3:03 pm - Saturday August 22, 0352

Tips for Handling Grave Medical News

How you respond to bad news from the doctor can change your life as much as the diagnosis can.

“I was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Obstructive Cardiomyopathy — HOCM,” says J. Thomas Shaw, author of a novel inspired by his experience, The RX Factor (www.theRXFactor.com). “Whenever you hear about a young athlete in exceptional condition dropping dead during a game or near the end of a hard practice, the autopsy usually reveals that was the cause.”

After being referred to one of the world’s leading cardiomyopathy specialists, a doctor who literally wrote the book on the condition, Shaw was shocked and disappointed to learn that no cure is expected within his lifetime – another 40 years or more.

“With all of the exponential leaps we’re making in medical technology right now, including sci-fi level accomplishments like inputting digital data into organic cells, I would think that pretty much anything is possible in the coming decades,” he says.

After months of research and consultations with doctors and other health-care providers, Shaw concluded that profit-seeking and “Big Pharma” — the drug lobbyists in Washington — are hindering the quest for cures.

“As long as disease can be maintained throughout a lifetime with various medications, why would an industry that profits from stabilizing maladies want to cure it? It’s their bread and butter!” he says.

Shaw offers tips for people who receive unwelcome medical news:

• A second opinion: “Emotion kicks in immediately when you get a potentially life-ending diagnosis, and many people don’t bother getting a second or third opinion. They consider that denial, or wishful thinking,” he says. Doctors are human – they make mistakes. Even if the diagnosis doesn’t change, another physician may suggest a different course of treatment. Try to arrange a visit with a specialist at a nationally renowned research hospital.

• Empower yourself with knowledge: The internet is filled with good information, but the trick for research is avoiding the sea of misinformation online. There are many studies from various universities to be found, and sites including WebMD.com are reliable sources.

• The wake-up call response: For many, knowledge of a difficult medical condition is a reminder to finally implement a healthier lifestyle. Some patients turn around their lifestyle completely with regular exercise, a balanced diet with nutrition as the primary focus, and restricting or completely abstaining from alcohol and cigarettes. This can have amazing results.

• Positive thinking / a focus on what matters: At some point, we all must face that we are mortal beings with limited resources, Shaw says. Sometimes, a good attitude is the best, if not only, weapon for facing terminal illness or a lifelong disability. Taking stock of what’s important, such as loved ones, is that positive x-factor that science has difficulty in measuring as a tangible health benefit — but it is nonetheless.

In the meantime, citizens should be more proactive in the discussion about our nation’s health care system, Shaw says.

“You can be young and healthy now – but at some point, everyone is affected by our health-care policies,” he says. “Now is the time to take better care of ourselves and to reconsider how we medically treat patients.”

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