Health Advocate Blog

Difficult diagnosis? Here’s how to cope

The initial reaction is different for everyone.  For some people, their first reaction is disbelief.  For others, it’s tears.  Some people may ask seemingly a million questions–among them, “Why me?”–while others are shocked into silence by that feeling of their heart dropping to the pit of their stomach.  But regardless of the reaction to learning of a difficult diagnosis, and regardless of the specific diagnosis, the best coping practices, as detailed below, tend to remain the same.

First things first:

  • Don’t panic.  You’ll need to think clearly, and panic could cloud your brain.
  • Be optimistic.  Studies have shown that your state of mind can make all the difference.  There really is something to the power of positive thinking…

Talk to relevant health professionals.

  • Make sure you understand your diagnosis.  Ask your doctor questions, and take notes.  If you find that you have more questions later on, call or set up a follow-up appointment with your doctor.
  • Get a second opinion.  It’s never a bad idea to have a second health provider confirm a diagnosis and talk to you about treatment options.
  • Understand the types of tests and treatments you’ll need.  Understand what they are, where and when they can take place, and how you can prepare for them mentally and physically.  Understand the reputation of the facility responsible for treating you.
  • One size treatment doesn’t fit all.  Discuss the latest treatment options with your doctor and/or your personal health advocate.  Also consider clinical trials.
  • Understand your insurance coverage.  What are its limitations and restrictions?  In terms of your treatment, what will it cover and not cover?  What are the estimated out-of-pocket costs associated with your treatment?  Talk to your insurance company about these things, or enlist the help of a personal health advocate who can ask these questions and get answers on your behalf.  If you don’t have insurance, click here and here to learn about some free and low-cost ways to get the help and treatment you need.

Get organized.

  • Gather your health records.  Keep and file copies of all paperwork, including test results, medical bills, explanations of benefits, correspondence from insurance companies and health care providers, etc.
  • Closely review your bills.  Errors happen.  Go over each bill to make sure you’re being billed correctly and that all services and treatments listed on the bill are things you’ve had done.  If you notice discrepancies or have questions, don’t be afraid to call your insurance company or seek out a personal health advocate to help.
  • Create a digital personal health record.
  • Talk to your employer to discuss leave options.
  • Get your legal issues in order.  Create a living will and/or will if you haven’t already done so.

Prepare yourself for pre-treatment, post-treatment, and during-treatment needs and procedures.

  • Think through the logistics of your care.  Consider what your travel options will be if you’ll need to travel often for treatment.  Will you need in-home care, and will the physical condition of your home accommodate your needs?
  • Consider your transition from the hospital.  If you have inpatient treatment, what will you need to do in order to transition from the hospital to your home upon your release?
  • Understand your medications.  What medications will you need?  How often will you take them, and do you need assistance taking them?  What are the medications’ side effects, and how can you minimize them?  What do the medications cost?

Get support.

You don’t have to go through this experience alone.

  • Involve your family and friends.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Remember that help can come in many forms–accompanying you to appointments, cooking or bringing you dinner, helping to clean your house or wash your laundry, or engaging you in activities to keep your spirits up.  A movie night in or a board game night are two of many low-key, inexpensive, and fun ways to be social even when you’re house-bound or not feeling your best.
  • Look for support online.  There are many websites and forums available for you to connect with other people who are in (or have recovered from) situations similar to yours.  Striking up friendships with some of these people can not only help you feel happier and reduce feelings of isolation, but can also provide you with some valuable tips and insights into your condition and treatments.