Coping With the End Stage COPD Diagnosis
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) has been part of your life for a long time. Over the years, you have become accustomed to the restrictions and limitations that it puts on your life and activities. You and your family have found a balance and a routine that seem to work but you have noticed your symptoms increasingly lately.
The doctor has confirmed your fears. You have end stage or stage IV COPD. You know there is no stage V. Your mind swirls with panic, depression, anger, denial, guilt, despair and numerous other feelings as you begin the loss process.
Living with End Stage COPD
Without doubt, the process will be overwhelming and emotionally draining. Consider these tips for making the best of your experience.
- Get educated – When emotions run high, jumping to conclusions is typical, but try to avoid it. Get information from your doctor or other reputable sources about what your diagnosis actually means. Stage IV is a wide window of time for many people. Even if the information seems frightening, seek it out. It will provide a framework for your future choices and decisions.
- Set and accomplish goals – Having a terminal diagnosis does not mean that life simply stops. Life goes on for you and the people around you. What do you want to do with the time you have left? If there is something that you always wanted to do or a place you always wanted to go, go for it. Even though your limitations are likely severe at this point, there may be ways to achieve these goals. Don’t let sadness convince you that you should be resigned to spending all day on the couch. Setting goals is a great way to avoid further regrets.
- Grieve and mourn – Grieving is a passive experience that is a reaction to a terminal diagnosis. You cannot force yourself to grieve but you can allow yourself time and the emotional resources needed. Filling your brain with distractions and diversions delays grieving. Mourning is more active. An example of mourning would be setting aside time to think about aspects of death and dying. Making a list of feelings or fears about dying is an appropriate mourning exercise. These processes are never completed so continue doing what you can to move towards acceptance; with acceptance comes peace.
- Be selfish – The loss process needs to be selfish. You are going through something that others will not understand. Give yourself the freedom to do, think and feel what feels best for you. Assertively communicate your needs to your supports to establish a team approach. As long as your selfishness is in moderation, it will be a positive.
- Be selfless – Now that you have explored being selfish, change gears. Your family, friends and supports are experiencing changing feelings and thoughts triggered by your stage IV diagnosis. Take time to consider their experience and feelings through empathy. Ask if there are goals or accomplishments they would like to complete. They might feel too uncomfortable to mention it on their own for fear that they would upset you. Remember, death is for the living.
Any terminal diagnosis is tremendously scary to receive. If the quantity of life is low, do all that you can to improve the quality for you and the people around you. Every day provides opportunities. Only you can embrace them.