The Call of a Diagnosis
Has your life or that of someone you care about been affected by chronic illness, pain, or a life changing diagnosis? The answer is likely “yes.” Four family members and at least as many friends come to mind when I ask myself that question.
So when I sat down with Samantha Reid and Nick Adriance of Saco Bay Physical Therapy recently to talk about the biopsychosocial approach to health and wellness, I was gratified by what they had to tell me about cancer rehabilitation and pain management advances here in Maine.
Like the professionals at Saco Bay Physical Therapy, I work with individuals who are seeking support following a diagnosis, accident or injury, as well as those who are living with chronic pain. Many are searching for new ways of living, working, and relating to their condition and to others.
The people I work with describe sometimes feeling as if they have been dropped into a foreign country without a GPS, an understanding of the language, or a tour guide. Significant and unwelcome health news impacts not only their day to day functioning but also the futures they had imagined for themselves and their families.
Because of the far-reaching reverberations such a change can bring, the initial shock of a diagnosis is typically just the beginning of the adjustment process. Often there are a series of subsequent losses and changes that affect my clients directly as well as impacting those closest to them.
Invisible conditions pose added challenges. When people “look fine” it can be difficult for others—even those who know them best—to understand what is driving their reduced physical activity, their fears, and the fact that there are times when they are feeling anything but “fine”, despite their physical appearance.
Hazards Along the Way
Medical treatment can also require adjustments. For example some treatments produce side effects ranging from pain during and after the intervention to fatigue and/or damage to tissues and joints, resulting in decreased energy and functioning.
Post diagnosis, many of my clients explain that they grapple with concerns related to their self image and confidence, and worry that others will perceive or treat them differently.
Nearly unanimously the individuals I work with say they want understanding, not pity. At the same time they don’t necessarily want to being singled out as being somehow “heroic”. Most just want their condition to be acknowledged for what it is--one part of who they are.
They are also seeking to make sense of their diagnosis, and to better manage its impact on their moods, hope for the future, overall mindset and their relationships, as they move forward with their “new normal”.
The Road Back
The road to acceptance or recovery can be made smoother by connecting with community resources, including face to face or online support groups with others navigating similar challenges.
Saco Bay Physical Therapy provides a range of resources geared toward physical recovery and pain management. ReVital, as one example, is their innovative approach to cancer rehabilitation. It is designed to safely and effectively help individuals manage their symptoms and the side effects of their treatment, while improving physical functioning.
The ReVital therapists are experts at managing pain related to muscles, nerves and joints, and—perhaps most importantly--they bring as much compassion to their work as they do medical expertise.
Meaning from Mud
Following her Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis one of my clients got a large, intricate and colorful tattoo of a lotus in bloom on her forearm. The flower curls upward from a mud colored background where the initials “M.S.” are inscribed.
My client is in the process of adjusting to what her condition means for her, and how it may shape her life going forward. Her tattoo is a part of this young woman’s effort to come to terms with M.S.—and it is one of the ways she is sharing that growth with the world in a very visible way.
In many cultures the lotus is a powerful, sacred image. To my client it represents her ability to thrive no matter what is going on inside her body or around her, much like the lotus draws strength from the mud and transforms that muck into new life.
The lotus blossom is a beautiful symbol of the resilience of the human spirit, and the promise of what time, patience and caring can produce.
Many thanks to my client for permission to share her story and her lotus flower photo. And thank you to those at Saco Bay Physical Therapy for your ongoing collaboration.
For more information about Saco Bay Physical Therapy’s ReVital program please visit: revitalcancerrehab.com. Other Saco Bay P.T. programs and their locations can be found by going to sacobaypt.com.