Did you know that you can manage your disease better than anyone else can, even better than your doctor? (I am a doctor: this is a doctor saying this!) Yes, you can take charge of your disease and help banish it from your mind.
How? Begin by having a positive approach to the illness and your health. Discard negative thoughts such as, “I can’t do this. Why did this happen to me? What did I do wrong to deserve this?” Replace this thinking with “I can manage this disease.”
Here are five simple steps to manage any health issue.
STEP 1: Learn everything you can about what you’re facing, and never stop learning.
The more you learn the better you can manage it. This step works for maintaining health, too.
STEP 2: Understand the diagnostic process.
How do you know the diagnosis is correct? Is it typical or unusual? Are the tests going to help with your diagnosis? Being thorough is not a good enough reason to have a test. What diagnosis is a test for? What are the risks of a test? Is a biopsy necessary to confirm the diagnosis, and why?
STEP 3: Know your treatment options.
There are always options. Find out about the natural history of your disease. What happens if you don’t do anything? Sometimes the problem will go away after a few days, or after a few weeks without treatment. Knowing the natural progression will give you a benchmark to monitor your progress with the treatment. Ask about the benefits and the risks of treatments, not only short-term, but also long-term, over a period of years.
STEP 4: Monitor your disease.
Sometimes simple monitoring will solve the problem. A successful health care executive had an incidental blood pressure of 160/70 taken during a health fair. The 70 was great, but the 160 was much too high, so she read everything she could about a systolic blood pressure of 160. Then she read food labels and found out that she was using too much sodium. She purchased a blood pressure cuff, reduced her sodium intake, and monitored her blood pressure. Over several days, it went down.
STEP 5: Create a healing environment.
The body has an almost unlimited ability to heal itself. Exercise, practice good nutrition, and get the right amount of sleep. Use visualization. Practice compassion. All of these contribute to keeping that positive attitude. You can use controlled breathing — chest breathing, abdominal breathing — and breathe in 50 percent of your breath and breathe out 50 percent. These have a calming effect and provide energy. Start taking charge. You can do it.
Dr. Gary Epler is a pulmonary consultant at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a clinical associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and author of “You’re the Boss: Manage Your Disease.”