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Coping with a Life-Changing Diagnosis


When you’re faced with a life-altering injury or diagnosis, treatment and recovery can be long and exhausting. It can take an emotional toll on you and your loved ones, too.  But there are ways to make it easier. 

Getting the Diagnosis 

When the life you planned has irrevocably changed, it is common to struggle with stages of grief similar to those experienced when a loved one has died. 

While not everyone will go through these emotions, and they don’t always happen in the same order, recognizing these emotions as normal responses can ease your anxiety and help you move forward. The stages of grief include: 

●       Denial. For many, the initial response to hearing their diagnosis is denial or skepticism. While this can lead to healthy reactions such as seeking out more information, it can also slow you from receiving timely care.

●       Anger. Frustration, fear and feeling overwhelmed can all manifest as anger or blame.

●       Bargaining. You might find yourself leaning on emotional negotiations in effort to avoid or extend the prognosis.

●       Depression. This is the part of the grieving process where many get stuck. The realization that their life has been permanently altered leads to feelings of sadness, hopelessness and despair.

●       Acceptance. At this stage, one comes to terms with their revised future. New paths are formed, new goals set and new self-identities created. 

Strong Support Teams Are Essential 

To help you navigate the various procedures and your recovery, it’s important to create your own support teams, including: 

Medical. In most cases your treatment will include a multidisciplinary group of medical experts. These might include, in addition to your primary care physician: 

●       Specialists

●       Surgeons

●       Physical therapists

●       Occupational therapists

●       Speech therapists

●       Dietitians

●       Patient navigators 

Be sure to ask questions and educate yourself regarding your prognosis. Communication is not only crucial for recovery but helps to reestablish feelings of control. 

Social. It is easy to become isolated because of the time and energy required to focus on your medical journey. Remember that your family and friends can help. From providing meals or transportation to helping advocate for your care, don’t be afraid to ask for — and accept — help. 

Mental. Establishing a “new normal” comes with a lot of emotional shifts. Counseling and community support groups can help alleviate the stress of uncertainty and manage your responses. 

Ask your primary care physician or specialists for referrals to mental health counseling services that focus on medical trauma and the emotions that surround it. Regular counseling can help you process the emotions you’re feeling. Other sources of psychological support can include: 

●       In-person support groups

●       Social media groups and message boards

●       Exercise or meditation groups and classes 

Find Your Joy 

As you process your diagnosis and the changes it will bring, try to focus on finding meaning and joy in your life. Some ways to do this include: 

●       Picking up a new hobby or rekindling passion for an old hobby

●       Learning new things regularly

●       Getting involved in your community

●       Spending time outdoors or in nature.

●       Enjoying the arts, like a museum, concert or theater.

●       Writing your experience down in a journal. 

While it may not be the path you’d envisioned, a life-changing diagnosis doesn’t mean you cannot continue to lead a happy, fulfilling life. With time, support and a positive outlook, you might even discover this surprising new direction is a better one.


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