“Hello, this is your doctor’s office calling. We would like you to come back for another mammogram. It most likely is no cause for alarm, but we want to be certain. I have you scheduled for tomorrow. Will that work?”
They want me to come back ! No reason for alarm! Something does not sound right. What is happening? What does this mean? Maybe they called the wrong person.
These are some of the first thoughts that raced through my mind when I got the call to return for further tests following a routine mammogram. The second mammogram led to an ultrasound and ultimately a diagnosis. Until I heard the words from my doctor that I had a cancer, I doubt I ever really believed that it was possible. Getting the news was simply unbelieveable.
At first, there is a flurry of medical appointments. Seemingly endless tests, x-rays, lab work, forms to fill out, procedures, and doctor appointments. The cancer is staged and followed with a treatment plan and prognosis. There is an overload of information. You try to maintain a feeling of being in control, but it is increasingly difficult. Feeling overwhelmed barely describes how you are feeling.
Getting the news of cancer or chronic illness is the first of many steps . You try to acknowledge your diagnosis, but you don’t like it. All too soon, you realize there is a new normal in your life. You strive to accept the unacceptable. Maybe you feel it is unfair; you ask yourself: “Why me?” Or maybe you tell yourself that you should be grateful your circumstances aren’t worse; you tell yourself others might have it harder. Maybe you minimize the diagnosis in an effort to keep it from robbing you of the life you were planning. Maybe you keep it a secret for a while, somehow making it nonexistent. Or maybe you become all-consumed in anticipation of what the disease will do.
Response to getting the news of a chronic medical diagnosis is unique to each person. But universally, loss of health through a chronic illness is a loss of part of yourself. There are many losses that are prompted with a loss of health. Some experience loss of a career. Loss of friends who may feel uncomfortable. Often loss of financial security looms. Loss of an arm, leg, lung, or other part of you body may occur . Loss of a life of good health. Many losses intrude at the time of diagnosis and continue to evolve as your disease evolves. Getting the news becomes all encompassing. It is a challenge to attend to other aspects of your life.
When getting the news, I believe it is really important to allow yourself to grieve. Again, this is wholly individual. Your path to acceptance may include emotions like anger, fear, denial, isolation, and guilt. Depression becomes an uninvited guest, as if you did not have enough to think about. Allow yourself time to grieve.
Getting the news is a life-altering event. As I went though my treatment, I was aware of limited support. I learned the hard way that having at least one person to share your experiences with is absolutely critical. Although it may be the opposite of what you want to do, reaching out for emotional support is part of the treatment. The doctor takes care of your medical needs. It is no less important to have a trusted person help take care of your emotional needs.