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How to Empower People with a Serious Illness
Serious illness is more than a crisis of the body; it is a
crisis of the soul. Many patients react to a serious disease by
becoming paralyzed by fear. Resistance quickly crumbles, and is
followed by depression and despair. Yet others marshal the inner
resources needed to overcome the crisis.
How can people be empowered to mobilize their innate resources
for health and healing? The twin keys to unlocking the door are
Comprehension and Communication.
Comprehension means first understanding that the outcome of most
common diseases--cancer and heart disease--is rarely inevitable.
Your illness need not be your fate. Every doctor has seen
patients with a life-threatening illness make a miraculous
recovery after they were thought to be beyond hope. But because
medical science is unable to explain these extraordinary
occurrences, their importance is often ignored. Medicine is so
enamored of the apparent infallibility of science that it has
become blind to other possibilities. Remarkable recoveries are
dismissed with the derisive term, "anecdotal," a code word for
Countless times, I have observed two desperately ill patients
lying side by side in the Intensive Care Unit, seemingly in
identical clinical circumstances. At the critical juncture, one
would start to show signs of improvement, and go on to live,
while the other would go downhill, deteriorate, and die. The
cause of that divergence has always been a profound mystery to
me, and one of vital importance. Clearly, the importance of a
patient's state of mind is a critical factor in determining the
outcome of a life-threatening illness. Self-empowerment is
possible, and it does matter. Research has validated what
doctors have always known: the will to live is as potent a force
for healing as any pill or procedure.
Comprehension also means becoming learning everything you can
about the disease afflicting you. Get online. Do the research.
Becoming more knowledgeable is vital to becoming an active
participant in your own care. Become informed. Educate yourself
about your illness, using the internet, library and resources
like the Library of Congress, American
Heart Association and
Communication begins with your doctor. Let him or her know that
you plan to be an active partner in combating your illness. Ask
questions. Find out about alternative approaches--their risks
and benefits. And never hesitate to get a second opinion.
Communicating with your loved ones is also vital. Friends and
family members are often skittish around sick people. They often
tend to avoid meaningful interactions. This can reinforce a
patient's sense of loneliness and isolation. Open up to them
about your feelings. Tell them how you would like them to be
with you. Encourage them to express their heartfelt feelings by
taking the lead and letting them know what's going on within you.
Most importantly, communicate with yourself. Learn to use simple
relaxation techniques as well as journal writing to re-enforce
your self-belief, keep you centered and aware of what's
happening within you. Relaxation and/or meditation techniques
are easy to learn. They simply involve becoming quiet and
visualizing a beautiful scene from nature or, repeating a word
or phrase that is meaningful to you such as God or Peace, or
simply focusing your attention on your breath. Journal writing
is a powerful way to express inner feelings.
If you would like to become inspired by patients with
life-threatening illnesses who found the inner strength to
combat their afflictions, I suggest you read my recent book,
Courageous Confrontations. It tells the stories of seven
patients whose will to live imposed new realities on their
disease. Often they survived, not because of their medical care,
but despite it. These wonderful people prove that all of us have
the power to impose new realities on illness. Your crisis can be
an opportunity to change the quality of your life, as well as
your relationship with yourself and others.
About the author:
Richard Helfant, MD is a Harvard-trained cardiologist.
Courageous Confrontations, Dr. Helfant's latest work, is
an inspiring book about patients who found the inner strength to
combat a life-threatening
Written By: Richard Helfant