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So You Got Diagnosed, Labeled, Categorized, Now What?

Throughout my entire life I’ve observed people around me who judge others and then categorize or label that particular person into a particular bucket. And often, without spending any time with that person. Purely based on an impression or perhaps one small fact about the person. Personally, I saw how this ‘labeling’ affected me as ‘that particular person”. Categorized into all kinds of buckets since a very young age like ‘she works hard but isn’t very smart’ or ‘she’s a girl therefore she can’t’ or ‘she’s just a mom’.

And through it all, I’ve had to learn resilience and how to evolve into someone who was confident enough on the inside to not take offense to these labels, and to not let them bring me down. It’s not always easy because we’re human and sometimes when you’ve heard those labels over and over again, you start believing them yourself. You start thinking that maybe something really is wrong with you. Or that you’re not good enough somehow.

So when I became a parent, I tried really hard to not label my children, especially labels that might make them feel less than somehow. Sure, sometimes I think they are this way or that way, and there were definitely more intense times when I questioned whether they had ADHD, depression or even bi-polar disorder, yet I still didn’t want to give them a label or place them in a category. Because to me, going through something hard in your life is normal. Labeling often times just gives the person an excuse to not work on the harder stuff. And sometimes, that means to overlook the root cause of the problem and only focus on treating the symptoms. Have you ever noticed our healthcare system in the U.S. is more about managing your sickness or condition than actually caring for your health?

Perhaps my toughest lesson around this system many of us have bought into, came to me when my father was diagnosed with colon cancer.

His first oncologist told us that since he was already 81, he had at best 6 months to live. The surgeon he was assigned to wouldn’t do surgery on him because of my father’s age. When I tried to reach out to him to get an explanation, neither him or his staff would even talk to me. Did you know that in a 1998 study conducted through the National Library of Medicine of over 100 persons over the age of 80 being treated for colon cancer with surgery initially, there was a 45% survival rate in those patients who were over 80 years old.* 45%! So we left that group and went to a 2nd oncologist.

This one was through a more reputable organization, but this time instead of validating my father only had so much time to live he would only give us chemo as a solution. From what I observed, the chemo treatment brought my father more than 6 months of life, and a lot of pain and suffering as his body and will to live deteriorated each day. During the entire 22 month process since his diagnosis to when he finally passed, he also experienced two Christmas seasons in the ER, ICU or nursing facility being poked and prodded the entire time, when he just wanted to be home, Between a system that is broken and all the politics attached to it, people who believe that a person with an M.D. is equivalent to some type of savior, family and friends who mean well, but were giving detrimental advice, a cancer patient like my dad didn’t stand a chance.

The sad thing is that for the first six months after his diagnosis, he was willing to do what it took to survive, and made significant changes to his eating, tried meditation for the 1st time in his life, started his chemo with a positive attitude, and while his cancer cell count actually lowered during this period, all the other factors eventually negated all the efforts of those first 6 months, and he went back to his old lifestyle ways and with zero ounces of hope left in him.

So the question is when you’ve been diagnosed with something, what do you do about it? If your doctor’s solution doesn’t feel optimal to you, do you just trust him and hope for the best? Or do you question him on how this solution will resolve your issue?

How would it feel to you if your doctor were to put you in the over <name your age> category and tells you there’s no hope based on statistics? By the way, you know that statistics are only as good as the data. So if you survey 100 80-year olds and all 100 have oncologists who won’t let them do surgery and won’t talk about other complimentary solutions besides chemo and radiation, then guess what? Those 80 year olds are not likely to survive. And besides that, we all know that not all 80 year olds are created equally.

How about if you’ve been labeled as fat, not very bright, ugly or lazy since you were a kid? Do you think that’s affected you somehow? Or maybe you were on the other end of the spectrum and was always labeled pretty, smart and a super child since a young age and now you have such high expectations of yourself that when you aren’t feeling those things, you feel anxious and depressed?

So you see, getting to know the authentic you, and working towards a true sense of balance and becoming the centered and confident person you can be, are all a part of a strategy on how you can best manage a diagnosis or a label or being placed in a category. They are not all the same thing, obviously, but how we deal with them are often very similar. Are you a leader or follower when it comes to leading your own life? Do you relate more to being the hero of your own story or the victim? Do you tend to embrace change or fight it? Do you gather all the data and facts before you make a decision or do you just buy into whatever someone tells you?

How well do you trust your own intuition and gut?

* Edna, T.H. and Bjerkeset, T. (1998). Colorectal cancer in patients over 80 years of age.

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