When a loved one gets a life altering diagnosis it can be scary. Distressing questions rush through one’s mind such as: will they survive, what are the options, do we need a second opinion, what will their be like now that they are facing _________? These types of thoughts are normal and can help to evaluate the situation and search for solutions.
However; the longer one fixates on the situation the more likely it is that fabricated stories (usually of the horror kind) begin to develop about what “could happen”. Along with that, well-meaning friends, after hearing the diagnosis, will share an experience they, or someone they know, went through in a “similar” situation.
Unfortunately, these stories are frequently the worst-case-scenario that happened to their friend’s, cousin’s mother and, not only does the reality of that specific situation get lost through interpretation (think of the game “telephone” – what was said at the beginning is usually completely different from what comes out the other end), but more often than not the person they are talking about doesn’t even have the same diagnosis as your loved one. (Even if they did there are different extenuating circumstances that differ).
Between the created horror stories and the lost-in-translation anecdotes it’s easy to get worked-up into a fear frenzy.
Facilitating care based on fear can interfere with information gathering (aka: fact finding) and the creation of a logical plan-of-care. So what can be done to get out of fear and into fact?
Tips for avoiding the fear frenzy:
- Stick to the facts - Write down just the facts about the situation in a non-emotional manner (i.e. cancer treatment options: a) chemo b) radiation c) surgery – potential side effects: a) nausea b) hair-loss etc.…) don’t attach a story to what those might mean, they just are.
- Listen to the doctors not your friends - Ask specific questions related to the facts of the situation and treatment options.
- Tell your well-meaning friends “thanks, but no thanks”. Just because someone wants to tell you their story doesn’t mean you have to listen. Politely say “I really appreciate the support, but I need to focus on my family member’s specific situation.”
- Connect with an on-call friend to vent your fears and help you get back to the facts.
- Seek advice and input from experts such as a Geriatric Care Manger, who can help you evaluate all of the options from a logical rather than emotional perspective.
Most importantly, don’t project your fears onto the person who has been diagnosed. They have a different perspective than you. Just because they aren’t reacting to the news in the way you think they should, does not mean they don’t understand what is happening. Keep in mind, it is happening to them and they need those around them to be supportive not fearful about invented future scenarios.
Zig Ziglar said “Fear stands for False Evidence Appearing Real”. How right he was.