Adjusting to a Rare Disease Diagnosisby RNE submissions on 08/16/17
Written by Mary-Frances Garber, MS, CGC
Perhaps you are just learning that you or your child has a rare disease; you may feel shocked, sad, scared, angry, overwhelmed or all of the above. It is not uncommon to experience a range of emotions after receiving a genetic diagnosis. Sometimes, even guilt is an emotion that is experienced, as a rare disease can be inherited. It is important to remember that our genes and the mutations that we carry are not determined by anything we do or fail to do. These mutations for the most part are random and spontaneous.
Having been a genetic counselor for over two decades, I understand what receiving a genetic diagnosis can be like for a family. I never want my patients to feel alone or not supported. As a genetic counselor, I now focus on providing a listening ear through supportive genetic counseling.
Living with an unpredictable genetic condition takes patience, perseverance, and courage. Parents sometimes speak about the “new normal”, referring to their life after the diagnosis. It is not uncommon to wish you could go back, to the old normal, before the diagnosis. By becoming educated about the condition, talking with others in a similar situation and with proper emotional support you can and will adjust. Adjustment takes time, allow yourself this time.
Sometimes when you feel you have adjusted and life is going along just fine, a new health issue presents itself and the cycle begins again. Take time, give yourself time to talk about your worries, your exhaustion, address your need for support. Many of you are becoming experts regarding the rare disease diagnosis in your family, some of you are just learning. Others of you have become patient advocates, fundraisers and cheerleaders, but, remember to take time out to express your feelings. You deserve it.
Lastly, fear of the future is understandable. Try to stay in the present, remembering that your medical team will be there for you when challenges arise.
Below are a few helpful hints for you to consider:
1. Use RARE New England as a community and supportive environment
2. Journal when you need to get your feelings out and there is no one available
3. Talk with others who have a similar condition about their life experience
4. Find a professional counselor if you need extra support
Mary-Frances Garber is a board certified, licensed genetic counselor who earned her B.S. in Molecular Genetics from the University of Rochester and her M.S. in Human Genetics from Sarah Lawrence College. Having worked for 11 years in a high-risk obstetrical setting in the Antenatal Diagnostic Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital, she gained extensive counseling experience. She has worked with many families having various genetic, chromosomal or developmental conditions. She is now in private practice focusing on patients with concerns surrounding compromised pregnancy outcomes, a recent diagnosis of a birth defect or genetic condition, and those in the process of obtaining a diagnosis for their child.
Mary-Frances Garber, MS, CGC
Licensed Genetic Counselor
Listening, Reflecting, Healing
Supportive Genetic Counseling