Coping with a Medical Diagnosis
Posted on 19th February 2020 at 20:42
Coping with a medical diagnosis is a journey and a critical element is time. For some, a diagnosis comes after a long period of many investigations such that if something is ‘found’, even if very serious, the initial reaction is relief. “There really is a reason for my pain and I am not imagining it” or “It has a name, something has been found and I am not mad!” The relief can be short lived and quickly replaced by shock, fear and confusion. For others, a diagnosis comes after a routine check up or screen with no heads up, no warning. In either case, you are bombarded with medical jargon, treatment options and prognoses. Yet no one can say for sure, as everyone is different. Statistics and risks are applied.
It takes time to come to terms with a diagnosis and for many this period of adjustment gets delayed if the time from diagnosis to treatment is very quick – chemotherapy or radiotherapy may proceed very quickly after the diagnosis of a cancer. A cardiac event is often sudden and dealt with urgently. It is not uncommon for medical treatment to be completed and the patient told to come back to clinic weeks or months later before the full impact can hit. At this point everyone that has been looking after you medically has disappeared and you are left thinking “eh, what just happened there?” A sense of abandonment and panic can set in at a time when you are experiencing loss, accompanying a diagnosis that has taken you away from what your experience of a normal life is. You have had to take leave from work and are not able to partake in the social and recreational activities that you used to. Prolonged leave may bring financial concerns. There is a general loss of place. You begin to feel isolated, left in limbo with no safe place to offload your fears and concerns. Your needs are not being met. You may feel you need to protect the family from the reality, the implications, the prospects and end up minding them at a time when you need to be minded. Family in the meantime take their cue from you and may conclude you are okay or better than you really are. There may be a lack of information from the medical profession, no promise you can hang on to and a whole host of unknowns. You may be given risks and statistics the meaning of which relies on your perception of those. Some will focus on the 80% of a particular occurrence, others will focus on the residual 20% chance that it won’t happen.
At some stage comes the anger, the ‘why me’? This is a very important stage of exploration and healing. All of this at a time when there may be pressure to ‘get back to normal.’ As some patients have been told, “Go home, enjoy your life and be grateful. You are very lucky.” Right. Except that that individual is not at that stage yet. They are way back there, still struggling to come to terms, still wondering what happened and how.
At some stage, returning to work might be on the cards. If someone has been away from the workplace for some time, this can be quite daunting. Despite being seriously ill, you feel guilty that colleagues have had to cover, forgetting that you have also done this for others when they were out. There may be a new dynamic and you may be treated differently for a while, as both you and your colleagues readjust. Support is available in some, larger, workplaces through the Occupational Health departments and Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).
Life after a serious medical diagnosis brings a new reality, a new normal but one with potential. The motto ‘survive and thrive’ means it’s not just about surviving but surviving well. We are here to help and support you through this very challenging time.
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