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Coping styles are important

“How people cope with this is unbelievably important," Bell went on. "And coping is an enormous issue in treatment."

He described three general ways in which patients respond to illness:

  • denial
  • tilting at medical windmills
  • what might be called cheerful patience.

Some people simply ignore the fact that they're sick, he said—the patients who deny their symptoms, or chose to believe they're lazy, for example.

Others "run around and try every treatment out there." (Many patients go through a phase of frenetic activity, sampling alternative "treatments du jour" while also consulting doctors in every specialty. Some maintain this schedule indefinitely, while others burn out.)

Finally, Bell said, are the patients who remain patiently "open to treatment, waiting for that time [of a useful therapy] to happen. They've decided not to make themselves or their families miserable" by focusing obsessively on the illness over which they have so little control.