I have always believed that good comes out of everything – even from difficult life events. When trying to guide my patients and their loved ones through challenging diagnoses, I am often reminded of the serenity prayer. We all want the power to change the things we can and to accept the things we cannot change. But it is the third part of the prayer – the ability to recognize the difference – with which we all struggle the most.
Whether it is a diagnosis of cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, neither a physician nor a patient can make the problem disappear. Yet a patient might go to great lengths expecting a problem to vanish while neglecting the more obvious ways to manage the disease. This approach may lead to overly aggressive treatment or inappropriate alternative therapies.
Let’s take the person with newly diagnosed heart disease, for example. A heart attack is one of many examples of a health “wake-up call.” Such a person might look towards special testing, medications, vitamins, and other medical marvels to “eliminate” their cardiovascular disease. However, this same person may very well ignore the importance of modifying their lifelong eating and exercise habits, risk reduction (e.g. smoking cessation), preventive maintenance exams, and early diagnosis of other diseases (or progression of the existing disease).
Lifestyle behaviors are the foundation of any medical treatment. I do commend any patient who takes a headfirst approach to tackling their medical problems. However, their energies should first be directed towards proven methods that will last a lifetime. Even better, we should strive to identify what we can change before things become severe.