The First Days
The first days and weeks after learning that you have breast cancer are the worst. There are very few promises about this whole experience, but this is one of them: It will get better. Once you have all the information and a treatment plan, and, especially, after treatment begins, the overwhelming feelings and sense of crisis will slowly diminish. This is not to say that it will be easy, but it will definitely be easier than it is now--when all you have are worries and fears. The facts and a plan give you some control, and a routine will evolve.
No matter what treatments are prescribed and no matter what the daily details will be, you will feel better emotionally than you do right now. The not knowing is always worse than the reality. How do you get through these first hours and days? It may be useful to break the day into smaller, more manageable chunks. Instead of thinking: "I just have to get through today", think: "I just have to get through this hour." And then the next one, and then the next one. You will.
There are a few things that will help. Most importantly, talk with another woman who has gone through breast cancer. Unfortunately, there are millions of us, and if you don't immediately think of someone, ask a few friends. Any woman who has had breast cancer will do anything to make this a bit easier for you. One of the real silver linings of this experience is connecting with the community of breast cancer survivors. Any one of us will take a 3:00 AM phone call from you. We all remember the panic of the first days and know that the most comfort came from each other. Just hearing the voice of someone who truly "gets it" and is again healthy and well will help enormously.
This is a moment when the usual rules about responsible living do not fully apply. Your only job is to get through. Remember the Woody Allen remark that "99% of life is just showing up." That's all you need to do right now. Show up where you are supposed to be and keep breathing. Immediately stop doing anything that is not completely necessary. No need to iron, vacuum (exceptions for those women who are soothed by these tasks), or write thank you notes. You need only to feed yourself and your children (and that can be really simple, too), get to work if relevant, lean on the people who love you. Let them take care of you. Most of us are great at taking care of other people and much less good about accepting help. This is a time to learn to say: "Yes, thank you" when people offer to do just about anything for you.
Remember the concept of "paying forward". You may not return the favor directly to someone who has helped you, but, in life, it tends to work out. You have done plenty for other people and you will again. Right now, it is your turn to take and to put yourself and your own needs first.
And remember that it WILL get better. I promise.