Next Steps After a Diagnosis

You’re Sick or Hurt . . . What Now?

The First Steps

You just got the news from your doctor that you’re sick, and it’s a life-threatening or chronic illness. What now?

As soon as you balance your emotions, you’ll have to make important decisions about your diagnosis, doctors, treatment, care, and finances. During the next few days, weeks, and months, you must learn enough about your choices to make informed decisions. It’s your right and responsibility if you want safe, quality health care.

While you need never walk the path to wellness alone, you must walk it. If you choose not to work with your health care team and accept responsibility for yourself, you will be at the mercy of a broken health care system. The path to safe, quality, and affordable health care is paved with obstacles that you need to get around, over, and through. Trust in your health care providers, verify everything, and consider your preferences above all.

Maybe, your doctor or insurance provider has already provided you information in the form of a pamphlet, website, or video specific to your diagnosis. However, it’s likely to take a little time before you process your new diagnosis and are ready to make good decisions. There are a wide range of emotions that people might feel after getting a serious diagnosis. Those emotions include anger, helplessness, depression, confusion, and fear to name a few.

It’s important that you realize that these feelings are natural. Grief can also be a major factor for anyone after being diagnosed with a serious or life-threatening illness.

The Swiss American psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed a model known as the Five Stages of Grief. They are:

  1. Denial: “This can’t be happening.”
  2. Anger: “Why me? This is not fair!”
  3. Bargaining: “Please let me live until my children are grown.”
  4. Depression: “Why bother with anything—I’m going to die anyway.”
  5. Acceptance: “It’s going to be alright.”[i]

Grieving is not necessarily a linear process, and you may not experience each stage in the manner outlined by Kubler-Ross. What matters is that there are steps you can take to control your feelings, balance yourself, and self-advocate for the safest and best health care possible.

Step 1. Understand Your Emotions

It is common to feel shock, anger, frustration, worry, and other emotions when you are told you that you have a life-threatening or serious illness. It’s even common to experience short-term changes in your behavior after hearing such serious news. Usually, your emotions and any behavioral changes are temporary. They typically start returning to normal within weeks when you have support.

You can help yourself balance your emotions as soon as possible by…

[i] Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. New York: Macmillan.