Ask Sheree: How to Deal With a Life Changing Diagnosis

Advice on how to cope after being diagnosed with an incurable disease that jeopardizes your career

Disease
(Image: iStock.com/Kurhan)

Dear Sheree,

I am a 46-year-old, African American female executive employed with a Fortune 100 company for the last three years.  A little over 12 months ago, I started to notice my right hand tingling, and it eventually became very stiff and hard to use.  I went to the best hospitals and medical professionals and now have been formally diagnosed with ALS.  In the year since I first noticed symptoms, my body has changed so quickly, it is hard for me to look at myself in the mirror.  I have a definite limp, and my speech is now slurred.  It took me a long time to accept that my medical problems could not be treated or that my positive thinking and praying could not change things. What is so shocking about this is that I did everything to take care of my health—I exercise, watch my weight, eat well, and drink in moderation.

Less than a week after sharing the news of my diagnosis with my company, I found out a candidate is being interviewed to replace me. I am trying to figure out how to handle all this.  My husband has been extremely supportive, and does not want me to have the added stress of trying to fight with my organization for my position. I live in another state from my small family, and it is unlikely that they will be able to assist me. I will begin physical and speech therapy within the next week.

Stephanie

 

Dear Stephanie,

Let me first of all say, that I cannot even begin to imagine the personal anguish and pain you are experiencing, after being diagnosed with ALS. The blessing is that you now know what is causing your body to change so much. You are not alone in facing the dreaded side effects of this devastating disease.

According to the ALS Association, every day, an average of 15 people are newly diagnosed with ALS also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease—more than 5,600 people per year.  Most people who develop ALS are between the ages of 40 and 70, with an average age of 55 at the time of diagnosis. However, cases of the disease do occur in persons in their twenties and thirties.

The ALS Association defines amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) as a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that destroys motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord, preventing signals from being sent to voluntary muscles.  There is no single test to detect ALS. Typically, this disease is diagnosed by ruling out other possible explanations for a patient’s symptoms. Most patients live between three and five years after being diagnosed, but a small number live for 10 years or longer. At the latest stages of the disease, patients require ventilator support in order to breath. Since the sensory neurons are not affected by the condition, patients retain the abilities to taste, hear, smell, and sense touch. 

There is Always Something to Be Grateful for, Even When We Are Unhappy

 

Being diagnosed with ALS after taking care of your health so diligently must feel like you are in a nightmare you cannot wake up from. It also must be extremely painful to discover that your employer has taken immediate steps to replace you, without even considering whether adjustments can be made to help you remain with the company. The disease does not impact a person’s ability to use their mind, but it does cause extreme fatigue, which makes it extremely tiring to do the most basic functions.

That being said, I am going to suggest that you immediately contact a Labor Attorney and seek their counsel on how to navigate this extremely difficult period in your life.

All Our Planning in Our Lives, None of Us Knows What Turns Fate Will Take

 

This is time in which you will be tested on all the levels in life:  physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  You mentioned your small family members living a distance away from you; my hope is that you have a community of loving and supportive friends, who are already stepping up to assist you and your husband.

Do Not Beat Yourself up for Things You Cannot Control

 

My sense of you is that you are a well-educated person, who has been committed to doing the right thing in her life, and there is no way that you could prepare for the test you are now facing.

I am going to strongly suggest you schedule an appointment with a social worker at the hospital or health care facility that you are working with for your treatment, to help you and your husband plan and prepare for what you are already facing. It is easy to feel overwhelmed when dealing with this, and you both need help. Without a doubt, I know there are moments in which panic and depression take over, and you are struggling to find some way to deal with all this. Just know that you will remain in thoughts and prayers of others.

Steps for coping with a major health challenge:

  1. Take time to grieve the life that you planned for yourself.
  2. Meditate every day and seek to be peaceful and hopeful despite the physical changes you are experiencing in your body.
  3. Seek early treatment.
  4. Ask for help from family and friends.
  5. Join a support group.

Develop a Spiritual Practice

 

Your statement does not contain information on whether you have a spiritual practice, or if you are attending church. This is why it important to develop a spiritual practice that could be as simple as taking a few moments to acknowledge how grateful you are for your life.

 

I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

 

 


Sheree Franklin-Hill (Image: Sheree Franklin-Hill)

Intuitive Life Strategist Sheree Franklin helps people to find the courage to release their life challenges in order to live in alignment with their true self.  She is the author of ‘Intuition: The Hidden Asset Everyone Should Learn to Use.’  To learn more about Franklin’s book, follow the link above.