“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing else we can do.” No patient needs to hear that. No doctor would like to say that to you. And for good reason: this is not the case.
It is true that healing is no longer a choice in the course of many illnesses.
No prospect of a sure cure, however, does not mean any possibility. It definitely doesn’t mean there’s nothing else to do about it.
Diagnosis of cancer, heart failure, or other serious illness may be devastating. Yet there are ways to deal with emotional pain and maintain the quality of your life.
Mental effects of illness or injury
A serious health problem can affect all aspects of your life, whether it is a chronic or life-threatening illness such as cancer, or a major health incident such as a stroke, heart attack, or crippling injury.
Most serious health problems tend to arise unpredictably, disrupting your life out of the blue. You who feel overcome by waves of challenging emotions from fear and anxiety to intense grief, depression and grief or just numb, paralyzed by shock, or feeling you’re never going to be able to cope with. Emotional stress can make it hard to focus or think straight and can lead to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. But whatever your emotional diagnosis or reaction is, it’s important to know that you’re not powerless. You should take steps to help cope with your current situation, to relieve the pain and mental anguish that often surrounds serious illness, and to find a way to manage this difficult new path.
Confronted with a serious diagnosis
When you know that you have a life-threatening illness, it all changes. You may have been crying, finding the warmth of your loved ones, or doing your best to distract yourself or to pretend that nothing has changed. Or maybe you just stopped, unable to understand how all of a sudden your life had changed through recognition. Or maybe you’ve already jumped into action and started to tackle him. Keep in mind that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to respond. We’re all different, so don’t tell yourself what you’re supposed to think, feel, or do after you’ve been diagnosed or experienced a serious health incident. Give yourself time to digest the news while you’re adapting to your new situation and being kind to yourself.
Let yourself feel like you are. At the moment it may seem easier to stop feeling your feelings, but whether you pay attention to them or not, they do exist. Trying to ignore your feelings will only increase stress and perhaps even delay recovery. But if you allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling, you’ll find that even extreme, upsetting feelings will pass away, the initial pain you’ve felt in the news of your diagnosis will begin to ease, and some aspects of life will even return to normal.
Be patient with the speed of healing and recovery. This will take time and a number of tests and consultations before the medical team decides on a proper course of care following an initial diagnosis or recovery from a major medical incident. It’s easy to get frustrated as you wait for a better picture of what your recovery journey would entail. But browsing the internet and depending on what details can always be misleading or embarrassing, can only make you feel worse. When faced with many unknowns, you can still take care of yourself by eating a balanced diet, exercising, sleeping well, and pursuing certain relationships and activities that will make you happy.
Tips on Coping with a serious illness
- Gather and reach out for support. When you face the burden of a serious medical condition, social support can have a huge impact on your mental health. As well as offering practical assistance, such as driving you to medical appointments or helping you with household tasks, it is important that people rely on your emotional well-being. Staying connected and enjoying social interactions will make a difference in your attitude and mind as you seek treatment.
- Explore and learn how to face your emotions. It’s easy to get scared of your emotions when faced with a serious or life-threatening health condition. Like other patients, you might think that the safest outcome of your illness is to bottle up your feelings, put on a brave face, or force yourself to be optimistic and happy. And being frank about any negative feelings you feel will in no way hinder your recovery. It could have the opposite effect, too.
- Manage your stress. Stress can lead to or exacerbate many different health problems, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disorders, chronic pain, post-operative and wound healing, and some side effects of cancer treatment. However, putting stress reduction strategies into practice will help you deal with these health problems.
- Pursue activities which bring sense and joy to you. No matter what medical condition you face, you don’t need to define who you are as a human being. By continuing to pursue those activities that bring value, intent and happiness to your life, you will reaffirm that it is these things that define you as a person, not your illness or disability, or a persistent concern for your health.
- Tackle Fears and Depression. It is natural to feel bad for your health when you have a serious illness, and to grieve for the hopes and dreams you may have missed as a result of your medical condition. It’s also normal to think about, for example, what the future might bring or be apprehensive about other treatments. But if such feelings persist and begin to interfere with your everyday life, you may experience depression or anxiety. Although mood disorders such as anxiety and depression are normal among seriously ill patients, they may build a vicious cycle. Your illness causes anxiety or depression and then erodes your overall health, which in turn has a detrimental impact on your illness care. This makes your mood disorder worse, and so on.
How to support someone deal with a serious illness
It’s never easy for someone you love to get sick, get into an accident, or get a frightening health diagnosis. Perhaps it’s the toughest thing you’ll ever face. Unfortunately, in practice, we must all struggle with this kind of circumstance, too, is inevitable.
Your loved one usually have some intense feelings, and that may make even those closest to you feel unsure how best you can give your help. These tips might help:
- Offer your support and be there for them
- Listen and understand their situation
- Educate yourself about the illness but don’t give advice unless you’re asked
- Keep connected.
Note, they are the same person they were before they were diagnosed. Don’t worry about doing the wrong thing, they appreciate your efforts. Be more diligent about reaching out, they won’t hesitate to “butter” someone to keep in touch with them on a regular basis, so that they know that everyone really thinks about them. Make your support offerings more comprehensive and accurate, so that it is easier for them to embrace. Simply send a card, email or text can mean so much. Sometimes, no words are needed, a hug or a hand hold can be just as reassuring.