Dealing with a bad medical diagnosis – caregiver tips

Dealing with a bad medical diagnosis – caregiver tips

When a family member is diagnosed with a serious illness like cancer or a progressive disease like Alzheimer’s, the initial emotions are very raw and overwhelming. You may not know where to begin, or how to tell people about the diagnosis, or what might lie ahead.

Having hope is so important in talking to the person you are caring for, and to others in your caregiving circle.

Processing a diagnosis yourself first

The time period following a diagnosis is tumultuous for the person who is ill, but also for you and your family. Allow the news to sink in. At this point, you may not even see yourself as a caregiver yet.

You will have so many questions. Get as much information as you can about the illness, treatment options, and prognosis. Consider caregiving options:

  • Will the person’s living arrangements need to change?
  • How will finances be impacted?
  • Will you need to be a primary caregiver?

Also see our Elizz article, Caregivers’ Role In Understanding A New Diagnosis.

During this period, you’ll be talking to your spouse or immediate family as you process the diagnosis. It’s important to move through the initial shock and find hope in the big picture.

Is the illness one that health professionals feel can be managed long term, or after a treatment or surgery? Is it a more advanced illness but managing and extending quality of life is possible?

Having hope is so important in talking to the person you are caring for, and to others in your caregiving circle.

Telling family and close friends about a diagnosis

Ask the person how and when they would like to share the diagnosis with family and friends, and follow their wishes as much as possible. Think about what you are going to say, even write it down first if that helps you.

Chances are you will be repeating yourself several times and hearing different reactions to the diagnosis, which isn’t easy when you are still processing emotions yourself. Try to think of these conversations as practice. Each time you talk about the diagnosis, it will become easier and you will probably edit what you say.

There is no right or wrong way to manage things socially right now. Some people need to keep things more private, others find emotional support in sharing a diagnosis more openly. Either way, friends will understand that you are dealing with a lot and may not respond to calls or messages right away.

Consider online sharing

As those closest to you learn of your family member’s diagnosis, you might have more friends hearing various pieces of the news through others. If people begin to reach out to you, while it is only with the best of intentions, having multiple conversations might be overwhelming. Sharing something in writing can make things easier but be sure to first get the approval from the person you are caring for.

You could consider sharing the news in one place more widely online, as in an email, a Facebook status update, or by having a close friend create an online fundraising page if finances are going to be an issue.

Grassroots fundraising sites allow you to explain what is going on by posting written updates. The link to your fundraising page can be shared by anyone, and friends will also receive any updates automatically if they have made a donation.

Another benefit of talking to more people is that you could have surprising additions to your caregiving network.

You never know who may have experience with this disease or illness within their own family, or who knows about treatment options, or who has connections for providing different therapies. Also see our Elizz article, Facebook For Caregivers – Practical Advice.

Telling people at work about a diagnosis

At first you might want to keep your personal situation to yourself, especially if you are having a hard time talking about it without becoming overcome with emotion. The work day can temporarily take your mind off of things. However, it might even be more stressful to try and hide the situation, especially if you will need some time off or have a demanding workload.

Telling people at work about the diagnosis and explaining your situation sooner than later can also pave the way for potential conversations down the road about asking for support.

Letting coworkers know what you are going through can help prevent resentment if they need to take on your work that is not being completed. You may be surprised at how supportive your boss, manager, and colleagues can be if they know what is happening.

Start by sharing the diagnois with your manager. Explain what you know, and how it does or does not impact your job at this particular time. If things change or you need time off, speak to your employer again and create an action plan.

Elizz is a not-for-profit organization powered by Saint Elizabeth Health Care. Elizz offers many services that provide the information and guidance you will need moving forward. To get help from a network of health care professionals including navigation specialists, nurses, social workers, and counselors, you can call Elizz at 1-855-Ask-Eliz (275-3549).




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