5 Tips for Moms With Metastatic Breast Cancer: Ways To Cope | MyBCTeam

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5 Tips for Moms With Metastatic Breast Cancer: Ways To Cope

Medically reviewed by Hailey Pash, APN-BC
Written by Joan Grossman
Posted on February 14, 2024

For anyone with a recent diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer (mBC), coping with the emotional and physical challenges can seem insurmountable. Moms with mBC have particular concerns about caring for children or grandchildren, even when their kids have grown up. For many moms, family is what motivates them to fight their cancer. It’s a feeling that is commonly shared among mothers with mBC.

As one mom on MyBCTeam wrote, “Always remember you are stronger than what you realize! It’s normal to have mixed emotions about being diagnosed. I still have my days as well. But you push through for the ones who love you the most.”

When someone is found to have de novo metastatic breast cancer, it means that they learn about their breast cancer for the first time when it has already spread from the breast tissue to other parts of the body. People with de novo mBC have stage 4, or advanced breast cancer. Although mBC can’t be cured, new treatment options are helping people live longer than ever.

It’s vital to remember that you’re not alone. Others with mBC can share support, encouragement, and tips for getting you through this challenging time.

The Challenges of Facing an mBC Diagnosis

A diagnosis of mBC can unleash an avalanche of hopes and fears, especially when it comes to family. It’s something that many moms who are members of MyBCTeam have talked about.

One member wrote about their breast cancer diagnosis: “I was told it has metastasized to my liver and lung — I started chemo on Monday. My bones hurt so much that the pain wakes me up. I am so afraid — all I want is to live a long long life to be with my son, as I am a single mother. Taking care of him and myself is getting tough, but I’m not going to quit.”

Another member shared, “I had a great weekend celebrating a friend’s wedding with my daughter. Couldn’t help tearing up, praying I will be there for my kid’s wedding. I’m stage 4 metastatic. Just taking one day at a time.”

Someone else said, “Today was good, I got a text from my granddaughter. We want to have dinner together for her birthday. I worry about her. She’ll be 23 this month, and breast cancer runs on both sides of her family.”

If you’re a mom or grandmother with a new mBC diagnosis, there are steps you can take to manage the range of feelings that may overwhelm you at times. Here are some tips on how to cope.

1. Let Your Feelings Out

Feelings have a way of welling up, and sometimes they may need to come out. Depression and anxiety are significantly higher in people with mBC, and for mothers with mBC who have children who are still dependent, the rates of depression and anxiety are even higher.

“I’ve been living with stage 4 cancer for six years now. I have a counselor that I speak to every month, and that helps.”
— A MyBCTeam member

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A mom’s instinct is to be the pillar of strength for her family, especially the kids. However, when faced with a diagnosis of mBC, it’s crucial to acknowledge that you might also need a space to let out your emotions. If you prefer privacy for this, consider finding a quiet place, whether it’s a soothing bath, taking a walk, or spending a moment alone in the car or any spot where you feel safe. Give yourself the freedom to express your feelings and, if necessary, shed some tears.

Taking care of your mental health is good for your overall health. Some people benefit from seeing a mental health counselor or psychotherapist to talk about what they are going through. “I’ve been living with stage 4 cancer for six years now,” said one MyBCTeam member. “Living with chronic pain reminds me of the cancer in my body every day. I have a counselor that I speak to every month, and that helps.” Your health care team can provide referrals for mental health counseling.

Although a diagnosis of mBC can be devastating initially, you will likely adjust to it over time. “This diagnosis just feels like a chronic disease to me now, and I am totally able to enjoy my life,” a team member said.

2. Talk to Your Family About Your Diagnosis

Struggling with how to talk to family members about an mBC diagnosis is common, especially when it comes to addressing children.

One member of MyBCTeam shared, “I called my girlfriend who had gone through breast cancer three years earlier. Then I told my husband, mother, father, and sister. My girlfriend was a great role model. Everyone was very supportive, which made it a lot easier for me to go through that journey. Family and friends are a blessing at this time in your life.”

Taking a moment for yourself can be beneficial, and having someone to help express your thoughts can also make communication easier. “When I was first diagnosed, I knew I needed time to process before talking about it,” wrote one member.


“I called one of my sisters and asked her to be my communicator. That allowed me to have the quiet time I needed but also let my family know what I was facing. About a week later, I was OK talking about things.”
— A MyBCTeam member

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Your health care provider may have helpful advice for you about communicating with family about your mBC, but here are some tips.

Talking To a Partner About Your mBC

Telling a partner about an mBC diagnosis can be emotionally wrenching for both of you. You may need to set aside extra time to talk about things such as managing family responsibilities and everyday life, breast cancer treatment plans, and questions about intimacy and body image.

Regular conversations with a partner can help you feel more secure and supported with the challenges ahead. If your spouse is having a hard time either accepting your diagnosis or being supportive, you may benefit from seeing a therapist together to work out these issues.

Telling Your Children About Your Diagnosis

Some mothers may want to protect their children from their diagnosis. But by telling your children, you can build trust and prevent them from learning about your mBC in another way, even if they are very young. Talk to them in age-appropriate language that helps them understand that you are seeing doctors and getting help and medicine.

Explain that sometimes the effects of cancer treatment might make you feel unwell, causing changes in the usual routines based on your treatment schedule and how you’re feeling. Let your children know that you’ll always be there for them despite these adjustments.

With older or adult children, it may be helpful to share literature, a fact sheet, or websites that provide clear information about your condition rather than trying to explain everything yourself. Although discussing your mBC with children can be difficult, research shows that strong communication between parents and their children about an mBC diagnosis is beneficial for children and can help them manage their feelings.

3. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask for Help

Most mothers are used to being caregivers for their families and may have a hard time asking for help. Research in the journal Palliative Care showed that parents with advanced cancer frequently find parenting difficult and feel guilty about their parenting. By asking for help from others, you can save energy and spend more meaningful time with your family.


“Let others help when they offer!”
— A MyBCTeam member

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The more you can give people clear directions on how they can help, the better. Let loved ones and friends know when you need help around the house or with getting groceries, child care, getting to a medical appointment, or anything else. Often, those who care about you want to help and may say as much, but they also may not want to intrude or may not know what exactly they can do.

“Let others help when they offer!” one MyBCTeam member said.

Set Healthy Boundaries

Sometimes, friends or family members who care about your well-being think it’s helpful to share cancer information or stories they hear about cancer care. If this bothers you, set some healthy boundaries. Gently let them know that you trust your medical team of oncology specialists and you’d prefer not to receive this information. You can tell your loved ones you’d rather spend quality time together doing enjoyable activities together, or let them know how they can be helpful in other ways.

4. Take Time for Self-Care

Moms aren’t always good at taking time off from family responsibilities, but your quality of life is important. Now is the time to rest when you need to and do some of the things that give you pleasure or help you feel better.

A MyBCTeam member said, “My breast cancer is metastatic too. For me, it’s so important to stay active, live in the moment, and practice self-care and self-compassion.”

“I have metastatic breast cancer,” another member wrote, “I love to figure skate, even if I have to rest all day so I can go.”

Someone else with mBC wrote, “I also found yin yoga was great for my joints and for meditation.”

Whether it’s a day of rest, getting a massage, or engaging in an activity you enjoy, self-care can be a rejuvenating time you take for yourself, free of responsibilities. Self-care can also help you set priorities for taking care of yourself with a healthy diet, exercise, efforts to manage stress, and spending time with the people you care about most.

5. Consider Joining a Support Group

No one understands your experience with mBC better than those who are living with a similar diagnosis. An in-person or online breast cancer support group like MyBCTeam can provide emotional support and let you vent your feelings, answer questions, offer insight on living with mBC and medical care, and remind you that you’re not alone. Support groups and discussion boards are places where people often encourage each other to stay hopeful.

“I’ve learned to not stress about the things I have no control over and enjoy each day that I wake up. I’m not going to tell you the journey is going to be easy. When I feel as if I’m losing hope, I look toward my children and husband. They help give me the strength I need to continue fighting,” one MyBCTeam member said.

“I just wish with all my heart that you don’t give up. There are so many people living with metastatic cancers nowadays,” another member responded to someone who was feeling discouraged.

Someone else wrote, “It’s funny, but at times, my illness has been a blessing. It opened my eyes to what is truly important in my life. I spent so many years working long hours for a good salary and status. Neither are important to me now. God, my family, and good friends help me get through each day.”

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyBCTeam is the online social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. More than 68,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.

What’s helped you to cope with a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis? Do you have tips for other mothers living with mBC? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on February 14, 2024
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    Hailey Pash, APN-BC , a registered nurse and advanced practice nurse, holds a Master of Science in Nursing from the University of South Alabama. Learn more about her here.
    Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

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