Most people don’t pursue the topic of how to be sick. But when you are first diagnosed with an illness, it can be scary and confusing with so many unknowns. What do you believe and how do you respond? Jen Singer, who has survived cancer, COVID-19 and heart failure drew upon her experience as a medical writer for one of New York City’s most prestigious hospitals to help others respond to an unexpected diagnosis. Jen already knew how to decipher survival statistics, medical research papers and how to translate all the medicalese. So she wrote the book How to Be Sick.
As a longtime book coach, ghostwriter and editor, Jen is also known as Macheté Jen, helping writers cut words, paragraphs and even chapters that may not be needed. Working with everyone from fighter pilots, CEOs and Olympic athletes didn’t totally prepare her for her own medical journey, but she did know to NOT pay a visit to “Dr. Google” as a new patient. Her Just Diagnosed guides were an outflow of her experience of analyzing in-depth research, which can be frightening, tempered with her experience as a patient. You will want to listen to her interview as well as read the article with steps to proceed as it’s timely information for most anyone. In this article are four steps for how to be sick.
Step One: Get a Diagnosis
When feeling well, especially for a long period of time, the mind tends to wander when the body feels off. If it’s more than a cold or sinus infection, the creeping hand of fear sneaks up from behind to add a sense of panic, stress and questioning. The media doesn’t help our mindsets with almost daily reports of sudden deaths and illnesses. At this point, many of us go to “Dr. Google” (which includes any and all websites and blog articles) and start scouring the internet for symptoms that are close to ours.
Our physical indicators could include exhaustion, difficulty in breathing or escalating congestion. Those symptoms could be attributed to diabetes, anemia and even lung cancer. The possibilities bring more panic! Complications associated with any number of diseases is frightening.
A proper diagnosis by a medical professional, even if it’s not a full and accurate diagnosis, but one that identifies and provides an honest assessment for your issue is the best avenue to pursue at this point. Having a trusted medical professional that will either see you in a reasonable length of time or refer you to a specialist familiar with your issue is an important first step in getting a diagnosis. However, even after diagnosis there are situations where there is no apparent solution to what is ailing you. Whether or not one gets an acceptable diagnosis, digging in to do our own research should be our next step. The information is out there. We just have to know where to look.
Step Two: Do the Research
The internet is helpful for research, but not just on any listed website on a Google search. Blog posts don’t often list their sources and may even expand on information that is not reliable. The words could be, very likely or may be attributed to are signals of so-called research based upon very little actual fact and is mostly opinion. Jen suggests we go to websites of associations. Many times, those websites include patient-friendly information that doesn’t give you so much detail that after reviewing, makes your eyes cross. Also, it is usually more accurate based on actual statistics. Many large hospitals have research websites so look for them. White papers that are written by research professionals are also a good resource that most likely includes data. Look for reliable information that speaks in clear, accurate language to minimize exaggerated outcomes of symptoms.
For example, if I look up the search term shingles, I find 274 million results. Which of those results are the most reliable? Since I didn’t even have a clue I had shingles when experiencing my symptoms some years ago, I became frightened when I read about the multiple possibilities of unbearable headaches lasting days on end. I was sure I had a brain tumor! Government websites (those with .gov) tend to lead with statistics of death. Jen says to be wary as they don’t take into consideration age and overall health. I wish I had known this at the time. Also, the word science has been diluted and even politicized in previous years. Doing our own research within the bounds of reliable websites and trusting in our intuition can save lives and sanity. Don’t discount this process.
Step Three: How to Respond
Don’t put off prompt medical decisions for yourself or for someone you care about and always get another opinion for major decisions. This principle especially applies in advocating for other family members or those close to you. Assertive action can be life-saving. After discovering the most optimal treatment, don’t put it off. A day can turn into a week, then a month and a year. Also, there are many cases where the addition of a change in diet and exercise along with medical treatment is the optimal solution. Creating new habits with those changes may be more difficult than taking medication! This healthy mindset will make a difference in most cases. (see Goal Sheet free download on Nutritional Timing)
When we hear of others who are currently ill, Jen suggests we don’t use the phrase, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do!” This puts the responsibility back on the patient to be the initiator of further action. With limited energy, the last thing a patient needs to do is to do their own follow up for help. Make it easy. Plan meals, send a meal gift card or take kids to sports activities. There are so many ways to help others who are ill. Hand-written notes and cards are an anomaly today and are usually opened with delight. This principle can also easily apply to new parents, especially for a first child which can be overwhelming.
What about social media? I see many sharing their illnesses and asking for thoughts and prayers. There is nothing wrong with this if it’s done tastefully. It really depends on the comfort level of the individual but should be filtered and carefully considered. I tend to keep information fairly close to the vest, not sharing much, except maybe after the fact. That is my personal style. But some sharing can be informative and help others through their journey. Especially with life-threatening illnesses. Finding websites, forums and posts from those who are experiencing similar symptoms can be reassuring, helpful and provide needed information. Just stay away from those who readily give unwarranted advice. The point here is that it is important to create some sort of space to share feelings. However, the manner is different for everyone.
Step Four: What Next?
The next step is to get well! Create circles of support and be honest with those closest because we truly do need each other. (see chapter 7 in Women at Halftime book for Relationship Circles) Hiding a prognosis is not healthy for anyone. Make time in your life for what is most important, which should include the people in your close circle. If you’ve not spent time lately going through your core values, do it now so to spend time doing what is most important in life. None of us know how much time we really have. I wish for you great health.
- about jen singer
Jen Singer has survived cancer, Covid, and heart failure. For years, she was a medical writer for some of New York City’s most prestigious hospitals. When she’s not working as a ghostwriter, developmental editor, and writing coach, she writes patient-friendly ebooks called “The Just Diagnosed Guides” to provide the newly diagnosed with the information they really need to know now. She lives at the Jersey Shore (the place, not the TV show).
Your mindset is influenced and molded by your previous experiences and creates a certain view of the world.
Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author
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