Posted on September 22, 2023 by Virginia Strubbe, CSW-PIP, OSW-C
“I was just diagnosed with a terminal illness. What do I do now?”
Receiving the diagnosis of a terminal illness is often overwhelming and may bring about a great deal of emotions. You may have been feeling physically unwell, have had multiple medical appointments, or likely have received a great deal of information in a small amount of time. It can be expected to be unsure of the next steps. The following are some things to consider.
Write down any questions you have about treatment options, side effects, symptoms, or palliative care so you feel prepared for your next appointment. You may not remember everything discussed with your provider during the office visits. Bring a trusted family member or friend to your next appointment to be another listener and to take notes if this is helpful. Seek a second opinion from another healthcare professional if necessary.
Surround yourself with trusted family and friends. Set healthy boundaries with those who are less supportive. Consider delegating tasks you might normally take on to others. Support groups specific to your needs may be available either in person in your community or virtually.
Advance directives for healthcare are tools you can put in place to ensure your medical wishes are known if you would be unable to communicate them. These include living wills and medical power of attorney. A living will specifies decisions you would or would not want if you were unable to tell your medical team. A durable power of attorney for healthcare establishes who you would want to carry out your wishes for healthcare treatment in the event you are not able to make your own decisions.
Consult an attorney for any legal matters, such as estate planning or creating a legal/financial will. Depending on your diagnosis, age, and ability to work, you may qualify to receive social security disability. Contact your local social security office to inquire about this benefit.
Who are the most important people in your life? What is important to you? What activities bring you joy? Bring your focus in on experiencing the present moment right where you are. Support with daily or household tasks may allow you to conserve your energy so you can spend more time with the people or activities that are meaningful to you.
It is common for people to experience anxiety and depression when living with a life limiting illness. One’s sense of purpose, meaning, and peace are also often interrupted. Connecting with a mental health professional can help with adjusting to the diagnosis, with exploring emotions and supports, and with addressing anxiety and depression you may be experiencing. Spiritual care may help you to find meaning, instill hope, and create a sense of peace amidst suffering.
If you are facing a terminal diagnosis, we’re here to help. Virginia Strubbe, CSW-PIP, OSW-C walks alongside clients, with training and experience navigating the unique challenges that accompany a terminal diagnosis. She serves clients in person in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and throughout the state via telehealth.
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