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Coping With a Life-Threatening Illness

Palliative Care: Improving Life for Patients and Caregivers
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Sharing the News continued...

No matter who you tell, be sure to also tell them what you need.

"If you don't direct them in how you want them to help you, they'll help in whatever way they can figure out, and that might not be what you need," Daly says. "Maybe you need for them to come to your house every day and check on you. Maybe you need them to back off except when you call on them. It's different for each person. Don't expect people to guess."

There are many approaches for updating friends and family about your condition. You can:

  • Designate one friend or family member to pass the news along
  • Send out blanket e-mail updates
  • Create a Web site or blog, or join an existing one like caringbridge.org
  • Post updates on Facebook

"Some people want to tell their story over and over again to each person -- it helps them process their feelings," says Daly. "Others don't want to relive the experience and would rather someone explained things for them. There's no one right way."

Coping With Anxiety

How do you handle the fears and anxiety associated with a life-threatening illness? First, do your best to know what to expect (as far as that's possible). Anxiety is often related to the unknown.

Ask your doctor:

  • What symptoms should I expect, and what are you going to do to treat them?
  • If I'm going to have pain, how will we manage it?
  • How do I reach my doctor and palliative care team in an emergency? "There's nothing worse than being in serious pain or having shortness of breath and not being able to do anything except call 911," says Morrison.

You should also make sure you have a support team around you. That includes family and friends, of course, but remember that they are anxious about your illness as well.

"It's important to have an impartial, less emotional person to talk to," says Daly. "A support group for people with your illness, or a social worker at your hospital or medical center, can help you talk about your fears without feeling like you're overwhelming your loved ones."

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