Easing the journey for a newly-diagnosed breast cancer patient

By Tami Moscatiello, RN, BSN, OCN
Clinical Educator Supervisor

The initial diagnosis of breast cancer can be the most difficult part of a patient's journey. It may be both shocking and overwhelming, full of uncertainty and feelings of vulnerability. As an oncology nurse specializing in breast cancer, I have witnessed the struggles patients endure and offer these suggestions for healthcare professionals working with people newly diagnosed with breast cancer.

  1. First, listen to the person's concerns without giving advice. Truly listen.
  2. Understand this new diagnosis is a shock to them and their families with many scary unknowns. Realize that these are women who feel out of control — they are grieving. I have found there are often three types of patients:
    • Those who want to listen to their physician, take on the treatment advised and are ready to fight.
    • Those who scan the internet and weigh every option and go for another opinion to get a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan. They want to be sure this is actually their reality.
    • Those who want to climb into bed, bury themselves under the covers and not deal with anything until they are ready.
      Understanding the type of individual you are communicating with helps to tailor your approach.
  3. Don't foist breast cancer information upon patients — remember that "Jane Smith" is a person not just a "Breast Cancer Patient." Get to know the person behind the diagnosis and they are more likely to trust you and want to learn more about their condition. They will also be more open to the education they receive.
  4. Understand that stress causes us not to hear everything that is communicated, so encourage patients to ask for help and have a supportive person with them during appointments and educational sessions.
  5. Offer substantive resources and education — tailored to them. This helps patients to feel prepared and in control, which will help to alleviate stress.

Especially during this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, thank you for helping patients through this difficult journey from diagnosis to empowerment. The journey is complex, and Clinical Nurse Educators play a critical role.