Newly Diagnosed – Where Do We Go From Here?

Cancer. HIV. Diabetes. Heart Disease.  Just a few of the words no one wants to hear from their doctor. You may have had nagging symptoms for months and come prepared for difficult news. Or you may feel just fine, with no idea that your lab results or physical examination may show worrisome results. Either way, being on the receiving end of a serious medical diagnosis brings a myriad of feelings and concerns.

  • What does this mean?
  • What treatment is recommended?
  • Can I talk to others who have the same condition?
  • How do I go on about my daily life?
  • Will people treat me differently?
  • Can I get through this?

First, what is a diagnosis?  From the Greek “dia-“ for “by” and “gnosis” for “knowledge,” diagnosis is a structured way that health care professionals identify  a condition or disease.

Diagnoses can be helpful for a number of reasons. One, a diagnosis can help you map your treatment plan with your doctor and understand your symptoms and prognosis. Two, it gives health professionals on your team a shared language with which to communicate with one another and with you about your condition. And three, if you have health care coverage, it provides information needed for your treatment to be covered by your insurer.

A diagnosis can hit you like a confusing, life-altering label. A client of mine expressed it this way: “Yesterday, I was Julie. Now I am ‘Julie-with-breast-cancer.’ Who is that?” A diagnosis may feel like something you are, rather than something you have. The emotional effects of illness are far-reaching, impacting the patient, their loved ones, their work, and their ability to perform and enjoy activities.

Whether you suspected illness or not, nothing prepares you for hearing the words from your physician. Additionally, each person is different, and your physiology (along with other factors like lifestyle and outlook) will have an impact on the course of your condition. There will be some variance in what you can expect – in that regard, a diagnosis is the beginning of the journey, not the end. We want answers, long term, definitive answers, but they may not be easily found.

When receiving a diagnosis of serious illness, you may want to learn as much as you can about the condition and how to manage its effects. Google is often the first place we turn when seeking information online. A search for “heart disease” brings up over 19 million links. The amount of  information available is overwhelming. Where do you start? What can you believe? In the resource list for this article, there are some excellent ideas for online health.

In order for your health care provider to best support you, it is vital that you communicate your symptoms, needs, habits, and concerns. Patients are also consumers. We may visit a car dealer with a list of questions and needs, but not our doctors. There is no time like the present to turn that around, and be an active participant in your treatment plan. If you do not feel well enough, enlist a trusted friend or family member to help you write a list of questions and concerns to take with you to your appointments

Your emotional needs come into play in dealing with an illness, and your family members may need support as well. Don’t hesitate to reach out to others – whether a friend, support groups, members of the clergy, or a trained therapist who understands the emotional impact of illness.  By taking care of your body, mind, and soul, your journey through this process can feel more bearable.

Online Medical Resources (adapted from Dr. Jessie Gruman, Center for the Advancement of Health at: )

The National Institutes of Health’s MedlinePlus
Features a guide to “healthy” Web surfing.

How to Prepare for your Doctor’s Visit by Dr. Susan Wang

Information Therapy for Consumers
Has general advice about finding evidence-based medical information on the Internet.

The Medical Library Association
Offers advice on evaluating health websites, and recommends the top-10 websites for cancer, diabetes, and heart disease information.

The Prepared Patient Forum
Discussion of finding and utilizing good health care.

The National Cancer Institute
Features a fact sheet about evaluating health information on the Internet, which offers tips for determining whether a website is potentially biased, unreliable, or out of date.

Health Compass
A site from the American Federation for Aging Research and the Merck Institute of Aging and Health that aims to help older health consumers navigate the Internet for information.

© Copyright 2010 by Tammy Fletcher, M.A.. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • oliver

    December 28th, 2010 at 5:38 AM

    It can all be so overwhelming when faced with the initial diagnosis. It is a good idea at this time to surround yourself with people who can be a positive source of energy in your life. People like this can definitely help you get through that initial shock of finding out that something scary is going on.

  • Miles

    December 28th, 2010 at 11:47 AM

    That was a great article, Tammy. Something I’ve always done when I see a physician is take a list of any questions. I learned that from my mother. She was often pulling out a scrap of paper with questions on it when we were taken to the doctors. It saves both you and the doctor time and also perhaps a repeat visit or extra call to ask what you had intended to.

  • Therapist

    December 28th, 2010 at 2:20 PM

    I agree with you that diagnoses can be helpful and it’s a structured procedure. All the three benefits briefly explained are very well placed.

  • ronald felix

    December 28th, 2010 at 4:21 PM

    if you’ve known someone who has had a disorder for long enough they will tell you that maybe it is nothing in their life and does bot deter anything for him. This doesn’t look scary to him,it maybe scary in the beginning but getting used to it over a period to time.

  • rowan

    December 28th, 2010 at 6:26 PM

    I don’t think doctors should give you too much information right away when you’re being informed you have a serious illness. It doesn’t sink in. Would it not be better to schedule a follow up appointment a few days later when the patient has had time to get over the initial shock and hear better what the options are?

  • Philip

    December 28th, 2010 at 7:55 PM

    Well, it’s a nice idea rowan but impractical. Doctor appointments are tightly managed and scheduled. They can’t just come up with a space on the fly. I think it’s better to hear it all at once and also give the person literature to take home with them. Then anything that they didn’t grasp they can read about at their leisure when they have settled down a little.

  • alonso

    December 28th, 2010 at 10:31 PM

    the key is to gain knowledge regarding the issue or disorder.proper information would do a lot of dispel any myths and will most often show that there are a lot of people who have successfully made through the same issue or disorder.

  • alison

    December 29th, 2010 at 5:57 AM

    Facing something like this must be quite a challenge. This would have to be a real test for even the strongest relationships.

  • Elaine

    December 29th, 2010 at 11:43 AM

    @Philip:The literature’s an excellent idea. It also gives family members something to read too that weren’t there. Family always have an opinion on everything and those can be outdated or just plain wrong. That would set everybody straight.

  • Tammy Fletcher

    December 29th, 2010 at 1:40 PM

    Thank you all for the insightful comments! As a patient as well as a mental health practitioner, it is an area I needed information and support with myself. Information is power, even in situations where we feel powerless. Many thanks for reading!

  • marie

    December 29th, 2010 at 3:55 PM

    Thank you for the reputable sources, Tammy! The internet is a minefield when it comes to reading up on conditions and treatment options. I always say never use a site that’s not run or endorsed by the Dept of Health or medical professionals for that kind of information. I swear, the sooner men and women realize the net’s not much different from stopping a guy in the street and asking him his opinion, the better. Just because it’s on the average Joe’s website doesn’t make it so. Stick with facts, not assumptions.

  • Samantha

    January 1st, 2011 at 7:55 PM

    “Information is power, even in situations where we feel powerless.” Ain’t that the truth! Tammy, I directed my friend straight here who’s been diagnosed with cervical cancer when I read your article. Thanks for giving her places to turn to she can rely on.

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