A little denial goes a long way in its role of self-protection. However, denial without reality or living with a fantasyland perspective will only keep you stuck and unable to move forward in your breast cancer experience. Denial comes with the initial shock of the breast cancer diagnosis. It is during this initial stage that you experience disbelief when you are given the information presented to you by your health care professional, information that cannot be completely absorbed or dealt with in a rational way because of its emotional impact.
When your doctor tells you that you have breast cancer, you think she has made a terrible mistake, that this is not happening to you. It is inconceivable to you that you have breast cancer and the shock of it all is too overwhelming. This is when a little denial can help get you through the initial shock. Denial is also a coping mechanism for family and friends. You will find that when you call to tell your loved ones that you have breast cancer, they initially don't believe you and you may find them asking the same questions over and over in disbelief, hoping that they misunderstood you.
When others question your breast cancer diagnosis, you may find yourself wondering if it is, in fact, true. After all, it shouldn't be happening to you; or to anyone else, for that matter. Perhaps it is a big mistake, and the doctor mixed up your pathology report with someone else's. You of course have heard of this happening in some situations, and mistakes can happen, you tell yourself. This is also denial.
Their denial is what this stage is all about. It is about shock, disbelief, and the feeling that having breast cancer is not something that was in your plans and therefore just can't be. There must be a very big mistake. Denial is essential in the initial grief cycle and helps us to cope with anticipated loss. It could be fear of the loss of your hair, breast, reproductive years, and, most importantly, the possibility of the loss of your life. Denial is a self-protection mechanism that helps you to decipher and process the information at hand, that you have breast cancer. Denial can happen not only at the initial diagnosis, but throughout your cancer journey. If your prognosis is grave, denial can help with the day-to-day coping with the reality of your situation and help cope with the end-of-life issues that are confronting you.