Ugh! A Diagnosis. Now, What?

About six years ago, my dad was diagnosed with bladder cancer. We knew something was wrong prior to the diagnosis. He and my mom returned home early from a vacation because of blood in my dad’s urine. My dad loves to travel and loves to vacation. But, he was desperate to get home. That’s when we knew he knew something was really wrong.

My dad had tests. Then he had an appointment to learn the results of the test. I went with my folks to the appointment to hear the news. I took notes and asked questions. I just let my parents hear the news.

When we arrived home, my mom made the calls to my siblings. I’ll always remember how she pulled up the stool to the phone, pulled out the phone book and dialed. I offered to make the calls, but she said she was okay.

It’s not a holiday, Diagnosis Day, but it’s a day that’s so momentous for all the wrong reasons that it becomes etched in our memories. The world looks the same but a diagnosis changes how the world feels. It all feels so strange.

I’ve been thinking about what to do after you hear a diagnosis. My suggestions follow; please share yours in our comments section below.

1. Believe the diagnosis gives you time. You have time to research, plan, communicate. You have time to get a second opinion; you have time to research the disease, its progression and treatment options. You have time to talk with your caree, other family members and friends. You have time to make the most of the time you have.

2. Know denial about the diagnosis will steal your time. You may be tempted to disbelieve a diagnosis, to hide it. Denial, not the diagnosis, is the true enemy. In denial, you deny yourself the chance to learn, prepare, plan and understand. The progression of a disease will arrive on time; denial will make you late for its arrival. Playing catch-up after its arrival will waste precious time. And, before you know it, there won’t be enough time. Don’t let denial take your time.

3. Consider how well you and your caree respect and like your caree’s health care professionals. The right physician and care team can make a huge difference. If you feel disconnect during the discussion about the diagnosis, consider getting another opinion and finding another physician.

4. Talk about the diagnosis with your caree (if appropriate). Then, let your caree talk about the diagnosis with his or her own support system. Do the same for yourself; call a friend or a family member to talk about how it feels. And, talking about it with someone will help keep you from denial.

5. When you talk about the diagnosis with your caree, talk about your priorities. What’s a priority for your caree? The most aggressive treatment? The best quality of life? Time with family? Time traveling? How do these priorities align with yours? How can you make the priorities a reality?

6. Let the news sink in. You’ve had a shock, no matter how expected the diagnosis. The news is shocking. You will feel different. Allow yourself to get used to your new skin, so to speak.

7. Start a journal to document how you feel and what this feels like. Even if you think you won’t like journaling, you will like going to a place (your journal) where you get to let it all out. When it comes out, it somehow sorts itself out.

8. Contact organizations, like disease-specific agencies, that can provide information. Gather information and look for online communities that can provide help and support.

9. Take deep breaths. Sounds so simple but when news takes the wind out of you, breathing seems to be the last thing we remember to do. Take deep breaths.

10. Get out of the house. Take a walk, pick up take-out for dinner, stop at a friend’s, go to the library. A change of scenery and the motion it takes to get there will help.

Now it’s your turn. What are your suggestions on what to do after you hear a diagnosis?


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