3 ways to handle a difficult diagnosis

3 ways to handle a difficult diagnosis

“Living life to the fullest” is more than just an expression on greeting cards.

For pop culture icon, Olivia Newton-John, 70, it’s a lifestyle choice that lets her feel free as she opts to not let a prognosis dictate her days.

The Grease actress announced that she has breast cancer for a third time, going public with her Stage-4 diagnosis. Instead of living day-to-day based on a doctor’s best guess of how long she has to live, she’s asked her care team refrain from informing her how long she may have left to live.

She’s not alone in this bold move. The decision to “not know” is one she is making alongside other potentially terminally-ill patients who crave freedom to live unmatched to clinical expectations.

“When you’re given a cancer diagnosis or a scary honest diagnosis, you’re suddenly given a possibility of a time limit,” Newton-John told 60 Minutes Australia. “So every day is a gift.”

From a patient’s perspective, it can be hard enough to know how to handle a challenging diagnosis. What can you do to help cope with emotions on the journey ahead?

“Getting news about a terminal illness is difficult for anyone. Every person is different, so there is no right or wrong way to handle a difficult situation like this,” said Dr. Kevin Krippner, a licensed clinical psychologist with Advocate Medical Group based in Bloomington, IL.

“Someone struggling with a challenging diagnosis needs to use resources in their life that will help them work through the circumstances and make plans for next steps,” Dr. Krippner says.

Here are a few key actions he recommends to help you or a loved one feel more powerful.

Lean on support systems
There’s no reason to go it alone during any tough time.

“Support can be used in a variety of ways,” Dr. Krippner explains. Let close friends and family members be there to help, and be honest when you need an extra hand or shoulder to lean on. People genuinely want to help – including professionals like counselors and therapists who can recommend tools and resources tailored to specific needs.

Balance information

“Whether or not to do more research about the diagnosis is an individual decision,” Dr. Krippner says.  “Some people prefer to find out as much as possible about the diagnosis in order to be well informed, and possibly partner in making decisions. Others want to rely on what is provided by their doctor to guide their course of action.”

One caution: go easy on internet searches, as it’s easy to speculate and create unnecessary anxiety when relying on some unverified sources.

Practice self-care

Take time to do simple things that elevate your level of joy and comfort. Reading a favorite book, taking a short walk in nature, or calling up a friend are all simple acts that can help. “The most important part is to regularly do things that help renew physical, emotional, spiritual, or cognitive energy,” Dr. Krippner explains.

Dealing with a difficult diagnosis? Find a psychologist in Illinois or Wisconsin to partner with today.

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About the Author

Katie Wilkes
Katie Wilkes

Katie Wilkes, health enews contributor, is a freelance public affairs specialist at Advocate Aurora Health. A DePaul University alum, she brings a decade of experience in media relations and content development to her role. Katie is also the co-founder and Emmy-nominated producer at Freeheart Creative, dedicated to sharing stories of brave women around the world. In her spare time, you can find her zen-ing out at a yoga studio and chilling with her 14-year old West Highland Terrier.