Dr. Amy: Maintaining a sense of control during illness

Probably one of the most difficult parts of being ill is losing a sense of control of life. As caregivers, we can help our loved ones and ourselves continue to feel some control. Even though we may both feel powerless against the illness itself, we have many choices that we can make along the way.

From the medical point of view, you and your loved one can decide to get a second opinion from a different health professional before proceeding with any surgery, procedure or medication. Your doctor should not feel insulted or hurt by your need to gather more information from a variety of sources. If s/he objects, you may need to make another decision to choose a new doctor.

You can also help the patient monitor reactions to treatment and decide whether to continue, ask for a different treatment or decide to stop treatment completely. It is always up to the patient to decide whether quality of life is more important than continuing treatment.
It is surprising to learn that there are often many options that the health professional does not present unless specifically asked for alternative approaches. Your goal is to be informed medical consumers. So, keep asking those questions and make sure you stay until the answers are clear to both of you.

From a personal point of view, you and your loved one can decide that you are going to try to handle the illness with a positive attitude. This is not a one-time decision but rather something you need to recommit to every day. Just as in any relationship, there are days when one is feeling down and the other up. The trick is to avoid both being down at the same time. One strategy that worked for us was to introduce a discussion on gratitude. You can take turns thinking of something for which you are grateful. It doesn't have to be big things, e.g., sun streaming in the window, a phone call from an old friend. The point here is that you two can control how you are going to feel today. You can't have negative thoughts at the same time that you are thinking of positive things.

Action Step:

Think about the ways in which you and your loved one are in control. You can make many medical as well as emotional decisions along the way. Ask that health professional for some more options. Set aside a few minutes to begin a list of things for which you are grateful. You do have the power to make this situation the best it can be.

Dr. Amy

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