Why Resilience is Important for Young Breast Cancer Survivors

It is often challenging for survivors and co-survivors to remain resilient after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. It might seem impossible at times, however, practicing resilience throughout your diagnosis and treatment can be one of the best things you and your loved ones can do.

Recently, we had a conversation with YSC’s Associate Director of survivorship programs, Jean Rowe, a clinical social worker, a certified oncology social worker and a certified journal therapist on the important of practicing resilience after a breast cancer diagnosis. (You can watch the full discussion here). Jean helped us define resilience while additionally providing us with information and tools on practicing resilience, loving yourself and finding opportunities for self-discovery.

What is Resilience?

Jean describes resilience as being “elastic, not rigid” while adding that, in order to achieve resilience, one must “cultivate a sense of flexibility from inside yourself”. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes resilience as “a process of adapting”. It is possessing the ability to “bounce back” from unexpected news or outcomes as well as adjusting to changes in roles and schedules.

Co-Survivors experience the role, possibly, of taking on responsibilities for things they have not had in the past. Realizing that it is what is needed and “tuck and roll” with it is where a sense of resilience can live. Oh, that’s what’s needed. No problem. Knowing that it may need to change and not gripping tightly to the schedule, the routine, to what was. Cultivating a sense of yes, things are different now and (not but) this is what is needed for now.

Resilience is often equated with toughness, however resilience does not mean soldiering on through and conquering everything alone without asking for help. As a society, we often praise stoicism but there are a lot of people around you who want to help – let them.

Practicing vs. Obtaining Resilience

All of us have resilience inside of us, and it is important to remember that resilience is something to “practice” instead of viewing it as a possessive trait. Similar to meditation, the “practice” of resilience isn’t about “doing it right” all the time – it’s about working on it, and understanding that there’s no such thing as doing it right or wrong – there’s just trying.

If you are struggling with resilience and wondering if it is too late to start thinking about it, Jean reminds us that we “already have resilience- you just haven’t tapped into it yet.” Remember that resilience is not linear and that is it important to cultivate a sense of gentleness with yourself while practicing resilience, and that practicing something that takes time. It might not necessarily become familiar or automatic behavior right away, but the more behaviors you try, the easier it will become. The APA features a great list on ways to build resilience here.

Acknowledge Your Accomplishments

“Making a list of what you are doing, what has been accomplished can be really impactful,” said Rowe. “Change is a constant part of life,” Jean reminds us, adding “the little measure of self-validation in the moment is powerful, even if you have to do it over and over again until the next thing comes along.” It is important to continue to remind yourself of all victories- no matter how trivial they might seem. Feel proud of yourself for practicing proper self-care- whether it’s resting after a hard session of chemo or drinking an adequate amount of water; it is important to acknowledge all of your accomplishments during your journey.

Remember that there is no “rule book” out there, and that everyone’s experience is different. Don’t compare your journey to someone else’s, rather continue to practice positive, individual affirmations in order to maintain self-compassion.

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