Episode 1. New Diagnosis or Prognosis: 3 ways to manage the overwhelmJan 15, 2024
Have you ever experienced that absolute overwhelm of a life-altering diagnosis or prognosis?
In this very first episode of "Wellbeing Interrupted," host Teisha Rose shares her deeply personal experience with her stage four breast cancer diagnosis. Plus the surprising silver lining living with multiple sclerosis for 25 years has provided.
This episode delves into three practical ways to manage the emotional and mental overwhelm that often accompanies a new health diagnosis or prognosis.
Teisha's insights come from her unique social work and lived experience and are meant to offer support, understanding, and actionable steps for anyone navigating through a life-changing diagnosis or prognosis.
Whether you live with any health condition or chronic illness, or are supporting a loved one, the insights shared will definitely help! ❤️🧡💚
If you LOVED the episode, make sure you share this on your Instagram stories and tag us @hurdle2hope. DM me as well with any feedback!
KEY EPISODE TAKEAWAYS:
- Understanding and managing emotional overwhelm after a diagnosis
- The importance of reliable information sources when navigating the medical word
- The value of a supportive network when coping with your diagnosis or prognosis
- Staying present and focused to avoid unnecessary stress
- Wellbeing Interrupted website
- Teisha's business Hurdle2Hope®
- Breast Cancer Network Australia: Resources
Always remember to thrive after a life-changing diagnosis... Your Mindset is Everything!
If you like this episode, don't forget to share it to your Instagram stories and tag me @hurdle2hope!
EPISODE 1 TRANSCRIPT
Welcome to the Wellbeing Interrupted podcast. I'm Teisha Rose, and it's exciting, this is our very first episode. Today we're addressing something that's really deeply personal for me and universally challenging. It's how to manage the overwhelm of a new diagnosis or prognosis. When life throws us these curveballs, it's not just about that medical verdict of what you have now or what the results say, it's that whirlwind of emotions, questions, uncertainties about what lies ahead.
So, I've been through this first with MS at just twenty-two and more recently with stage four breast cancer. In this episode, I want to share with you three practical ways to cope with this overwhelm. So, whether you're coping with recent health news or you're supporting someone who is, this episode is meant to offer you support, understanding, and three actionable steps to help you navigate a new diagnosis or prognosis.
But before we get started, a quick apology again from my voice. I hope it doesn't annoy you too much, but I didn't want my voice and the problems of muscle tension dysphonia to stop me from sharing all the insights I've gained over the last twenty-five years.
I want to take you back to a Friday night back in January 2022. I was really tired, but I thought I'd have a shower before bed. I remember checking my breasts. It was a bit sore, that wire had left a mark under my armpit, then in the shower, I felt a lump. I put more shower gel on my hand and had another feel. And I thought, what's going on? I couldn't work out where this lump had come from; I'd never felt anything like it before. My heart was racing. I quickly threw a towel around me. I was going to say I ran down the hallway, but with MS, I can't run, I sort of walked, or as Andrew, my partner, says I waddled down the hall very quickly, hands on more, and I wanted to get his opinion.
So I woke Andrew up, and I really needed him to say, "No, no, no, that's been there for ages," or, "You know that's fine." Unfortunately, he said, "What's that from? Where'd that come from?" Now we were both confused. My stomach was telling me something wasn't right. But I had no idea that from this very moment, my life would never be the same.
I'm sure you've had this experience, you find something new, you know something's not right with your body. And then all medical appointments start happening. So, the next morning, I rang the local clinic, and I had an appointment with this amazing female GP who I'd never met before, but my goodness, I was so glad our paths crossed at that moment. She didn't like the feel of the lump and straight away referred me for a scan. I had to wait ten days for that scan which, as you know, that wait can be so stressful. But fortunately, I had a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy, and results came through. I went back to the GP. "So sorry. It's breast cancer."
And then I had that out-of-body experience. I remember having the same experience when I was diagnosed with MS. It's that confusion, that feeling of nauseousness in your stomach, you know things racing around in your mind. Fortunately, this time I had Andrew there with me. He was tickling my back, and just that touch grounded me. It also reminded me that yes, this news is pretty terrifying. But we're in this together.
I know part of my confusion was that I truly believed that I had my life-changing disease for this lifetime. I had MS. And over the years, I listened to stories of women dealing with breast cancer. But never once did I ever worry or contemplate that breast cancer could be part of my story. So soon, I was catapulted into a world I never thought I'd be part of. And the world of cancer is pretty terrifying.
My next appointment was with a surgeon, again an amazing woman, and I was so grateful that she would be operating on me. I felt such peace in her presence. She was also really thorough. And she requested an MRI before my surgery. And not only did the scan show the tumour was bigger than first thought, but there was also a spot on my liver and another one on my sternum. At this stage, it wasn't anything to panic about, but a PET scan was organised just to double-check that these spots weren't anything sinister.
I continued to prepare for my mastectomy, a really emotional time. Way too many good jokes were happening at home. But you know, sometimes you have to laugh instead of cry, but there were also lots of tears. Because when you think about it, a mastectomy, it's pretty brutal.
It was the afternoon before my scheduled surgery, and I was packing my little red suitcase, making sure I had everything ready for my hospital stay, including new pyjamas that were buttoned through and respectable underwear. As I was doing this, my mobile phone rang. It was my surgeon. And she said, "I'm so sorry, but the spots on your liver and sternum, the PET scan showed them to be cancerous."
I couldn't breathe. I didn't know what to say. I tried so hard to listen to what my surgeon was saying, but all I could hear was, "Surgery cancelled. There is no point. Cancer has spread." I was so confused, having been diagnosed with stage two breast cancer a couple of weeks before, learning that it was now considered terminal, literally took my breath away.
And I'm sure that moment and the anxiety it created is a big part of the muscle tension dysphonia and why that muscle above my voice box tightened up. And it's why I call my voice, the voice of trauma, because it was so much to process.
So it was the first day when I received that phone call. And I would be seeing an oncologist the following Monday. And she, I was told, would help me with a treatment plan to manage my cancer because we could no longer cure it. It was no longer a stage one, two, or three cancer that could be removed. Instead, it was incurable.
So the goal now was to manage my cancer. Okay, I want to stop there, just to pause because I don't want all of these podcast episodes just to be about me. But what I want to do is share with you the insights, the mindset shifts I use to get through moments like these.
So often when navigating the medical world, when we face terrifying diagnoses, when we're waiting for test results, we are left gasping for air, truly petrified about what is in front of us. I want to share how I managed to get through these following few days, the days after learning that I now had stage four breast cancer, but having to wait before I met my oncologist and could really find out how bad it was, what stage four breast cancer meant for me.
The first thing I did to ensure I managed the absolute overwhelm and the stress and fear of receiving this diagnosis was to surround myself with information, sources that were reliable, that I could trust. So by this, I remember the surgeon initially told me when in our first appointment, that Breast Cancer Network Australia had fantastic information to read, that information to find out what's going on with my mastectomy. So I straight away went back to that website.
Part of me didn't want to read anything about stage four breast cancer because as you read the information, it does add to your stress and anxiety, reading something, being told that you have a terminal condition that it's not curable, is, you know, doesn't help you sleep well at night. But it was really important that I knew what was going on before I met the oncologist.
So I was really clear on what information I would read. I didn't go to Google. I didn't search stage four breast cancer. I only read a source that I could trust. I also rang up my GP. I trusted her. I wanted to find out what this meant and what type of questions to ask my oncologist.
Next time, you're experiencing a similar stressful situation when you're waiting on results or a follow-up about your diagnosis or prognosis, I really encourage you to also stay clear of sources or information that add to your stress and anxiety. But at the same time, I totally recognize that information is power. So find sources that are reliable, that you can trust, that won't add to your anxiety, and read this information so you increase your understanding. So you're more prepared when you navigate through the medical world.
The second thing I did was surround myself with friends and family members that energized me, that supported me, that didn't add to my stress, anxiety, and fear. You know yourself, if you're going through something that's really stressful in relation to your health condition, or any aspect of your life, when you're facing a challenge, you want to pick up the phone to someone that makes you feel better. Someone who lets you cry, who holds you in that space, but also doesn't add to your fear. So, over those few days, I knew I needed people who would uplift me. And I also needed to surround myself with positive people.
And it's probably a good time now for me to introduce that this isn't about toxic positivity. So, in living with MS, I have a positive outlook, but that doesn't mean I'm not authentic to my emotions or feelings. If during these few days, I needed to cry, that was okay. I cried so much, but I needed to be around people who would hold me but also uplift me during those moments. People that were okay with me being upset, but also positive in their outlook, positive about the impact that I could have on whatever news I was going to hear on Monday with the oncologist.
Your friends and family don't need to have all the answers, but you just need to know that they're there for you, whatever happens in that next appointment. And I was so blessed with an incredible partner, incredible family members, incredible friends. And I think it's the tribe we attract as well. Like I've always been positive in terms of my outlook with MS. I haven't let it stop me from having some incredible experiences in my life. So I've found that I've attracted friends with similar outlooks, and my family and my partner are really positive as well. They're not just there for me, they're upset, but they're also positive.
The third way that helped me manage the overwhelm of a new diagnosis or prognosis is to stay in the moment. And this sounds simple. But staying in the moment, staying present is so difficult when you receive a diagnosis or prognosis that is scary. Because you start letting your mind wander, and it's really important to rein it in. Years ago, I went on my first meditation retreat, and it was such a good experience. It started me thinking and approaching my life with MS differently. The facilitator said, try not to imagine and live out every possible catastrophe that may or may not be part of your future. And I've taken that advice on board because there's no point in filling your mind with things that may never happen. So, in those few days, I really made every effort to stop my mind from racing ahead, to stop it from imagining every worst-case scenario. And fortunately, it helped. And anytime my mind started racing ahead, I diverted my attention. I watched lots of Netflix over those few days. We went out, went for drives, we sat in nature, we ate my favourite foods. We did so much to keep me present and stop my mind from racing ahead.
So there it is. Those are the three simple ways that I managed the absolute overwhelm of being told by my surgeon that my mastectomy was cancelled. And I was now dealing with stage four breast cancer. And it worked. I've never been so stressed before an appointment as I was meeting my oncologist for the first time. But fortunately, she was like my surgeon, like my GP, an amazing doctor. I felt calm in her presence, by her knowledge but also by the way she communicated, by the way she explained what was going on. I was present enough to ask questions about what was happening. My information sources worked. I had information which enabled me to understand what was going on. I was feeling positive. I'd surrounded myself with family and friends that made me feel positive, that gave me confidence that I could have an impact on my experience. And I stayed present. I wouldn't let my mind run away. So I didn't even ask, "What's my prognosis?" I didn't say, "Well, how long do you think I have?" Because I thought such questions were pointless. And I'm so glad I didn't ask. My future is such a massive unknown, but I don't want to put any expiry date on me or a best-before date. When your future is so unknown, and that's what it's been like for years and years with MS. I know through experience that it's so important to focus on the present, to focus on what I can control. And that helps me to look forward with confidence because I know that no matter what happens, I can have an impact on my experience with cancer, and with MS.
So much has happened since that appointment with my oncologist, but over the coming episodes, I'll share even more. But for now, I really want you to focus on three ways you can have an impact on managing the overwhelm of new symptoms, a new diagnosis, or a new prognosis. Always surround yourself with information that you trust, that doesn't feed your anxiety. Always surround yourself with people who uplift you, who don't add to your stress and anxiety. And stay in the moment. Don't waste time worrying about things that may never happen.