Getting “The Big Diagnosis”

by in American Sickcare System, Discipline, Kitchen Sink, Motivation, Preventative Medicine July 9, 2008

doctorfemale.jpgThe only thing worse than giving “The Big Diagnosis”, is getting “The Big Diagnosis”.

Let’s just stop for a moment and think about what it might feel like to be diagnosed with terminal cancer. How would you feel if you were told that “You have cancer and only six months left to live”?

How would that make you feel?

I hate to be so grim, but in order for us to really practice preventative medicine in our diet and lifestyles, we need to think about what we are indeed actually striving to prevent. We need to stay motivated.

What would it be like to suddenly drop over from a heart attack?

How would it feel to find out you have diabetes and have to give yourself a shot of insulin each and every day, with each and every meal for the rest of your life?

What if you had a stroke and woke up and only half of your body continued to work? What if it left you unable to speak? Unable to express yourself, unable to tell your family that you love them?

None of this stuff is fun to think about, but much of it is highly preventable for the most part.

Most younger people defend their bad diet and lifestyle choices with the declaration that “I don’t want to be old someday, so I don’t care if I die in my 50’s or 60’s”.

As much as such thinking may solve the Social Security problem here in America, it certainly is not doing much for our Sickcare System.

First of all, after spending nine years in health care, I just have to say that most people are not so lucky as to be taken out suddenly by a massive heart attack or stroke. These are less common occurrences.

Most preventable diseases tend to have an insidious course. You may not care about your future well being now, but imagine what it would be like to spend your golden years in a wheelchair. To no longer be able to drive your car. To be bed ridden. To feel like a burden on your family. To always be dependent on someone else to go to the bathroom or change your diapers. To be stashed away in some lonely corner of a nursing home with no one to talk to or visit you all day. What will it feel like to lose all your personal freedoms?

We all want to just pleasantly die of a pulmonary embolism in our sleep. That would be ideal.

Unfortunately it is not realistic.

In order to stay inspired to take care of yourself in a preventative manner, I suggest you think of yourself as three individual people. There is the “Today You”, the “Tomorrow You”, and the “Future You”.

Feel free to diagnose me with Multiple Personality Disorder, but in order to work my way through the rigors of medical school I started to refer to myself as “Today Nicole”, “Tomorrow Nicole”, and “Future Nicole”.

Nearly everything I did for eight years was for “Future Nicole”. I had to learn to tune out the wants of “Today Nicole” because otherwise “Tomorrow Nicole” would be left without food in the fridge, money in the bank, or gas in the car.

You see, “Today Nicole” is very lazy and self indulgent; she just wants to do what is best for right now.

Today Nicole doesn’t feel like exercising, she wants to watch TV in her sweat suit and eat McInflammation. Today Nicole wants to cross everything off her “To Do” list and deal with ALL responsibilities tomorrow. Today Nicole wants to bake under the hot summer sun. Today Nicole does not really care about malignant melanoma. Today Nicole hates grocery shopping. Once there, Today Nicole wants to buy frozen pizza and donut holes not fruits and vegetables. Today Nicole thinks it is fun to eat candy and drink Red Bull all day. At the end of a long day, Today Nicole wants to drive straight home and go to bed. Today Nicole is too tired to fill up the car with gas, she will put that burden off on Tomorrow Nicole.

Unfortunately Tomorrow Nicole is destined to become Today Nicole. Tomorrow Nicole is going to have a very bad day because she was forced to stop for gas which made her late for work. Tomorrow Nicole is going to have an irritable work day without breakfast or lunch. Tomorrow Nicole is going to be looking for some sort of unhealthy indulgence to cancel out the ills of her improperly planned day. Do you see how the vicious cycle of immediate gratification perpetuates?

I believe it is all about setting yourself up nice for later. Most everything I do right now is still for “Future Nicole”.

That may sound dismal and boring at first glance, but think about it… You want to avoid getting the “The Big Diagnosis” right? Well, doing so is not only going to set things up nice for later, but it is also going to make you FEEL GOOD today, tomorrow, and the next day. Preventing disease is as simple as taking a little bit of time out of your day to “buy groceries and fill the car with gas”. Preventing disease means having the forethought to eat your fruits and vegetables, drink pure clean water, order green tea instead of coffee, make the healthiest choice available, cut out fast food when possible, go to bed at a decent hour, keep a positive mental attitude, find abundant joy in the simple little things, and get some form of exercise each and every day.

The more we think about these things, the more they become a habit. Healthy habits form a healthy lifestyle. That lifestyle is the foundation to your future health. All you have to worry about are the little things. The rest is in God’s hands.

Certain genetics and environmental influences may occasionally confound our efforts to prevent disease. However, if or when I get “The Big Diagnosis” I want to at least be able to tell myself “You know what self? Well at least we did everything we could to prevent this from happening. Perhaps all our efforts even prolonged this from happening, or prevented additional suffering. Maybe all our efforts with diet and lifestyle even squeezed out a few extra golden years.”

Preventative Medicine is tough because we want it all now, with a side of ranch to dip it in. But someday “Today You” will inevitably be “Future You”. Hopefully it is a good day when the two finally meet.

What are your greatest fears around getting “The Big Diagnosis” and what are you doing to prevent them from occurring?

~ Dr. Nicole Sundene

Naturopathic Physician


  1. Hi Dr. Nicole,

    You hit the nail on the head. If we don’t take preventative measures, we’re doomed to have bad health in our later years.

    What I find sad is the story on the news yesterday about young people getting heart attacks at the age of 20, due to their food choices.

    Something has got to change!

  2. This is such great advice and so hard to follow! I’m doing a pretty good job myself…I eat right (well, sort of) and exercise quite a bit and I take my cholesterol medication etc. But I still worry that my genes have it in for me and that all of my efforts will be in vain. I still do what I do though because, even though it may not extend my life, it will surely improve the quality of life I have while I’m here.

    A friend of mine recently came back from a visit with her Dad. He’s diabetic, alcoholic and does little to care for himself. They are worried about eventual amputations because his circulation is so poor. My girlfriend, who has been trying unsuccessfully to get herself to diet and exercise, said the visit with her dad forced her to think about herself and what she needs to do to improve her health. It’s similar to what you are suggesting here…looking at your parents can often be like looking at your own future. I hope she stays motivated.

    Meanwhile, might I say that this is a great article…as always:)

  3. Erin Happycamper July 10, 2008 at 11:34 am Reply

    WOW! And I thought I had multi-personality syndrome….

    I do, and I get it. =)

    Yesterday’s Erin smoked for 12 years so today’s Erin is quitting so that tomorrow’s Erin can do that 5k or be around to enjoy the fruits of her hard labor and not be in bed or confined to an oxygen tank. Today’s Erin is going to pass on that Mt. Dew and opt to drink water so that the Erin of tonight can sleep better for the Erin of tomorrow to wake up refreshed and ready to face the world with the Erin of today…….
    (the cycle continues)

    Love ya, Doc @~`~~

  4. If I turn my today person into my yesterday person, does that mean I only have to be my tomorrow person from now on?

  5. I’m with you and hope to see a list of the top 10 or 15 things we can add to our life and diets to up our chances of a healthy lifestyle. Also, taking our family histories into account, such as risks for osteoporosis or types of cancer. Loved reading this!

  6. Let’s just stop for a moment and think about what it might feel like to be diagnosed with terminal cancer.

    Being diagnosed with Cancer is bad enough and brings a whole tumult and waves of fear. It is such an overwhelming feeling that unless you have been thru it yourself you have no idea how it feels.

    The despair, the anger, the hurt, the frustration, the useless feeling and the dread.

    Being a survivor of Breast Cancer I remember the feelings all too well.

    Having been near death a couple of times I don’t how I would feel it was terminal.

    Although I am not afraid to die.

    Excellent article

  7. Outstanding post!! That will make you think. I remember when I was younger… I was always healthy no matter what I ate and did. I thought I would always be that way. I finally realized, “you know, one day this is likely to catch up with me.” I eat healthy now and walk every day. I feel great and I feel great knowing that I am taking care of tomorrow Jennifer and future Jennifer.

    What really struck me was how this is so true in all aspects of life. The choices we make today in all aspects – emotionally, spiritually, etc., is who we are tomorrow and in the future. Discipline today goes a loooooong way…

    Thanks again for the post!

  8. This is a wonderful post. Recently, my family has been touched with the “big diagnosis” and I always wonder the same thing: could anything have been done to prevent it? I always try to live for today, with thoughts for tomorrow, through my diet, exercise, and mental approach. It’s a paradoxical juggling act, but one worth doing.
    Love your blog.


  9. In this economy, I sort of look forward to the big diagnosis- it would straighten out a lot of things that seem to have no solution and simplify trying to live in Bush’s economy by not needing to.

  10. Hi Guys, Thanks for all your great comments. Glad you enjoyed this post.

  11. So much great advice. You put it all in the perfect context. Great work.

  12. I think it is so important to live a healthy lifestyle (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual). If we can learn from others and apply what we have learned maybe the results will become more positive…. “every waterfall starts with a drop!” Fantastic post!

  13. Cancer effects far too many people. Being young, I haven’t had to think about it but I know that even people my age can get it so I worry about things like this as well. More and more though, it seems like cancer is now just an inevitable part of life because it seems like almost everything causes it.

  14. Hi Nicole,

    I just read an article by Tim Brownson over at ‘’, recommending your site. I’m glad I followed up the recommendation!!

    This is a great piece.

    My nextdoor neighbour is 80 years old and has just been diagnosed with cancer. It’s tempting to think, that given his age the diagnosis would be less hard hitting – after all, we’re all going to die – and 80 years is much more than many of us might expect. But the fact is, the news is no less devastating. His wife is distraught, and together they face the last moments of his life. The cruel irony is it could take months and maybe even longer.

    My father died from cancer at 59 years old. It’s a horrible way to go.

    I really liked this article. It’s a real wake up call.



  15. I suffered with nigraine headache’s for over 40 years and found out tha a Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) may be a cause of headaches. I went to a cardioogist, had an echocardiogram and stress test to see if I had a PFO. Hoping that I did have a “hole in my heart” and that I could have it closed and get some relief. Unfortunately, my heart was in great shape. Now I know that was fortunate as I have made a great deal of progress in overcoming this 40 year plague over the last 7 months.

  16. good point…society and myself may not be there yet but luckily eating candy is apparently healthY(just kidding)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *