Once you have a diagnosis of a serious health condition, the words "life expectancy" can sound like a statement of fact - especially when they come from a doctor you trust. However, each of us is different and life expectancy does not predict what will happen to you, unless you have a very short life expectancy, such as 30 days or less.
"Life expectancy" should be considered to be a planning tool rather than a statement of fact.
Life expectancy refers to statistics. Breaking this down:
- Life expectancy is what happens to a large group of people. It does not predict what will actually happen to any particular individual. There are always survivors.
- Life expectancy refers to what happened in the past, not to what will happen in the future.
- Statistics do not take into account your unique physical and emotional health.
- Statistics include people with no health care and very limited health care.
- Statistics include people who refuse treatments and people who do not comply with drug protocols.
- Life expectancy does not take into account continual medical advances which happen on a daily basis all over the world.
Consider asking your health professional the following questions about your life expectancy:
- What is my life expectancy?
- Is that for people with my disesae and stage or also for people with my particular treatment(s)?
- Does life expectancy assume that if we get rid of the disease, that it will come back? If it does, how does that affect my life expectancy?
- What could shorten my life expectancy?
- In addition to treatment, what can I do to increase my life expectancy? For instance, nutrition and exercise. Maybe even getting a pet.
NOTE: If life expectancy gets you down:
- Talk with other survivors about how they have dealt with the question of life expectancy.
- Consider joining a support group. Support groups provide information about how other people handle difficult situations. They also give you an opportunity to talk about the emotions - and to learn practical tips. In addition to in person support groups, there are groups on the phone and on line. To learn about support groups, including how to find one that works for you, click here.
- Also consider speaking with a mental health professional if the idea of your life expectancy is causing you to feel depressed, overwhelmed or anxious. For information about finding a therapist that works for you, including questions to ask, click here.