Ok, so your breast cancer diagnosis has left you absolutely reeling.

 

The rush of emotions and feelings arriving fast on the heels of hearing “It is cancer.” can never be satisfactorily explained to anyone who’s not heard their own variation of those words.

Breast cancer emotions and feelings. They’re intense, they’re powerful, they’re icky.

 

What the hell are you supposed to DO with them?

Well, that depends.

There are as many ways to deal with emotions and feelings as there are people on the planet. Emotional intelligence (EI) theory teaches us to monitor both our and others’ emotions, sort through and distinguish among them, then use this information to guide our thinking and actions. It also says we’re not in charge of which emotions come at us, but we are in charge of how we respond to them.

Clearly, the creators of this theory (for which I have great respect and work hard to implement) have never been diagnosed with breast cancer.

So how DO you handle those emotions and feelings?

The healthiest approach is ridiculously simple, yet for many, impossibly challenging.  

Ready? Do this. . .

Sit with, experience, and feel your emotions.

I know. Isn’t that just the craziest advice you’ve ever heard?

Read that sentence once more, and check in with the messages your body is sending.

What are you feeling?

Fear? Anxiety? Panic? Nothing?

For some people, the thought of sitting with emotional discomfort makes them yearn to do anything but sit. They want to squirm. Or run. Or worse.

In the nutrition world that I work in (that I wrote about here,) here’s how I typically see people handle strong emotions:

  • Eat them.
  • Starve them.
  • Stuff them.
  • Exercise them away.
  • Sleep them away.
  • Self-injure them away.

Excellent examples all, of emotions being allowed to hijack eating habits. That’s right. Being allowed. You have the power to change that.

There’s a saying I’m particularly fond of using; “How you do one thing is how you do everything.”

I’ve not worked with a client yet where that didn’t resonate, and I count myself among those for whom the meaning is resoundingly strong.

My Food and Breast Cancer Experience

For example, I’m someone who loves order, precision, strong reasoning and rationale. I was on my high school dance team, for heaven’s sake. We were all about precision.

It took just one team member during a performance to execute a lame high kick and unhinge the entire kickline. A weak, uneven kickline simply can’t deliver the same visual thrill as 20-some-odd pairs of white, knee-high pleather boots nailing an identical height through sheer physical power, underscored by perfect musical timing and rhythm.

Ever seen “The Rockettes?” You know what I’m talkin’ about.

I enjoy knowing there’s a “start here, end up there” directive to pretty much anything. That explains why I love the precision of baking and road maps; not much room for recipe deviation, what with all that measuring and weighing. And starting at point A to end up flawlessly at point B? Nirvana. Or psychotic. You decide.

Given my predilection for the need to know why or how anything happens so that I can: a) fix it, b) improve it, c) organize it, you can imagine my reaction to the completely un-fixable, un-improvable, and un-organizable news of my own breast cancer diagnosis.

For me, it was the exact moment those words “It is cancer.” registered in my brain that any semblance of an appetite completely evaporated.

I may or may not have had a little lunch before I got the 1:15 p.m. call. I honestly don’t remember.

All I know is that from that moment forward, the anxiety, anger, disbelief and terror were so strong, food was the last thing on my mind. It wasn’t that I completely stopped eating (trust me, that would never happen), but let’s just say that my lifelong physiological response to stress has never been to order a pizza with an ice cream chaser.

For me, having no appetite during stressful situations isn’t a control thing, it’s an actual PHYSICAL response. I can FEEL it. I know it’s driven by emotion.

If I tried to make that feeling go away by eating, rather than responding by not eating as my body directed me, I’d feel even worse!

Lack of appetite is a predictable stress response that I’m familiar with. Remember, how you do one thing is how you do everything? In most situations (although not all!), I like a certain degree of predictability. Predictably, I don’t feel like eating, so I don’t. I also like to “fix” situations that appear broken, so I leaned heavily into my nutrition training (my area of competence) to help me feel like I was actively doing something to mitigate the havoc I felt like the cancer was wreaking. I still do today, three years post-treatment.

Honest, Strategic Guidance

The reason I’m sharing such a personal example is to impress upon you the idea that sitting with strong emotions, literally feeling and acknowledging them while acting on the cues your body gives you is a healthy, natural way to MOVE THROUGH uncomfortable times.

And believe me, you will move through them. Those strong, uncomfortable feelings never last. They may stick around longer than you’d like (I can easily recall any number of dark days that I couldn’t get through fast enough), but they do pass.

When you try to go AROUND the tough times and strong feelings? You can’t. Attempting to do that is flirting with disaster, often in the form of the unhealthy behaviors I highlighted above.

I encourage you to be kind to your body when those strong emotions creep up. It’s working hard to bolster itself while under siege.

Try to help it along with as much self-care and love that you can.

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