No one wants a terminal illness diagnosis for either themselves or their loved one. This type of news is not easy to accept. I know. When we learned my wife Margaret had Stage Four pancreatic cancer, we were stunned. But in order to do something – anything – about it, we had to first come to terms with the situation we faced.
During the very few months we had left to be together we had to learn a lot about what that meant to us and our family. As her caregiver I had to become a quick study as best as I could. We all were counting on my being able to do what had to be done.
Along the way I discovered six tips that helped all of us handle a very, very difficult time.
- Help yourself. In order to help your loved one or anyone else in your family you have to accept the diagnosis so that you can be there to ask the medical team questions about what treatment options were. You also have to understand what exactly it was you need to do to make your loved one as comfortable as possible. Then you have to explain all of that to your family and loved ones.
- The only way to get through the sea of emotions a terminal diagnosis evokes is to do just that: get through them. Tell yourself again and again that all of your feelings and the feelings of the one who has been diagnosed are okay to have. Those emotions will flow and then flood, changing direction quickly.
- Make sure to find ways to share your feelings. Is there someone you can talk to on a regular basis about what you are doing and feeling? These exchanges can help you make better sense out of the completely unexpected and completely unwanted diagnosis.
- Exercise regularly and try to eat well so that you will be fit enough to caretake your loved one as needed.
- Do your best to main normal activities that include your loved one. Isolation from the rest of the family generally creates loneliness and depression and these can significantly impact the quality of everyone’s life.
- Make notes or keep a journal to track important information. It’s easy to forget or get confused when you’ve been hit between the eyes with a diagnosis you cannot control or dismiss.
Above all else, remember to be patient with yourself. News of terminal illness is often shocking and, as with any other traumatic event, may take a while to process. You may even experience various stages of understanding before the information really sinks in. And the same will be true of your family and loved ones who may be looking to you for guidance and leadnership.