Hey Elderly Aunt, how do I keep my spirits up while waiting for a diagnosis?

How do I deal with medically-induced limbo? In my case, I’m waiting for what could be a potentially devastating diagnosis or something more benign. For three weeks now, I’ve been waiting for test results, call backs, and appointments to be made. Everything is moving with incredible slowness. Meanwhile, I feel awful, both physically and mentally. How do I keep my spirits up?

The Elderly Aunt assumes that a “potentially devastating diagnosis” is code for a “potentially horrible illness followed by death.” 

One thought specific to your particular situation, dear reader: If you’re concerned you might be seriously ill and your doctors appear to be dragging their diagnostic feet, it might be time to seek a second opinion. The Elderly Aunt sees no reason at all for you to tolerate any further stay in Limbo Land. 

That said, while mulling over how to best keep your spirits up, dear reader, the Elderly Aunt was reminded of a recent hospital elevator interaction she had with a cheerful fellow on his way to Oncology. As the Elderly Aunt loves to listen, she heard all about his complicated and rather hopeless medical situation. And frankly, his prognosis sounded ominous enough to knock the cheer out of a bottle of Cheerwine. But no! When my new friend reached his destination and the elevator door slid open, he treated me to a happy grin and a quick point skyward and said, “But hey, I don’t worry about it none, ’cause I know where I’m going!” 

I immediately clocked this cheerful fellow as a Biblical literalist—a strict constructionist of whichever much-edited version of the Bible his congregation espouses. I’m willing to bet he has God’s Will as his go-to explanation of life’s whumps—including the final Big Whump of his own death. And I’m happy for him to have any comfort he can get as long as he doesn’t use God’s Will as an excuse to break bad on other people who don’t believe as he does. As John Lennon put it, “Whatever gets you though the night……”

However, if you, like the Elderly Aunt, are not blessed with Biblical certainty, then you are left to accept the self-evident truth that whumps happen. She feels strongly it’s up to each of us to decide whether or not we will allow the whumped part of our lives to take over the part that’s still humming along. Over the course of her own whump-riddled life, the Elderly Aunt has developed a very simple strategy for containing their power. It works well for her, and she is pleased to offer it to you, dear reader, with the hope that you will take what you can use and leave the rest.

The first thing the Elderly Aunt does is acknowledge that she’s freaked out — sometimes more, sometimes less. But it is complete poppycock to tell herself she isn’t freaked out at all. Whumps reminds us how little control we have over anything in life. Powerlessness is something we don’t like to think about, much less experience.

Keeping in mind that feelings aren’t facts, the Elderly Aunt distinguishes between what is actually happening and what she’s worried might happen. The former she faces. The latter she saves for calm consideration down the road—if, and when, it’s needed. The Elderly Aunt does not believe in worrying. Planning, yes. But not worrying. She’s a big fan of Reinhold Niebuhr’s plea to be granted the serenity to accept the things she cannot change, courage to change the things she  can, and enough wisdom to know the difference.

The whole time she’s doing whatever she needs to do to straighten her head out, the Elderly Aunt practices rigorous self-care. Whether she’s in the mood to or not, she does everything normal that she is able to do. She eats well, exercises as best she can, and keeps her days as productive as possible. And then she rewards herself with an extra Godiva truffle or two. The Elderly Aunt feels strongly that a little self-indulgence is essential in her times of crisis and confusion. 

Last, and possibly most difficult to pull off, the Elderly Aunt acknowledges that it will take time for her life to settle down again. And whenever that happens, some parts of her life may very well be different. But it will still be her life, her adventure, and she is the only one who gets to live it. And she is damned if she’s not going to claim every possible shred of joy, satisfaction and knowledge from every day.

Here’s looking at you, dear reader! Yes, you and I might be powerless over a lot of the whumps that happen to us. The things to remember, however, is that we are not powerless over how we respond to them. And therein lies the key to keeping our spirits up!


The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday.  And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”

Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions). 

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