“Just because Fate doesn’t deal you the right cards, it doesn’t mean you should give up. It just means you have to play the cards you get to their maximum potential.” ~ Les Brown
How do you handle bad news?
Whether its an unwanted health diagnosis, a pink slip at work, learning your spouse is cheating, or the shocking phone call delivering news that a loved one has died or been in a terrible accident, receiving bad news is inevitable. At one time or another, it happens to us all.
I should receive a gold medal for being the champion of receiving bad news. Three years ago I was laid off from teaching, two years ago I lost my house in foreclosure because by teaching at a Catholic school I wasn’t entitled to collect unemployment in Massachusetts, and working three small jobs couldn’t pay the mortgage.
Three years ago, I also received my first health scare; a silent killer was living inside me: cervical cancer.
For three years, I’ve undergone biopsies and countless tests, treatments, and doctor visits. Six months ago I was finally given a clean bill of health. That was six months ago.
Today I learned that the cancer had come back.
Sitting in the doctor’s office, receiving the news, I felt like the Charles Schulz character, Charlie Brown, listening to his classroom teacher: “Wah, Wah, Wah…”
The news was incomprehensible. I recalled only a few of the doctor’s words driving home: “It’s concerning….the numbers are bad…high risk…more biopsies…we’ll wait and see…”
Once I pulled into my driveway, I entered my living room where my puppy Bella greeted me and danced around my legs, walked over to my kitchen table that was cluttered with late credit card and utility bills, and held a pity party for myself. Yep, I cupped my face in my hands and had a good cry.
Even though it was a beautiful summer day and already 11 a.m., I went back to bed. Pulling a sheet over my head, I pleaded with sleep to free me from processing this bad news. But following more tears, I decided it was time to grab the news by the handle and not the blade.
What thoughts were racing through my head?
“I’m not the first person to receive bad news like this…It could be worse…Stop feeling sorry for yourself!…Think about the people who have braved tornadoes and lost everything…I’ve been through this before, I’ll get through it…”
Then I sat in front of my laptop and Googled “Ways to feel better after receiving a bad diagnosis.”
Now I’m writing this article, hoping it will help someone else who is stuck in a pity party after receiving some bad news (and to be perfectly honest, I’m also writing this article for myself).
“Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘grow, grow, grow.”~ The Talmud
Ways To Feel Better After Receiving Bad News
Just by searching on the internet, I learned a few ways to cope with the bad news, and things that I can do to feel better while I wait for more biopsy results.
I learned there are definitely things one can do to combat depression, stress, and anxiety, whether the cause is bad health, divorce, a family death or suicide, your child’s own illness, or unemployment. It doesn’t matter what the cause is; feeling better is possible after receiving any bad news.
Here are some things you can do to feel better:
- Maintain a healthy life style.
- Let friends or family help you (communication is important!).
- See a counselor to help you share your feelings.
- Practice or learn relaxation techniques.
- Try to maintain a normal lifestyle but modify it if necessary (enjoy leisure activities and stay involved as much as you can).
- Take time out to be alone (but not too much time!).
- Don’t push your feelings away; consider keeping a journal to express feelings, frustrations, or worry (whatever is on your mind, let it out!).
- Listen to Music ( To read a great article on how music benefits the brain, click here…)
My Own Three Tips:
1. Listen to Tim McGraw sing Live Like You Were Dying.
I saw him play last Saturday night in Pittsburgh (two days before I received my bad news). I was moved after witnessing Tim McGraw’s reaction to a fan holding up his father’s Major League numbered jersey with the “McGraw” name on the back. (Most fans know that Live Like You Were Dying is associated with Tug McGraw, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died in January of 2004. Tug McGraw was a relief pitcher who in the 1980 World Series brought the Philadelphia Phillies their first world championship after striking out Willie Wilson of the Kansas City Royals).
Upon seeing his father’s number while singing, McGraw looked like he was fighting back tears. At the end of the song, McGraw took the jersey and held it up to the crowd in memory of his father, and the crowd went wild.
This song is inspirational and reminds the listener that we only have today and it’s important to live in the present.
2. Live in the present moment.
Today is all we have; yesterday is gone, and tomorrow isn’t here yet. Why worry about things that might not happen or are out of our control?
3. Reflect on the ABCs
Martin E. P. Seligman is an American psychologist and author of self-help books. Here is his quote that is worth thinking about:
“It’s a matter of ABC: When we encounter ADVERSITY, we react by thinking about it. Our thoughts rapidly congeal into BELIEFS. These beliefs may become so habitual, we don’t even realize we have them unless we stop to focus on them. And they don’t just sit there idly; they have CONSEQUENCES. The beliefs are the direct cause of what we feel and what we do next. They can spell the difference between dejection and giving up, on the one hand, and well-being and constructive action on the other. The first step is to see the connection between adversity, belief, and consequence. The second step is to see how the ABCs operate every day in our own life.”
When adversity strikes, remember to stay positive. Positive thinking will help you through the choppy water. I’m counting on it to help me!
Helpful Sources and Links:
“Cancer diagnosis: 11 tips for coping” by The Mayo Clinic Staff
“Devastating Diagnosis” by Dr. Mehmet Oz
“After Diagnosis: A Guide For Patient and Family” (PDF) by The American Cancer Society
“Shock and Awe: The first psychological phase of coping with cancer” by Mindy Greenstein PhD
“How Music Benefits the Brain” by Medical News Today
Additional Book Recommendation
The House on Crash Corner by Mindy Greenstein (sad, hilarious and meaningful ways we deal with the crises in our lives)