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How to Handle Bad News: Getting Through the Tough Times For Caregivers and Families

Posted Apr 09 2009 7:13pm

Getting bad health news is like a kick in the gut. It’s hard for you, and your family and  the caregivers. in your life.  

Oprah  had a great show today featuring Montel Williams. He has MS (Multiple Sclorosis, and he was candid about how tough this disease really is. His courage was astounding. He lives in horrible pain every day all day, and he said that the only time he isn’t in pain is when he’s focused on helping others.

Oprah and Dr. Oz featured several people who have had more than their fair share of adversity, and each one of them had been humbled by their experience–and even made better for it.

Fran Dresher, famous for her TV series, “The Nanny,” is a cancer survivor, and she put it best when she described her journey and all it has taught her, “Sometimes the best gifts come in the ugliest packages.”

Dr. Oz spoke of what people can do when it comes to getting bad news. Folks who are dealing with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s,cancer, ALS, MS, and other really hard diseases know  just how hard it was the first time the doctor sat them down. And the difficult part is, they weren’t prepared–and, it might not be the last of the bad news.

How to prepare for/handle less than great news:

  1. Feeling stunned, in shock, in denial, or angry is absolutely normal. Don’t do anything at first except feel or not feel–let this initial wallop subside before making any crucial decisions.
  2. Get educated. So, you now you know. Hit the books, hit the net, talk to people, weigh all the information and get to know this disease, its symptoms, the medications and therapies used to help this disease, if there is any research/clinical trials/studies, what operations/procedures there are, what support groups there are, and begin to form a short range and long range plan.
  3. Take responsibility. You may, in the course of several years have many doctors, therapists, home health aids, nurses…and the only constant is you–so you be the captain of your ship. Keep your information together, chronicle your doctors, meds, and care–because five years from now, you may be the only constant left in this picture.
  4. If you know you may be getting difficult news on a particular day–bring support–and Dr. Oz mentioned that you need someone who can support you–not necessarily your spouse or someone who’s going to fall apart–bring someone who will listen, take notes, be able to let you vent, and even drive you home.
  5. Get a second opinion. And don’t tell them about the first opinion. Dr. Oz said that, and I agree.
  6. Breathe! For now, for today, you are alive. Live while you’re on this earth. Don’t give up too soon. Even if your diagnosis is life limiting, do all you can to care for yourself, and be present for your loved ones.
  7. Decide who you will tell and when. This is up to you, but realize that you will have to face this. As scary as it is, it’s better to stay in control and keep it on your terms. Don’t get caught up with other’s emotions. Bad news effects people differently, and one thing we all do is internalize it–what we would do if we got this news. Let others go through their own journey, but stay on yours. You’ve got enough to deal with, so love them, but stay with “you.”
  8. Find a health advocate. You need one person who will create that one continuous line for you. You may be dealing with pain, confusion, drug therapies, and surgeries. You won’t be able to write down specialist’s names to follow up with, or remember what time you took your last dose–so let someone be there for you. I know how scary it is to not have control, but acknowledge that you need help. Be appreciative–and ask them to be your health advocate. Tell them what you need–be clear and choose someone who can be objective and committed.  

In the beginning, it’s going to be rough. Some moments, you’ll be in full out panic. Other moments, you’ll be comatose–and these moments will overwhelm you. But know that these initial days of despair will subside. The sooner you can get the support and plan of action you need, the better you’ll feel. It won’t easy, but as Fran Drescher said, there will be unexpected gifts and insights along the way.  

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

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