Receiving bad medical news can be devastating and you may not know the proper way of dealing with it. Perhaps you were told you have cancer or an incurable disease, and are having a hard time understanding what to do and how to cope with the news. You are most likely going through various feelings and emotions and just want to make sense of what’s happening. While worrying is natural, there are ways to cope and go forward with your life.
Talking to Your Doctor
1Be positive, yet prepared. If the doctor has called you to go over test results, stay calm. While there is a good chance the diagnosis will not be the best news, try to stay positive. It’s not good to worry prior to the news, as that will just cause stress and anxiety.
- Your initial feeling will be that of shock and disbelief. After the shock, you will experience anger, fear, and sadness. These are natural to experience but will get better over time.
2Bring a family member or close friend with you to the appointment. This will not only help provide you support at the moment when you need it most, but will also help clarify the bad news. They can help with writing notes and help you recall information from the appointment when you are reflecting back on the news.
- Statistically, a majority of cancer patients said that upon initially learning about their diagnosis, they had difficulty understanding their illness and treatment options.
- Consider having your companion drive you to the doctor’s appointment as well. After you receive the bad news, you are probably experiencing a lot of different emotions that could distract you as you drive home. Having someone drive you could prevent you from driving while distracted.
3Make a follow up appointment. You may want to make a follow up appointment to ask the doctor specific questions, particularly ones you couldn’t think of upon receiving the initial news. Initially, you’ll feel anxious and ready to treat the illness. Feelings of urgency could lead to hasty decision-making.
- It may prove useful to write down all your questions beforehand so you know what information you want and need to go forward as you embark on decision-making. For example, you could ask the doctor what type of symptoms should you expect, will your energy level decrease, etc.
4Take some time to gather yourself. After receiving your bad medical news, you will be in a whirlwind of feelings and emotions. Take a day or two to properly digest the news.
- If possible, try taking a mental day. After the news, you’ll be in a state of shock and having time to figure out your next steps would prove invaluable to your mental health. Spend the day decompressing and relaxing.
- Depending on your professional relationship with your boss or professor, contact them via phone or email and either let them know you have some personal news to digest or simply let them know you need a personal day off and you will be back to business when you return.
- Get plenty of rest and sleep. After receiving the news, you’ll most likely want to be in a constant state of “go.” Don’t. Take the night off and get some sleep to rest your body and mind from the shock and excitement of the bad news.
Getting More Information
1Start gathering information. After you have received the bad medical news, do some thorough research on the topic.
- Do your research after you have given yourself a little time to digest the news, so it won’t become overwhelming. Reading the information after a decompressing will enable you to assess it from a clearer state of mind.
2Use reliable sources. As you begin your research, look for materials such as books, journals and articles that have certified information about the condition. Ask your doctor if they have any literature that they could provide you with so you have a better understanding.
3Be cautious of the information you access on the internet. Keep in mind that there are many sites that contain unverified or bogus research. Ask your doctor if they know of any reliable websites where you could locate reliable information about your medical diagnosis.
4Get a second opinion. If applicable, go get a second opinion. Find a doctor that specializes in the area of your condition and make an appointment to confirm or dispute the first diagnosis.
- Do this for your treatment options as well. Make sure you are aware of all of your options and know the best approach to take.
Coping with Your News
1Get support from loved ones. We all deal with bad news differently. While some prefer to deal with bad news alone, informing your loved ones of your situation can be helpful as you attempt to make sense of what’s happening. It is your decision about who to inform and what you want to tell them, so do not feel obligated to make a slide show or production about what you are experiencing.
- While they may not be able offer you any substantive help on how to deal with your condition, opening up to others is emotionally healing by itself.
2Join a local support group. Joining a group of people who are dealing with the same situation could also be an additional way to cope with your bad news. With a support group, you are meeting and interacting with others who are experiencing or who have experienced the same thing you are dealing with..
3Seek professional help. If the stress from your bad news has become too much to handle mentally, find a professional counselor or psychologist to speak with. Try looking for a counselor that handles the particular topic you are struggling with.
- While looking for a trained professional, always check their specialties to get a feel if they would be the right person to help you deal with the stress and worry about your news.
1Enjoy life. While dealing with your diagnosis, continue doing those activities that provided you joy and comfort. If you have a hobby such as painting or rock collecting, keep doing it. If you like to be active, such as walking, exercising, keep it up.
- When you have your follow up with your doctor, you may want to inquire about the amount of stress your body can stand.
2Stay positive and happy. While the news can be devastating at first, do your best to maintain a positive attitude and outlook. Surround yourself with encouraging people that will help keep your spirits up.
- If you are a religious person, stay strong in your faith. If not, continue to rely on those places or things that keep your mind at ease and peace.
3Try stress-relieving activities, such as exercise or meditation. Meditation and exercising regularly helps reduce stress and anxiety and helps your cognitive abilities, which will help you keep focused and concentrate on becoming better.
4Be prepared for the worst outcomes. If you are given a limited life expectancy based on the prognosis, plan ahead to accomplish what you need to do before your time comes to leave the world. Maybe it’s a book you need to finish writing, maybe it’s an old acquaintance you need to forgive, or maybe it’s some unfinished project you need to fulfill. In any case, make sure these things get done while you can. Have a living will or durable power of attorney if applicable.
- If you have any legal matters to attend to, this would be the most appropriate time. If you’ve been putting off doing a will or durable power of attorney, go ahead and get it finished. This will prevent any fights or disagreements in the event of a debilitating illness or death.
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- Remain calm.
- Don’t overreact.
- Don’t be afraid to get support from loved ones, no matter how isolated you want to be.
- Make sure to research thoroughly. The Internet is full of bad information. Try finding reliable sources that will provide you with the most accurate information.
- Be prepared to deal with all the possible outcomes that come with the diagnosis.
- Keep a positive and happy outlook.
- Don’t try to cope with your emotions by drinking or drugs. That will only make things worse.
- Be aware of the common Kübler-Ross grief stages to receiving bad news: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grieving, Acceptance. Most people go through these stages, though not necessarily in this order, and often may experience more than one stage at a time. Seek professional help (e.g. counseling, psychiatrist) if necessary.
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