How To Cope with a Scary Diagnosis

It's everyone's worst nightmare and it's happening to you. If you have just received a scary medical diagnosis, you are undoubtedly still reeling. Here are a few tips to help you cope with a scary medical diagnosis:

  1. The first few days. The first few days after receiving your diagnosis will be the worst. You may experience extreme mood swings ranging from anger to sadness and despair. Everything is uncertain and you are responding accordingly. Cut yourself some slack. You are not going crazy; you are simply reacting appropriately to the incredible stress of your diagnosis. You should stay home from work and cancel any social activities until you at least have a chance to catch your breath.
  2. Take care of yourself. It will be important that you continue to care for yourself well. This means eating regularly, exercising (if that is a part of your usual routine), bathing and otherwise continuing to participate in the activities that are a part of your everyday routine.
  3. Family and friends. The choice of whether or not you want to be surrounded by family and friends or whether you would prefer to be alone is entirely up to you. You will quickly be able to tell which friends are able to support you and which leave you feeling worse off. It is not your responsibility to try and make your friends and family feel better about your diagnosis; it is their job to support you.
  4. Letting others know. There will be people that you may want to let know about your diagnosis but who you would prefer not to talk to in person right now. Consider sending out an e-mail or having friends and family make phone calls for you. You do not have to speak to anyone else about your diagnosis until you feel ready to do so.
  5. Learning more. Hopefully you were able to get a good head start on understanding your condition and treatment at the doctor's office. First on your list of things to do will be to learn more. Find out if there are support groups in your area for the diagnosis that you face. Chances are that you have already made a follow-up appointment with the doctor who gave you the diagnosis, but if not, make a follow-up appointment now.
  6. The Internet. Though many turn immediately to the Internet for more information, the Internet is a bit of a mixed bag both in terms of the accuracy of the medical information that you'll find there and the drama factor. Everyone who has a sob story likes to tell it on the Internet, and chances are that you need motivation and inspiration right now, not more drama. On the other hand, the Internet can help you to track down resources quickly.
  7. Next steps. The next steps will be to learn what needs to happen next. It is best to have a medical advocate--a friend or family member who can go with you to the doctor's office, take notes, and share impressions with you afterward, since in your state of shock, much of the information is likely to go in one ear and out the other. You will want to get information on:
    • Likely progression of your disease
    • Treatment options
    • Appropriate referrals to specialists
    • Tests and procedures that you should schedule
    • Possible side effects of procedures and/or medications
  8. Long-term coping strategies. You'll need to begin meditation, yoga, exercise or whatever other activity can remove you even briefly from thinking only of your diagnosis. Otherwise, the incessant stress of coping with a challenging illness will wear you down. Learn how to meditate and relieve stress here.

Once you get your feet back on the ground, you will begin to tackle the challenge of your diagnosis and illness as you have the other major challenges of your life, one small step at a time, with dignity, hope and courage. Find the people (including doctors) who support these qualities in you: You deserve to be supported during this difficult time.


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