Health Advocate Blog

How to cope with a serious diagnosis

Receiving a serious diagnosis can trigger a range of intense emotions from utter disbelief or anger to sheer terror. And, when your mind is flooded with shocking news, it’s difficult to fully absorb and comprehend the initial conversation with your doctor about the disease and treatment options. Feeling numb is normal. But whatever your reaction, it’s important to know ways to cope with this personal crisis and the actions that can help you move forward.  Here are some suggestions:

Be patient with yourself.  A serious diagnosis represents a dramatic life change. Give yourself time to let your thinking clear and for the information to sink in, so you can truly understand what’s happening.  Consider putting off immediate actions or doing anything that overwhelms you. Right now, just stick to only the basic routines, including making your doctor appointments. Above all, know that the initial, intense shock and numbness can—and usually does–lessen.

Seek information, taking care not to overwhelm yourself. By all means, talk to your healthcare team, search reliable sources on the internet, and read books to learn more about your disease and understand your diagnosis.  Take notes, formulate questions to ask your doctor, and schedule a follow-up meeting. Just don’t flood yourself with too much information all at once.

Realize that it may take time to find answers. The right course of treatment may only become clear after further testing, for example.  You may want to have a second opinion to confirm a diagnosis or a treatment options.  Remember, not all treatments are one-size-fits-all. Be sure to find out about clinical trials as part of your information gathering.

Get organized about the practicalities.  Keep a file of your medical records, tests, procedures, statements and bills, as well as correspondence with insurance companies and health care providers. Talk to your health plan about insurance coverage for treatments, including finding out about the  estimated out-of-pocket costs.

Prepare yourself for pre-, post-, and during treatments and procedures. This may include arranging for travel to and from treatments and for in-home care post-treatment, and for making your home physically accommodating to your care needs.

Make other practical arrangements. Depending on your situation, you may want to talk to your employer to discuss leave options and to get your legal issues in order by creating a will or living will.

Remember to ask for support from a variety of sources. Serious illnesses affect people physically, mentally, and emotionally. Asking for support from a variety of sources–from family and friends to mental health counselors to support groups–can help reduce your fear and anxiety as well as play a role in your successful recovery or management of your condition.

Reach out for hands-on help. Help can come in many forms such as 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.

Be open to positivity. No matter what your diagnosis, focus on the quality of your life and the possibilities that remain.