What Can You Do to Cope With a Loved One's Health Crisis

What Can You Do to Cope With a Loved One’s Health Crisis?

Written By:

Amanda Whitbeck

It’s the one thing you hope will never happen: You find out that your loved one is facing a health crisis. Whether it’s cancer, a chronic illness, or troubling symptoms with no clear diagnosis, it can be scary to have or help someone else through a health crisis. But it can be especially difficult when it’s a close loved one – a child, parent, sibling, or spouse. 

Sara Hill faced this when her young daughter was diagnosed with a bone disease. Barely old enough to walk, her daughter required bone surgery

Although it was a difficult time, Sara needed to learn how to cope so she could be there for her daughter. Here is how Sara faced her daughter’s health crisis, became an advocate for her, and ultimately got through this scary ordeal. If you have a loved one facing a health issue of their own, we hope this can help guide you through the process. 

First Emotions 

When Sara first discovered that her toddler would need a bone transplant, she felt stunned. That shock quickly grew into confusion – how could this be happening to her child? She had always been healthy and careful, especially when pregnant with her daughter. She never drank alcohol or smoked, she exercised regularly, there was no history of this in her family… it didn’t make sense. 

This confusion transitioned into anger. It’s natural to feel anger about a horrible situation that’s out of your control. But soon, this anger turned into guilt. Was there anything Sara could have done differently to prevent this? Was there anything she did wrong that caused this? Despite how health conscious she was, did she overlook something or make some mistake? 

In the end, Sara felt hopeless. As much as she wished she could change her daughter’s diagnosis, or go back in time to prevent her health issue from arising, Sara felt that she had no control over the situation. 

How Do You Cope?

So many people feel hopeless when faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge. It’s completely normal and you should never feel ashamed for having that feeling. But you can’t stay stuck in that hopelessness forever. Sara knew she had to move forward. She knew she needed to find a way to cope. How did she do this?

First, Sara surrounded herself with anyone who knew anything about medical issues. Several of her family members were medical professionals, and she had a friend who was a pediatrician. Sara was lucky to have these people in her life who could help her understand the issue. She spoke to them, and anyone else who would listen to her, because she knew that if she kept quiet, she wouldn’t be able to help her daughter as fully. Even though this was a big challenge for Sara – she doesn’t have an easy time opening and talking to people – her daughter’s health was more important. 

Next, Sara asked questions – a LOT of questions. She had to know as much as she could about her daughter’s illness, her medical options, how to raise a child with a medical condition, and more. Knowledge is power, and Sara knew that she needed to have as much information as she could get. 

Finally, and most importantly, Sara acknowledged the illness. She acknowledged that she was not the expert; she was the parent. Sara knew that she needed to accept the illness and situation, but she also needed to accept her role in the situation. By acknowledging the illness and her role as a parent, Sara was equipped to tackle the health crisis calmly and knowledgeably. 

Handling Illness like a Research Paper 

After the numbness of the initial health scare subsided, Sara had a sort of premonition: If she was able to handle this like a research paper, she would be able to gain some control over her emotions and have more structure in her life. How does a “research paper” framework help with a loved one’s health crisis? It’s all about educating yourself on the subject as you work through it. 

Sara first researched the diagnosis. In addition to doing her own research, Sara also asked her doctors many questions about symptoms, how the illness would manifest, etc. This helped to confirm in Sara’s mind that the diagnosis was accurate. 

Next, Sara researched how to become an advocate, as a parent, for her daughter. She needed to fully understand what her role was and how she could be helpful both to her daughter and to the medical professionals. 

Third, Sara dove into researching the treatment for her daughter’s illness. She wanted to understand the full treatment process – from before it took place to the recovery process afterwards. This would prepare her for the health procedure and how she could help her young daughter through it. 

Finally, Sara’s “research paper” ended with the results. What kind of an outcome could she expect for her daughter? Would this situation be something that could happen again? Understanding and having realistic expectations allowed Sara to prepare for the best and worst case scenarios. 

Be an Advocate 

One part of Sara’s “research paper” framework was about becoming an advocate for her daughter. Part of achieving this was in learning as much as she could about the illness and treatment. However, Sara also took some advice to heart. 

One person told her, “Sara, do not ever treat your child as if she has a disability – don’t let her believe she can do less than she can.” 

This relates to another piece of advice she got: “Allow your child to know her own limits:  If it hurts for her to walk on her leg, she won’t walk; if it doesn’t hurt, she’ll walk on it. As she heals, allow her to be the guide on her activity level. Don’t limit her by assuming she can or cannot do something or assume she has or doesn’t have pain.” 

Instead of holding her daughter back, Sara aimed to empower her to believe in herself. Her daughter would know her own limits and back off of certain activities if needed. But otherwise, Sara needed to let her daughter do everything she thought she could. 

How to Face a Loved One’s Health Crisis 

Getting through a loved one’s health crisis is a challenge, and it can be intimidating to have to face it. It’s easier if you have support – emotional and practical – as Sara did. She relied on her family, close friends, and those with medical backgrounds for support, and that helped immensely in coping with her daughter’s crisis. She also faced a learning process, both in understanding the illness and learning how to be a supportive parent. 

In the end, she shares the following advice to anyone else facing a loved one’s health crisis: 

  1. Allow yourself to believe you can be an advocate. Find the confidence in your own voice, and do not ever be afraid to be assertive. If something feels wrong, don’t ignore that feeling.
  2. Although your emotions may make this sound unachievable, come up with a plan on how you’re going to work through this. It can be the “research paper” method Sara used or another that fits your frame of mind – as long as you have a plan.
  3. Don’t allow yourself to be defined as the parent/spouse/etc. of a loved one with a medical illness. Continue to remind yourself that you’re still you. This will help you avoid becoming so immersed in the negativity of the crisis that you don’t see success, or you can’t see how you can be an advocate. 

Facing a loved one’s health crisis is never easy, but with the right tools and frame of mind, you’ll be able to cope with it as well as Sara did. 

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