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The 5 Stages: Coping With A New Diagnosis

Diagnoses can come in many forms and take on various weights. For example, a diagnosis for the common cold may be a little annoying and require some changes for a brief amount of time, like getting extra rest and drinking more fluids to stay hydrated.

But what about the diagnoses that change our lives forever? Receiving the diagnosis of advanced breast cancer (ABC) can feel frustrating, ominous, and often times confusing. It can be one of the most overwhelming experiences and lead to a roller-coaster of emotions.

It is often said that the 5 stages of grief that are typically associated with death or loss are quite applicable to beginning your journey after this diagnosis. Understanding these stages can help to manage the various feelings one experiences with the new life-changing diagnosis.

Coping with a new advanced breast cancer diagnosis

You have probably heard of the 5 stages of grief before. They include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is helpful to remember that not everyone who has been diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer will experience all stages, some may not experience any of the stages, and some may experience them in different orders. Let us look at some of the features of each of the stages.


In the first stage of grief, you may find yourself rejecting the diagnosis you received. You may seek out additional opinions from other doctors with the hope that the diagnosis is incorrect. You may research the disease and refute the diagnosis. Or, you may not share the news with those who are close to you in hopes that the news might not be correct. You may find yourself saying things like, "That doesn't sound right" or "There must be another explanation."


Maybe you skipped the denial part and instead first experienced anger. A diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer may lead you to feel like you want to yell or scream or punch a pillow. You may feel resentment toward others who do not have your diagnosis, and people may not understand what it is like to experience a day in your shoes. You may say things like, "This isn't fair!" You may feel annoyed or mad at your family members, your job or coworkers, or even the stranger in front of you at the grocery store. In this stage, you may even feel anger toward yourself.


The third stage of grief is known as bargaining. The bargaining stage is about trying to regain some of the control you may feel you lost when receiving the diagnosis. Some people may negotiate with a higher power to help wrangle the thoughts they are having. You may say things like, "If you make this go away I promise to…" We may often bargain, wondering if we had done something differently or if we promise to change certain ways if the situation will change or even disappear.


This stage is about grieving the loss of yourself or your former self. You may also feel sad that you may not be able to do things you once did. Feeling depressed with the news can sometimes overtake you. During this stage, it may be helpful to seek out support from others. Seek support from close friends, family, or a licensed professional, since this stage can be easy to fall into and hard to get out of.


Arriving at the stage of acceptance may take some time. There comes a point when you will "make peace" with the diagnosis and realize that it does not define who you are. In this stage, you have a much better understanding of the diagnosis, you learn methods of coping with it, and how life will be moving forward.

No matter if you experience 1 stage or all 5 stages, remember that feeling these feelings can be normal as you process how the diagnosis will affect your day-to-day and long-term goals. There is no set time limit that people experience in each stage. Embrace the stages of grief and learn how to use them to help you guide the physical, emotional, and mental experience of managing a metastatic diagnosis. Remember that you are NOT alone. Never be afraid to ask for help here in our community, and know that there are always people that are listening and are here for you!

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Did you experience the 5 stages of grief upon being diagnosed with advanced breast cancer? Share your story with the community on how you handled your diagnosis and what advice you might give to someone beginning on this new path.

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