Scary Diagnosis: Now What?

5 ways to navigate a health scare

By Amy B. Scher

A frightening diagnosis. A chronic illness. Tests. What-ifs.

Your doctor is staring at you telling you your life may never be the same. But the only thing you can focus on is getting out of that skimpy gown and out of the office. Worse, you now have to mull over everything you were just told and decide what to do next. Where do you go from here? 

After surviving a chronic illness despite many doubtful doctors's assessments, and then achieving deep and complete healing, I’ve become an expert at navigating the often unfriendly waters of healthcare. You can find your way out of this and I’m here to put some signposts on the map for you.

1. Find a doctor who will be your partner in healing

“Nice” isn’t good enough. Either are a bunch of medical degrees. The most important thing in a doctor is their willingness to let you be a part of your own healing (because no matter what they think, they can’t do it alone). You have to be in alignment with your treatments, or your body will be kicking and screaming the whole way. Think twice about any doctor who judges or discourages ideas you really resonate with.

Don’t forget:

  • Be open to doctors who use alternative treatments in addition to Western medicine. In my experience, those doctors not only have a larger “tool box” to help you heal, but they tend to be more open minded to ideas you come to them with.
  • Be wary of any doctor who is negative about you getting a second opinion. This isn’t personal and this isn’t the time to worry about loyalty. The best doctors are open to collaboration and a fresh set of eyes. Run the other way if a doctor is more protective of their ego than your health.

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2. Follow your own path

You know best. You have this built-in compass called intuition. It will alert you when something isn’t right for you—a doctor, a treatment, timing, etc. You only have one job and that’s to listen to it. The most important thing to know is that intuition is never logical. The treatment Aunt Sue got or the friend you met at your last treatment won’t necessarily be your cure, even if it was theirs. Your body is unique and your path will be too. Remembering that will help you stay loyal to yourself without judging your progress against others.

Important reminders:

  • Listen with encouragement when you hear of other’s people’s success stories, but don’t jump off your path to walk on theirs. The same things that greatly helped me improve were failures for people I know. And vice versa. I tried many treatments with much hope after hearing success, but many simply weren’t right for me—at least at that time.
  • Always strive to feel good about the decisions you make, as you’ll be more likely to stick with them long-term. Deciding to try something to appease your doctor (or mother) will only cause an inner conflict that makes you question and doubt your treatment. The more positive you feel about what lies ahead, the easier it will be on your body.

3. Make the most of your appointments

The clock is ticking and you both know it. It is your job to help your doctor be efficient and provide the best care possible. It’s important not to waste either their time or yours during your precious appointments. 

How to be efficient:

  • Get to the point when asking questions. Don’t preface each question with an entire story on why you’re asking. It won’t improve their understanding of the question, or the response.
  • Don’t ask open-ended questions if you already have an idea of what your options are. For example, if you’re looking for a way of eating that’s conducive to healing, don’t ask, “What do you think about juicing?” Ask instead, “Do you think juicing or a high protein diet would be more beneficial for me?”

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4. Learn when to let go

There is a mighty fine line between research and obsession. Be cognizant of which side you fall on. The need to know everything about your disease or condition is understandable, but it can be very counterproductive. When you are in a place of fear, it takes a toll on your body. Try to find some peace in trusting that the information you need to know will always appear in your life, even if you aren’t online 24 hours a day researching and commiserating with others.

Practice by:

  • Surround yourself with people who have a life beyond illness. This is possible even for those friends you’ve made who do have chronic conditions. I made my illness as small of a piece of my world as I could; and I think it was a huge benefit for me. I kept one foot in the “real world” by still being interested in life, making sure to focus conversations on the positive as much as I could.
  • Choose carefully if you go to support groups. I never went to a support group until I was well and was asked to speak at one. For me, the energy of a group of people complaining really brought me down. I learned some people with chronic illness want to do just that—so I found support elsewhere and allowed myself to be at peace with that decision.

5. How to handle scary emotions

You are going to be scared, angry, confused, depressed and the list goes on …. The worst thing to do is to judge yourself for your feelings (I should be stronger than this, I can’t believe I’m so upset, etc.).

Tips to stay balanced:

  • Get grounded. The earth has amazing healing properties and when we are connected to them, it can really help balance us emotionally. Stand barefoot in the grass, dirt or sand for a few minutes a day. The longer the better.
  • Acknowledge where you are, so you can start to move on. Anything we resist will persist. I truly believe we can help negative emotions flow away just as they came if we give them their few seconds of fame (or a few minutes or hours). Allow them to be there, feel them fully and then make a conscious choice that they don’t serve you. This won’t automatically make you void of anger, fear and all the other emotions that can often come with illness, but it’s a good place to start. 

My motto has always been: If life kicks your ass, kick back.

Borrow it if you wish and start moving forward with confidence. Soon enough you’ll find yourself on the other side of the very maze you thought you’d never see the end of.

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Amy B. Scher is the author of This is How I Save My Life-A True Story of Embryonic Stem Cells, Indian Adventures, and Ultimate Self-Healing (January 2013). She is an energy therapy practitioner with offices in Los Angeles and Monterey, California, and a frequent contributor to healthcare blogs. She has presented at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Amy is eternally thankful for her years of illness and her ultimate self-healing.

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