Everyone has their own unique way of dealing with the stress of a serious diagnosis. We often talk about the “fight or flight” response as our body’s way of responding to a situation that feels threatening to us. Most of our current threats do not require us to physically fight an aggressor, but we will find other ways to either take on the problem or try to run away from it. Sometimes we may not even recognize what we are doing is related to the stress we are experiencing. That may be the case with the amount of information we seek related to a cancer diagnosis and the treatment options.
My husband and I had very different responses to a new diagnosis of AML in our family. I immediately starting scouring the literature to find out everything we could possibly learn in order to get the best possible outcome…my fight response. My husband, on the other hand, read absolutely nothing and relied on the healthcare team to provide him with the necessary information…his flight response.
In our situation, it seems like the right road was probably somewhere between each of our individual behaviors. It’s true, I learned a lot about the most current treatment options and prognosis, but as my husband pointed out, my anxiety about the situation frequently went up after reading additional information on the internet. The information I learned did, however, help us prioritize how we wanted to spend our time and energy during an aggressive treatment regime for an equally aggressive cancer. My husband wanted to “get his mind off it” and felt the healthcare team were the experts and would provide us with information we needed as we needed it. We both were trying to manage our anxiety over the diagnosis in our own way, which was completely opposite of each other!
In hindsight, my husband would say he appreciated knowing the statistics for his father’s prognosis because it helped him ask some of the difficult questions that are frequently hard to raise. Similarly, I would agree that some of the information I found was very valuable for us. But, many of the articles I read were very dismal and increased our anxiety. It became more challenging to see what was going right in the moment rather than what could possibly go wrong in the future. So for the two of us, it may have been more helpful to just formulate the questions that were most significant for us and ask the oncology care team or have them point us in the direction of helpful research articles. Everyone is different and the best way to lessen our stress or anxiety is also different, even within families. It’s important to know what works best for you. How much information is helpful to you when learning about a serious diagnosis and how do you like to get that information? Have you had experiences that worked well or worked poorly?