Cancer. HIV. Diabetes. Heart Disease. Just a few of the
words no one wants to hear from their doctor. You may have had
nagging symptoms for months and come prepared for difficult news.
Or you may feel just fine, with no idea that your lab results or
physical examination may show worrisome results. Either way, being
on the receiving end of a serious medical diagnosis brings a myriad
of feelings and concerns.
- What does this mean?
- What treatment is recommended?
- Can I talk to others who have the same condition?
- How do I go on about my daily life?
- Will people treat me differently?
- Can I get through this?
First, what is a diagnosis? From the Greek “dia-“ for “by” and “gnosis” for
“knowledge,” diagnosis is a structured way that health care
professionals identify a condition or disease. Diagnoses can be
helpful for a number of reasons. One, a diagnosis can help you map
your treatment plan with your doctor and understand your symptoms
and prognosis. Two, it gives health professionals on your team a
shared language with which to communicate with one another and with
you about your condition. And three, if you have health care
coverage, it provides information needed for your treatment to be
covered by your insurer. A diagnosis can hit you like a confusing,
life-altering label. A client of mine expressed it this way:
“Yesterday, I was Julie. Now I am ‘Julie-with-breast-cancer.’ Who
is that?” A diagnosis may feel like something
you are, rather than something you have. The emotional effects of illness are
far-reaching, impacting the patient, their loved ones, their work,
and their ability to perform and enjoy activities. Whether you
suspected illness or not, nothing prepares you for hearing the
words from your physician. Additionally, each person is different,
and your physiology (along with other factors like lifestyle and
outlook) will have an impact on the course of your condition. There
will be some variance in what you can expect – in that regard, a
diagnosis is the beginning of the journey, not the end. We want
answers, long term, definitive answers, but they may not be easily
found. When receiving a diagnosis of serious illness, you may want
to learn as much as you can about the condition and how to manage
its effects. Google is often the first place we turn when seeking
information online. A search for “heart disease” brings up over 19
million links. The amount of information available is overwhelming. Where do you start? What can you
believe? In the resource list for this article, there are some
excellent ideas for online health. In order for your health care
provider to best support you, it is vital that you communicate your
symptoms, needs, habits, and concerns. Patients are also consumers.
We may visit a car dealer with a list of questions and needs, but
not our doctors. There is no time like the present to turn that
around, and be an active participant in your treatment plan. If you
do not feel well enough, enlist a trusted friend or family member
to help you write a list of questions and concerns to take with you
to your appointments Your emotional needs come into play in dealing
with an illness, and your family members may need support as well.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to others – whether a friend, support
groups, members of the clergy, or a trained therapist who
understands the emotional impact of illness. By taking care of your
body, mind, and soul, your journey through this process can feel
more bearable. Online Medical Resources
(adapted from Dr.
Jessie Gruman, Center for the Advancement of Health at:
The National Institutes of Health’s MedlinePlus
nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus Features a guide to
“healthy” Web surfing.
How to Prepare for your
Doctor’s Visit by Dr. Susan Wang
Information Therapy for Consumers
ixcenter.org Has general advice about finding
evidence-based medical information on the Internet.
The Medical Library Association
mlanet.org Offers advice on evaluating health
websites, and recommends the top-10 websites for cancer, diabetes,
and heart disease information.
The Prepared Patient Forum
Discussion of finding and utilizing good health care.
The National Cancer Institute
cancer.gov Features a fact sheet about
evaluating health information on the Internet, which offers tips
for determining whether a website is potentially biased,
unreliable, or out of date.
Health Compass healthcompass.com
A site from the American Federation for Aging Research and the Merck
Institute of Aging and Health that aims to help older health
consumers navigate the Internet for information.
©Copyright 2010 by Tammy Fletcher MA, IMF, CFT. All Rights Reserved.
Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org. This article was solely written
and edited by the authors named above. The views and opinions
expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions
or concerns about this article can be directed to the authors or
posted as a comment to this blog entry. Click
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