Qadhi, chief executive of Breast Cancer Care, said: “These upsetting figures highlight the stark reality of life after breast cancer and why we are taking a stand with Mind to make support for people’s mental health a priority.
“Damaged body image, anxieties about the cancer returning and debilitating long-term side effects can disrupt identities and shatter confidence, leaving people feeling incredibly lonely, and at odds with friends, family and the outside world.
People expect to feel better when they finish treatment and can be utterly devastated and demoralised to find it the hardest part." Breast Cancer Care
“We know people expect to feel better when they finish treatment and can be utterly devastated and demoralised to find it the hardest part. And though the NHS is severely overstretched, it’s crucial people have a conversation about their mental health at the end of treatment so they can get the support they need, at the right time.”
Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind, says: “Our physical and mental health are closely linked, yet too often, mental and physical health problems are treated separately.
“It’s really important that anyone receiving treatment for a physical health problem has attention paid to their mental health and overall wellbeing.”
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org