When you or a loved one receive a difficult diagnosis, you naturally think about how it impacts your future. You might find yourself longing for the days when you knew (or didn’t know) what came next. Or you might be grappling with the knowledge that your future looks far different than you had hoped.
How do you grieve what’s changed and find a new path forward?
“The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.” ― Søren Kierkegaard
What kinds of difficult diagnoses can cause you to mourn and rethink your future?
Mourning can stem from a diagnosis with cancer, neurological problems, autoimmune disease, infertility, heart problems, a genetic disease, an STI, organ damage, or any other disabling or difficult illness. Even certain mental health diagnoses can cause you to grieve the past and rethink your future.
What new needs does this difficult diagnosis suggest?
A diagnosis doesn’t necessarily change anything–often, it’s just a confirmation or description of what you’ve already been going through. Regardless, a diagnosis can help you think differently about your situation and identify unmet needs. You might need:
- Tools and/or support to help with household responsibilities
- Assistive technology
- Time off from work or a change in occupation
- End of life planning
- Hospice care
- Regular medical treatment
- Emotional support
- An alternative path to parenthood
- Accessibility adjustments at home or work
- Vocabulary to explain your situation
What’s now off the table? What needs to change?
This is probably where most minds go first. What have I lost because of this diagnosis? What can’t I do? Which experiences will I miss out on? How will my daily life change? What does this diagnosis mean for my future plans? It’s fair to note these losses.
However, on the upside, a difficult diagnosis may also free you to live life for yourself. Maybe you can care less about others’ expectations, and focus more on your own goals.
Also acknowledge uncertainty as it applies to your situation. You might know that your prognosis is poor, but have no idea how your decline will unfold. Maybe new treatments are in development but not available yet. A diagnosis could call your financial security into question. What happens if you become disabled and unable to make ends meet? Or if you have infertility, how will you become a parent?
Your path forward will have to account for uncertainty. You can look at this constraint as a prison or a puzzle. If you look at it as a puzzle, you will want to consider making the most of what’s left.
How can I make the most of what’s left?
After a difficult diagnosis (yours or loved one’s), you might have to rethink the life you thought you’d live. Your time may be limited or capabilities restricted, but it’s an act of triumph to make the most of what’s left.
The resources below may be geared toward specific diagnoses, but many of the insights are transferable between different difficult diagnoses.
- Manage your relationships.
- Stay organized.
- Don’t give up on dating.
- Find meaning in the face of a poor prognosis.
- Consider how to tell children about your or a loved one’s diagnosis.
- Come to terms with needing support.
Within reason, decide how you want your future to look
Regardless of how long you plan to stay here on Earth, you have at least some choices about how your future will look after a tough diagnosis. Who feels good to be around? Prioritize their presence in your life. What activities make you feel fulfilled? Spend more time on those. Where do you want to be? Go there. Seek the peace and experiences you’ve always wanted to, now that you know how valuable your time is.
Take comfort in connection
However your future looks, make sure to comfort yourself with connection. Enjoy others’ company, accept support, and ask for help when you need it. If you just need to share your thoughts with another person, without judgement or expectations, consider chatting here at Supportiv. Connection can help the grieving process after a difficult diagnosis, allowing you to clear your head and rethink your future.