Kyle McMahon's Death, Grief & Other Sh*t We Don't Discuss: How To Handle A Life-Threatening Diagnosis for Yourself or a Loved One.
In Episode One of Death, Grief and Other Sh*t We Don't Discuss, I talk with Dr. Nicole Duffy - a medical psychologist who works closely with patients fighting cancer. When my Mom got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, my world nearly collapsed. With a 9% survival rate at the time (now 11% just one year later), pancreatic cancer is the most deadly cancer there is, with no known cure. While my Mom was caught early, which is the best hope for survival, pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed in Stage 4 when treatment options are more limited. There is an incredible care team at most cancer focused hospitals that include facilities for mental health. As my Mom always taught me, mental health is just as important as physical health.
But what do you do when a loved one receives a diagnosis that is life threatening? How do you cope? How do you keep your mental health in check, while trying to navigate through the difficult road ahead? While in many ways I felt helpless with Mom's diagnosis, I tried to hyper-focus on the things that I could control. Dr. Duffy gives some advice:
"The first thing is to allow yourself that range of emotional experience... And hopefully, your loved ones can tolerate that. And it's okay if they can't, right? It's okay to be a person that can show up with a casserole, but can't sit and listen to someone contemplate their mortality...that's okay. Know what you can do and you can do consistently and show up for that person. Maybe you're someone who can send snail mail, and you'll send greeting cards, or shoot a text message or pick up someone's kids from school. So as a support person, just, you know, ask what they need, and if they don't know, suggest something that you know you can do reliably. If you're not an awesome cook, don't offer to make a casserole. But...show up in the way that you can for folks."
What about if it's you who has received a life threatening diagnosis? How do you keep from curling up in a ball and never leaving your bed? Dr. Duffy puts it into perspective:
"Then the person going through it, you know, a lot of times people have a drastic shift in their role. Maybe they were the caregiver, or maybe they were the provider. And for a lot of folks, it can be very difficult to articulate the needs that they have, and accept the help that's available to them. But recognizing, we're not meant to come into this world alone, and we're not meant to go out of this world alone. And if you're fortunate enough to have a loved one, a family member or a friend, a reliable neighbor, to lean on that person. And if you don't have someone in your life like that there's professionals like myself and others at the (Helen F. Graham) Cancer Center (& Research Institute) and in the community that...You know we've got community health workers, we've got social workers...all types of folks that can sort of walk the walk with you."
The info-graphic above is downloadable, so please feel free to save it so you may refer to it at anytime. Please check out Episode 1: The Diagnosis (aka WTF?!?) of my new series Death, Grief & Other Sh*t We Don't Discuss to listen to the full interview with Dr. Duffy. Her candid and honest insights into dealing with a life-threatening illness, either for yourself or a loved one, are incredibly profound and may offer some peace, as well as practical, actionable advice to help make the journey a little less terrible.
Death, Grief and Other Sh*t We Don't Discuss is a podcast series following Kyle McMahon in the wake of his mother's passing from pancreatic cancer. Intertwining his grief story with interviews from his travels across the country speaking with subject matter experts ranging from an embalmer to a Medium, an oncological psychologist to a Doctor studying Near Death Experiences and everything in between. Available on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts.