Learn the Language of Terminal Illness

It is hard enough understanding medical jargon or to learn the language under "normal" circumstances. When you are dealing with a terminal illness, it can be even harder. But, whether you are under stress or in an ideal situation, it is important to have a basic knowledge of some of the terms. Let's look at some of the ones that you might run in to.

When you go to your doctor with certain complaints of discomfort or your blood work turns up something that is not quite right, your doctor will begin the process of diagnosing the cause. After performing a physical exam, obtaining your medical history, reviewing laboratory results and the results of any other procedures, your doctor is able to put a name to your signs and symptoms. This is how your doctor determines what is known in medical terms as your diagnosis.

Coming to the correct diagnosis can be difficult because many diseases/illnesses can share similar signs and symptoms. For this reason, it is reasonable to request a second or even third opinion to confirm your diagnosis. You should also not feel "rushed" into making decisions about any form of treatment until 1) you are certain you are treating the correct diagnosis and 2) the treatment meets your needs.

While the term diagnosis and prognosis sound similar, when you learn the language, you find that they have significantly different meanings. The general meaning of prognosis is to "forecast" or predict. In the case of medical language, it means to predict the outcome or chance of recovery from a disease.

The terms remission and cure are usually used in association with a cancer diagnosis. You are considered to be in remission when no active form of the disease is found. If you have been without disease activity for a certain period of time (typically five years), you are considered to be cured. The longer you are without disease activity, the less likely it is that it will return... in most cases.

When discussing treatment options, you may have heard something like "you have a 90% chance." But what does that really mean? In medical terms, it means there is research which shows that, after receiving a specific treatment, individuals with your diagnosis had a survival rate of 90%. Typically these statistics are based on five- or ten-year studies.

With this in mind, you may wish to ask your physician if the information he/she is providing is based on a five- or ten-year study. You may also wish to ask for the survival of individuals who did not receive treatment and/or what happened after the study was complete. This information is important for you to know and understand in order to make a truly informed decision about your care and treatment options.

Whether you are dealing with issues related to a terminal illness or just a physical, it is always a good idea to have an unbiased friend with you for your appointments. Your friend can help to remind you of things you would like to discuss with your physician. Your friend or family member can also write your doctor's responses down for your review after the appointment, to help you both learn the language. Two heads are always better than one and four ears are always better than just two when it comes to medical language! This is one way your friends or family can lend their support to you during this difficult time.

But, what if it is your friend or family member with the terminal illness?

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