Dealing with a Terminal Diagnosis
Being diagnosed with a terminal illness is a challenging event, but it can also bring about unexpected closeness as you and your family move through the stages of denial, grief and acceptance.
Researchers who study the attitudes of people with a terminal diagnosis agree that roughly 20% of people display the emotional resilience to arrive at an early acceptance of their situation and are thus able to enjoy the rest of their life with their loved ones. Unfortunately, that leaves 80% of diagnosed patients, who struggle with the knowledge and often end their lives in denial and grief. The following advice may be able to help you and your family to go through this difficult period and enjoy what time you have left.
Everything Is Normal
This may seem like a strange idea, but the basic message here is that no matter how you and the people close to you react to the bad news, it is normal. Some people will withdraw; others will feel the need to cling closely to you; still others will offer you whatever support they can and may even be overzealous. Don’t worry about it. You and the people who love you are responding in normal ways to what is an abnormal, stressful situation. Allow your emotions, as well as those of your friends and family, to be expressed. Most likely, those emotions will change over time as you and your loved ones process the news and grapple with its reality. If you or anyone you know needs a counsellor or professional help, make sure that you or they get it. Most life insurance or health insurance policies can help to cover these services.
Having said that, it is also important to set healthy boundaries, both for you and for those around you. A serious illness is a ripe situation for co-dependencies to form and that is not healthy for anyone, least of all for the person with the terminal diagnosis.
Communicate Openly and Honestly
Now is not the time to isolate yourself from your family and community, though you may initially feel like doing so. A period of isolation may be necessary for you to process some of your emotions, but don’t let go too long, as that may cause you to spiral into depression. Once you feel ready, go ahead and talk with your family and friends about your illness, feelings, thoughts or anything that you need to express. They will appreciate your frankness as they may have been feeling too awkward to broach the subject with you. By keeping the channels of communication open, you will feel less alone, more hopeful and more able to truly enjoy the life that you do have.
Always get a second or third opinion about your diagnosis. It may be that another doctor discovers something that changes the diagnosis or offers a better prognosis for treatment. Keep your mind and your options open. Modern medicine has worked many miracles but it has limits, both in its capabilities and in its understanding. This is not to say that you should be in denial or cling to false hope, but stay positive in your attitude and be proactive in matters of your health. The most important thing is not to give up on life, no matter how you choose to approach it.