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How To Feel Better When Given A Bad Diagnosis

Jan 23, 2023

Serving and helping others have always been my mission. Over the years, I have helped many patients in different stages of their diseases. In turn, I have learned a great deal and have grown to be a better person because of it.

It is amazing how two different patients with the same diagnosis deal with life with drastic contrast. I learn the most from patients who have the most serious diagnoses yet have the most optimistic outlook in life.

Take my patient with stage 4 pancreatic cancer as an example. Let us call him Jack. Jack was in his 50s, working full-time. When he was told to have pancreatic cancer that had spread to his liver, and without treatment he would have less than 6 months to live, he did not get mad. He did not blame anyone or anything. He accepted the fact of his cancer diagnosis. Accepting did not mean for him to do nothing. He focused on fighting the disease and getting better. Despite being told that there was no cure for stage 4 cancers, he was determined a put up a fight to prolong his life with quality and meaning.

I remember meeting Jack and his wife during our first visit. They both took the news of the diagnosis better than I anticipated. At the end of the visit, they even thanked me. They thanked me for the detailed explanation of the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment plan.

Given the same news, some other patients would be angry and frustrated. They did not want to accept what was happening. They thought “why me”.

One of the most challenging things that Jack mastered was acceptance. Accepting the facts which he could not control. This is the first step of feeling better – acceptance. This does not mean that you are happy about the situation; it simply means you are facing reality head on and not arguing with it. You are at peace with what is happening to you and for you.

Jack did not stop at acceptance. He was filled with hope. He was hopeful that he would put up a strong fight against the cancer. He believed that he could. And he did. For about a year, he was tolerating the same chemotherapy treatment well – until he was found to have progression of the disease. Jack’s hope was powerful and realistic. He did not hope for a miracle that he would one day be cancer free.

Hope is a very powerful thing. When you are hopeful, you are curious. Curious what life will bring you. Curious to see a positive outcome. Hope generates a positive fuel within you, so you get to continue your day with a sustainable energy. It drives your day to see things differently, to feel things differently, and to do things differently – all for the better.

Fast forward to almost 2 years later. Jack had progressed through several lines of therapy. He lost a tremendous amount of weight, and his abdominal ascites was accumulating faster and faster. We decided to change our focus to comfort and not trying more aggressive therapy. He was in hospice care. Over the course of the next two months, I would call his wife to get an update from time to time.

One day, I received a call from Jack’s wife that he passed away in his sleep. She thanked me for everything I did to help him. She was at peace, knowing that Jack was no longer suffering and went to a better place.

The third ingredient to feeling better, which is also a bonus one, is a partner (or a close friend) who shares your same values and outlook. Jack’s wife was equally accepting, equally hopeful – which made her the best supporting partner in this difficult situation. I believe she also gave him more hope to continue because he was not going through the life journey alone.

Accepting circumstances which cannot change and be at peace with it. Be hopeful that we can do something to make the situation better, be curious what we can do. If you can do these two things, you are already on the road to feeling better. The extra credit is to have your spouse, partner or your close friend share your same ideas, enthusiasm and outlook. These are the ingredients to feeling better given a challenging situation.

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