Dealing with a difficult medical diagnosis? Vancouver Sun
Our health can often depend on our mental stance.

“A medical diagnosis of a serious medical condition is a life-altering experience. It can be a traumatic event,” remarked Courtney Cole in a recent conversation. Cole is the founder and CEO of a new Canada-based website,, which is aimed at helping patients and their families find and engage the resources they need regarding their diagnosis and care.

“Patients, their friends and families often feel frightened, isolated and uninformed. They do not feel they have the tools or knowledge that could help them cope with the diagnosis. This can lead to feelings of helplessness and depression that do not aid treatment outcomes. Finances, career, family and friends are all impacted.”

n our tech-savvy age, turning to the Internet for answers to our health questions is the first place many of us begin. According to a PEW research project, one third of us of us turn to the Internet for answers to our healthcare concerns. Most searches are regarding a specific disease and most are conducted on behalf of someone else. In fact, health searches are the third most popular use of the Internet. And, while being able to access readily available information is good, there are downsides to this trend. The same research shows that trawling the Internet for information on health can bring confusion and increased fear and depression regarding one’s health.

Cole’s idea is to resolve some of these concerns “by creating a website that offers medically-validated information and communications tools that act as a collecting basket for the best and most balanced research out there that patients could turn to, and to bring encouragement not fear.” The site is also for healthcare professionals. Cole plans, for example, to share intelligence that helps to improve quality of care and lessen readmission rates. To do this he is currently collaborating with healthcare institutions, researchers and professionals.

Cole’s compassion for his friends and colleagues who have  experienced grave illnesses led him to create this website. He explains, “understanding one’s healthcare needs and deciding to address them as advised by a medical practitioner will make a huge impact on healthcare outcomes. It is really about taking responsibility for our health on a mental level. Our mental stance is so important.” states Cole.

But when we feel overwhelmed by a diagnosis, pain or grief, can we take ownership of our health in a more compassionate and proactive way that heals? We tend to face a diagnosis as something we have to battle, but maybe there is another way – after all, not all the information we need to know comes online.

For at least a decade, research has increasingly shown that how we think about our health has a significant impact on how we experience it. In a recent Huffington Post article, journalist Richard Schiffman made the startling announcement: “If you want to achieve maximum health, here are a few things that you should do: exercise regularly, eat nutritious and minimally processed foods, drop those extra pounds – and pray. That’s right, regular prayer and meditation has been shown in numerous scientific studies to be an important factor in living longer and staying healthy.”

Schiffman backs this up by citing studies by Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiovascular surgeon at the Harvard Medical School, who for many years has been studying the effects of spiritual practices on health. Additionally, a recent survey in the Journal of Gerontology showed that seniors who regularly prayed or meditated did far better and lived longer when diagnosed with illness than their counterparts who did neither.

To me this shows that as Cole suggests, our mental stance, rather than the diagnosis, is what can in many cases determine our experience of an illness. We tend to discuss prayer and spirituality a lot in our culture; but to really experience the effect of prayer, we need to move past talking or reading about it. Elton Trueblood, a Quaker Philosopher, said, “At the profoundest depths in life, men talk not about God but with Him.”

Facing a life-threatening disease is one of those times when we can find ourselves in the “profoundest depths” that Trueblood mentions. Rather than battling the diagnosed condition, taking time to learn more about one’s inner spiritual identity can bring a sense of peace that uplifts and encourages us from within, and can be immensely healing.

Sites like Cole’s are very helpful in gaining and sharing the information that many feel they need in dealing with life-altering health issues. But when we are frightened and in despair we need more than a virtual experience online to help us. That is when it is time to shut the screen off, to be quiet, and learn, like St. Paul did, that we and those we love can never be separated from divine Love.

This post was first published in the Vancouver Sun HERE