November 5th, 2008
01:45 PM ET

Confronting medical challenges

By Georgiann Caruso
CNN Medical Associate Producer

Anxiety, despair, hopelessness... all feelings people may have when recovering from a major illness. That's why I feel very fortunate to have crossed paths with Shelia. A two-time stroke survivor, she impressed me immediately with her zest for life and hopeful attitude that many people with medical challenges are not as fortunate to share. I confronted my own life-changing illness three years ago. Our experiences were very different, yet very much the same.

Shelia explained that recovering from stroke presents her with many day-to-day challenges. She has trouble maintaining her balance, and even falls occasionally. She explained that she picks herself up and keeps on moving. She has made the best of what she's been given and hopes to help others recover from their own illnesses.

I turned to psychologist Dr. Helen Grusd to discuss how others can keep a similar attitude, or how their friends and family may best help them to do so.

Getting one out of his or her pity party is key, Grusd says. This can be empowering because, she says, even though we can't have unrealistic expectations or control what is going to happen in our lives, we can remain hopeful and take action.

She recommends keeping in mind these 3 C's:

-Keep on viewing the illness as a CHALLENGE instead of a threat.

-Stay COMMITTED and involved in your life as much as possible, to keep a sense of purpose.

-Take CHARGE and be in CONTROL. Examine what is working in your life and those things for which you are grateful.

For those trying to help friends or family members in difficult situations, taking on a role of a "coach" often helps, Grusd says. She recommends getting the person out of the house as much as possible by making him or her feel good through things he or she likes.  An example would be saying, "I know you love to hide, but I'm picking you up and we're spending the day at the beach." Other things include setting up a social network for the person. She pointed to a strong support network as important because many people are anxious during their recovery when, sometimes, the illness may return. Equally as important is having someone to open up to about their fears.

We can have great expectations and a sense of joy in our lives, according to Grusd. We just have to choose to say positive things to ourselves. Over time, the American Psychological Association says, negative feelings can cause depression, leading to other health complications. Those with cardiovascular disease are more inclined to future strokes or heart attacks.

Were you ever touched by a medical challenge that affected you or someone in your life? How did you keep your emotional health strong or help that person to remain emotionally strong?

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