So You Have A Diagnosis. Now What?
You've seen it in movies and on TV a hundred times. A couple goes to see the Doctor after being called back following a routine appointment. They sit down and the sad music starts, the voices fade out, and you see a calm shock come over them as they absorb the news. It's a scene we all recognize - silence filled with sadness, confusion, and fear. Unfortunately, this is a reality for people all over the country, every day.
The days following a diagnosis can be some of the hardest of your life. It's completely normal to feel shock, denial and even the desire to isolate yourself. Most would agree that it's okay to sit in that feeling for a little while. Absorb the information at your own pace and seek the comfort and support you need in the way that feels right to you. After giving yourself a grace period though, there are some things you can do to take control of your situation.
Find a partner. No one should go through a serious illness alone. Find someone that you can speak with about treatment options, bring to appointments and talk to about how you're coping. That person may not be who you expect, it may even be multiple people. Be open to your support person being your best friend, your mom, your spouse or even an adult child. Everyone handles things like this differently so try not to expect everything from one person, and try not to be too hard on yourself if you are frustrated with them at some points. They may be learning as they go just like you are.
Get organized. Get a binder or folder together - whatever organizational system works best for you. You will need to keep track of a lot of paperwork moving forward. Make a list of all the phone numbers and email addresses for your doctors and the specialists they recommend as well any holistic options they may give you for pain relief, etc. Take notes during your appointments and collect whatever information your doctor gives you. Get copies of your test results, and keep them in your folder. Keep a few sheets of paper that you can add questions to for future appointments, a calendar and any dietary and pharmacy information that you need.
Get informed but don't over-google. Most of us have a strong instinct to immediately turn to Google when we have questions. That may not be your best option here. Look for online support groups, and trusted sites like the Mayo Clinic or The National Institute on Health, but don't go into a WebMD wormhole on every potential complication. You will just make yourself crazy. Trust your doctor and the information they give you - but that leads us to our next tip.
Consider a second opinion. Don't feel guilty if you want a second opinion. It can be easy to feel like that means you don't trust your doctor, but a different doctor may offer you different treatment options, and knowing what your options are can allow you to feel more confident in the treatment plan you choose. Some insurance companies even require a second opinion in cases of a Cancer diagnosis.
Practice self-care. This may seem frivolous but you will need time to yourself to do things that make you feel normal. Go for a walk, go to the gym (check with your doctor about this one), watch trash tv with your dog, hang out with your friends. Whatever makes you feel like you are still just you.
Seek counseling. For some reason our mental health is considered separate from our physical health, but they could not be more linked. Dealing with a diagnosis and a serious illness is a major life change that you presumably have never experienced before. Seeking a counselor can provide you with comfort, and someone to talk to openly about your feelings. Look for a provider that deals specifically with medical and health issues. Here in Denver we can recommend Dr. Thompson of Trailhead Behavioral Medicine.
Ultimately, everyone is different and so is every medical situation. Your treatment plan may look vastly different that someone else that has a similar diagnosis. Try your best to trust in the process and focus on healing and your mental health. Do you have any tips to share with others in the community? We would love for you to share below in the comments.