How To Cope After Being Diagnosed With Critical Illness

What you should immediately do after being diagnosed with a critical illness

What would you do if you were ever diagnosed with a critical illness like cancer or kidney failure? As women, mothers, daughters and wives, we feel the need to stay strong, and figure out the best way to go about it. But what’s the best way and how do we know we’re doing the right thing? Mompreneur Asia, a women’s networking group to empower women and mothers, recently conducted the forum “Critical Illness – What Next?” to help provide a guideline on what to do after being diagnosed with a critical illness, or if it should happen to you one day.

diagnosed with critical illness

Do not despair if you are diagnosed with a critical illness. There are steps you can take to feel less stressed while on the journey to recovery.

The panel consisted of three speakers – Dr Hoo Mei Lin, an obstetrician and gynaecologist; clinical psychologist Farah Putrinegara; and Datin Seri Ismalina Ismail, a cervical cancer survivor who had also been diagnosed with several other illnesses since young. The event moderator was Aishah Sinclair, radio presenter and co-founder of Mompreneur Asia.

What You Should Do After Being Diagnosed With A Critical Illness

The biggest thing that will hit you after the diagnose will be the stress. If you’re overwhelmed, take a step back to see what can be done. This includes determining  what you might need support with from other parties. Datin Seri Ismalina chose to take charge of her situation. After the initial shock and disappointment, Ismalina decided that she couldn’t wallow in self-pity. She actually told herself: “Jangan layan.”

Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself

A lot of people would give up after being diagnosed with several diseases, but Ismalina told herself to not give in to the overwhelming feeling. “It’s normal to feel a little down, but I told myself not to give in,” shares the Datin Seri. She says that she chose to focus on her children, instead. “When I was diagnosed with thymoma, doctors said the chance of surviving the operation was 50-50. That was the first that that I felt so scared that I had my will written up.”

For Ismalina, other than being prepared for what might come, she also tried to improve her condition as best as possible. Two days before her operation, she recalled a supplement she had heard of that might help. (Note: of course, only trust supplements from a reputable manufacturer after doing due research). Ismalina decided to try this supplement and according to her, the operation went well and she was able to leave the ward only four days after having open heart surgery. While many of use would, and should, be wary of taking supplements, the key takeaway here, as pointed out by panel moderator Aishah Sinclair, “This goes to show that how we react, and how we feel, has a huge effect on our recovery (from a health issue).”

How Best To Handle The Stress

Datin Seri Ismalina and felow panelist, Farah Putrinegara, Clinical Director and Senior Clinical Psychologist at WeCare Allied Health Centre, suggest the following after being diagnosed with a critical illness:-

  • Do not listen to individuals or parties that are not experts in the field of your illness. Instead, refer to the specialist who is best in that area.
  • You will get emotional, so it’s okay to get social support (from friends, family members, etc)
  • Focus on fighting for other people, for example your kids or your parents, to stay strong
  • Research and prepare yourself with the right kind of information. You can read up on chemotherapy, radiology, etc so that you know and understand what will happen during treatment.
  • diagnosed with cancer

    Equipping yourself with as much credible information as possible will help you understand your illness as well as what happens when you are undergoing treatment.

    Just occupy your mind all the time, says Ismalina. “Play with colours, don’t listen to sad songs. Just keep praying so that your mind will not wander towards negative thoughts.”

Ismalina shares that the strength that she has does not come overnight. You need to develop skills to be more independent socially, emotionally and spiritually. If someone reacts negatively towards your illness, she says that you have to learn how to walk away from them. This includes loved ones. “Sometimes, you just tell them that you’re ok, and change the subject,” she suggests.

Getting Around The Taboo Of Seeing The Shrink

Says Farah, “Some patients may have a hard time coping with the diagnose – there’s guilt, anger, financial issues, no social support. You may have depression or anxiety – it’s understandable and it’s ok.” She continues, “However, you need to see a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist to help you cope with the issue, as soon as possible, before you try to cope in different ways such as substance abuse or other negative ways.”

“Many still regard seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist as “taboo”,” says Farah. “But, when you can’t tell stuff to your usual support system, the psychiatrist is the neutral zone for getting things off your chest with no judgements and no ill feelings toward the people you have complained about.”

Farah continues, “When you hold yourself back from seeing a psychiatrist because you’re afraid of being labelled as crazy, this will hold you back from getting the really good care that you really need (to get better).”

emotional women

You might have reservations about seeing a psychologist, but its always helpful to have a third-party non-judgmental expert to listen and give advice.

Work With Your Doctor

An obstetrics and gynaecology specialist at Thomson Hospital Kota Damansara, Dr Hoo Mei Lin urges patients to work with their respective doctors. She even urges patients to find a new doctor if they are unhappy with their currents doctors. “Don’t make the doctor your enemy,” Dr Hoo implores. She recommends to patients, “Engage with your doctor. If your doctor doesn’t want to engage with you, find a new doctor. The key is to work with someone who will work with you.”

Says Dr Hoo, too many patients rely on alternative medicine and information these days, and that it is the responsibility of genuine medical doctors to let people know what the real deal is. “It is our responsibility to raise awareness, while you are responsible to question what people are telling you.” Dr Hoo says that based on scientific research and proven methods, the conventional course of medication or treatment are the best way for patients to recover.

However, she doesn’t dismiss alternative treatments altogether. Dr Hoo says that some can be beneficial as a complementery treatment, and not as the only or main treatment. One example is acupuncture, which can help with stress release and nausea that might hit a patient after undergoing chemotherapy. She also adds that if faced with financial difficulties, government hospitals are actually not a bad option as long as you are willing to brave the waiting time. What’s important is that patients are getting treatment as well as information from trusted, accredited medical practitioners and specialists.

Mompreneur Asia regularly holds workshops and talks on issues and activities that are of interest to mothers, especially “mompreneurs”. Follow them on their Facebook page to get updates on upcoming events.