Mental Health During A Breast Cancer Battle
- TV presenter Julia Bradbury shared the news of her breast cancer diagnosis in September 2021. A documentary following Bradbury’s cancer journey, Julia Bradbury: Breast Cancer & Me, recently aired last month.
- Bradbury recently shared that she felt guilty after her breast cancer diagnosis.
- Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research, so there are many treatment options out there. Mammograms, a standard screening procedure for breast cancer, and self breast exams can save lives.
- One of our experts says a cancer diagnosis can come with grief. He recommends talk therapy to help people cope with the change that a cancer diagnosis brings to a person’s life.
Bradbury has decided to share her breast cancer story with Julia Bradbury: Breast Cancer & Me, a new documentary that just aired last month on ITV in the UK. She’s also done various interview to give fans a greater understanding of what it means to battle cancer.Read More
During a recent interview, Bradbury shared that she has been proud of herself for opening up to others during such a difficult time.
“I think generally people were quite surprised at how vulnerable I appeared to be,” she said of her documentary. “I was happy to show that side.”
“Kelly Close [the director of the film] wanted it to be personal, touching and emotional. We don’t talk a lot about the emotional impact of having cancer. It’s a big thing psychologically to deal with.”
She then went on to explain the guilt she felt after her diagnosis and how she’s shifter her mindset during her cancer journey.
“You do feel guilty that this cancer diagnosis has crashed into your life but also crashed into all of your friends and family’s,” she said. “There is always someone who has had it much harder than you. You have to frame your own position and think of others.”
And thinking of the possibility that her breast cancer returns, Bradbury also mentioned that cancer is something she’ll likely never get to eradicate from her mind.
“It genuinely is something that stays with you forever,” she said. “There is a chance of recurrence.”
Julia Bradbury’s Breast Cancer Journey
Bradbury’s diagnosis came after a couple mammograms to check on a lump she found in her breast during the summer of 2020.
She announced her breast cancer diagnosis in September 2021, but she told her husband, property developer Gerard Cunningham, and their children, son Zephyrus, 10, and 7-year-old twin daughters Xanthe and Zena, before sharing the news with the world.
“Telling your children you have cancer is the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do in your life,” the BBC and ITV presenter said in an emotional interview. “You also don’t quite now how much to tell them to be realistic, and how much do you need to protect them as well. It is a very tricky balance. I don’t think any parent really knows exactly what to do.”
Following a double mastectomy shortly after her diagnosis, Bradbury immediately underwent breast reconstruction.
As for where she’s at now, she does not technically have the all clear yet. In a separate interview, she revealed that she has tiny fragments of cancerous cells in her breast tissue and a genetic predisposition to a higher than average risk of her cancer coming back. Even still, her attitude is positive.
“I’m in the top 5 or 6 percent of women in the country in terms of the likelihood of recurrence,” she said. “That puts me in the ‘moderate risk’ category – higher than the average woman – but, look, it’s about percentages and perspectives.
“The doctors have not found a huge spread of an aggressive cancer. I have lost my breast but been able to have an implant and keep my own nipple. I feel lucky and grateful every single day, and I have to learn to live with this risk, to accept the fragility of life, without it consuming me.”
She did not need chemotherapy or radiation to treat her breast cancer, but Bradbury is now considering the pros and cons of starting a regime of hormone therapies to reduce her likelihood of recurrence.
“They’re potentially life-saving drugs, but they come with significant side effects for some women – joint pain, osteoporosis, trouble with your teeth, risk of uterine cancer and a running jump straight into menopause,” she explained. “I have young children to consider and it’s hard to know what’s best.”
Understanding Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research. Many women develop breast cancer every year, but men can develop this cancer too – though it is more rare, in part, due to the simple fact that they have less breast tissue.
Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
There are many treatment options for people with this disease, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. Identifying these specifics means looking into whether the cancerous cells have certain receptors. These receptors – the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and the HER2 receptor – can help identify the unique features of the cancer and help personalize treatment.
“These receptors, I like to imagine them like little hands on the outside of the cell, they can grab hold of what we call ligands, and these ligands are essentially the hormones that may be circulating in the bloodstream that can then be pulled into this cancer cell and used as a fertilizer, as growth support for the cells,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
One example of a type of ligand that can stimulate a cancer cell is the hormone estrogen, hence why an estrogen receptor positive breast cancer will grow when stimulated by estrogen. For these cases, your doctor may offer treatment that specifically targets the estrogen receptor. But for HER2 positive breast cancers, therapies that uniquely target the HER2 receptor may be the most beneficial.
Mental Health after a Cancer Diagnosis
Dealing with a mental health struggle looks different for everyone, especially when it comes to a cancer diagnosis. But feeling sad or anxious about the changes coming your way after hearing the “c” word for the first time is very normal and understandable.
“Grief comes in waves,” Dr. Scott Irwin, a psychiatrist and director of supportive care services at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “They’re grieving the change in their life. The future they had imagined is now different.”
Dr. Irwin stressed how helpful talk therapy could be when dealing with the mixed emotions. It’s important to reach out to your doctor, a therapist or support groups in your community if you feel like you’re struggling.
Ni Guttenfelder can attest to the benefits of therapy. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October 2017 and quickly decided she needed a therapist to help process her feelings. Her suggestion is to seek a counselor you’re comfortable with – one you trust and can open up to about your cancer diagnosis.
“Initially I went to a session where I just cried and the counselor basically told me what I was feeling was normal and didn’t offer me any type of feedback. But I knew that I needed something more than that. Not just a crying session and a pat on my shoulder,” she told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “What I have found is that it’s critical to find the right counselor, not just any counselor.”
Once she found a counselor she truly trusted, Guttenfelder began to see some clarity.
“One of the things that my counselor has taught me from the very beginning that has helped me is the concept of acceptance,” she says. “Acceptance is a process. It’s like downloading a computer file in increments. Visualizing it in that way has really helped me.”
Her therapist also taught her how to manage the people in her life. She decided to look into her relationship with her father, for example, because he was resistant to the idea of her receiving chemotherapy.
“It makes it more of an uphill battle and a challenge because we’ll sometimes get into arguments about it,” she says. “My counselor would say, for my own benefit and health that it’s best to limit the time with others who may not be lifting me up during my treatment.”
She also had some helpful advice for other women dealing with ovarian cancer: “You are stronger and more resilient than you could ever imagine.”
“I think there’s a misconception that we beat cancer when we finish treatment,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s not always the case for everyone. I want you to know that you beat cancer by how you live your life.”