Attitude: Reframing a Bad Diagnosis

Attitude: Reframing a Bad Diagnosis Posted By:
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As medical practitioners it can be our job to inform patients of serious illness. Any diagnosis that is new to the patient and implies changing one's life can be devastating. Emotional reactions such as fear, anxiety, and depression are common and not unexpected. However, some patients are able to see the silver linings—I have often wondered how they do so.

When asked how they rose to the occasion after receiving a diagnosis of a serious illness, they often recall taking a proactive approach to find the "right doctor" for them and their diagnosis. Asking the right questions, researching, and locating highly respected professionals who are part of a passionate healthcare team is crucial in their minds.

The next phase of their journey is to go through the treatments themselves. Again, this can be harrowing. When asked how they coped, patients report that being supported by a blend of family, friends, and their local communities was central. They also describe having access to their provider and the team of professionals at a moment's notice as a critical component of coping with this challenging stage.

After completion of the treatments and/or having found the correct combination of medications, the haziness clears. Reflecting back provides an opportunity to see positive changes in their lives. One patient who suffered for several years with rheumatoid arthritis told me that once he found the "right doctor" his entire outlook on life changed. He described himself as an excellent tennis player before his diagnosis and was able to adapt by changing his physical activity to golf. Another patient told me about her silver lining after having completed chemotherapy—she now appreciated being able to sleep in, not having to fuss with her hair, and meeting new friends in a support group.

Of course, these examples do not negate the suffering that many experience with serious illness. But as I look back at the lives of my patients and myself, I want to be certain to remember, recognize, and uphold the silver linings that patients use to reframe a bad diagnosis and embrace positivity.


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