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6 Ways to Conquer a Scary Diagnosis

Life goes on after receiving news of a frightening illness. Here’s how.

Tips for Coping continued...

Because feelings of shock and bewilderment may continue to overwhelm you in the days following your diagnosis, digesting information in very short, pithy chunks can be helpful, suggests Ingram. So, whether you're attempting to learn more about your disease by searching the Internet, reading books on the topic, or speaking with various health care professionals, beware of overwhelming yourself with too much information all at once.

Be patient when learning information about your disease. When a serious illness is first diagnosed, it's not always possible to pinpoint its scope. Often, additional tests or even surgery is required to fully understand the extent of an illness and related health problems. It may take weeks or even months to determine the proper or complete course of treatment.

"Initially, it's hard to find information that's sufficiently tailored to your condition," Gruman tells WebMD. "It's difficult to tap a physician's expertise at the very beginning."

While some people have a hard time not knowing exactly what to expect from an illness, recognizing up front that it may take some time can help quell anxiety. In the interim, don't dwell on the unknown at the expense of your well-being, advises Gruman. "Make sure you continue to eat enough, drink enough water, and get the rest you need," she says.

Choose the support that works for you. How you come to terms with a scary diagnosis is a very personal decision. Choosing whom to tell and lean on for support is a significant part of the process, and there's no right or wrong way to do it.

"You choose -- the amount of information you'll tell, and who you want to be with you," Gruman says.

Joining a support group whose members relate to your experience can be invaluable. Ingram went to five different support groups before finding the one that worked for her. What began largely as a group to educate cancer patients on the illness morphed into something much deeper. "Eventually, we showed each other our scars, we flipped off our wigs, we laughed, we cried," Ingram tells WebMD.

Be open to a positive change in perspective. It's not uncommon for survivors of a grave diagnosis to report feeling that their lives have been made fuller by the experience, even in the wake of irrevocable physical losses. So says Leslie Ingram Gebhart, breast cancer survivor, life coach, and co-author of The Not-So-Scary Breast Cancer Book, who underwent a double mastectomy. While she admits to missing the sensuality she associated with her breasts, Gebhart has moved beyond it. "Now, the size of my bra is not relevant," she says earnestly.

"Know that myriad joys and possibilities remain," Gebhart tells WebMD. "Even cancer can recede into the background when focusing on the possibilities."

The key, it seems, is allowing yourself to be open to these possibilities. "Whether you're going to live one more week or one more decade, you want the quality of life to be as rich and alive as possible," says Ingram.

Reviewed on September 05, 2007

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