Saturday, April 29, 2017

Lucky?

I have always been a positive person.  I’m an eternal optimist, always holding on to hope, always looking to focus on the silver lining no matter how cloudy life gets.  Sometimes I put pressure on myself to keep that up – partly because I just prefer it to being sad, partly because I feel like a hypocrite when I don’t, and partly as a matter of self-preservation.  Even (or especially) since illness has become such a big part of my life, I find reasons to keep my smile, things to be grateful for daily.  I feel like I'm supposed to say I’m lucky, it’s not that bad for me … not compared to the others.

When I was finally diagnosed (after 8 years of trying to figure out what was wrong), I googled Sarcoidosis and the first thing that came up was the Bernie Mac Foundation: started by his wife after he DIED from this disease.  I haven’t died, so I’m lucky, - it’s not that bad.

In the online groups I frequent, I see post after post about people hospitalized due to their illness.  I haven’t been hospitalized, so I’m lucky – it’s not that bad.

At events I’ve attended, I’ve met people who must travel with portable oxygen tanks.  I haven’t required oxygen, so I’m lucky – it’s not that bad.

A friend of mine was misdiagnosed with lung cancer and treated with toxic chemotherapy for years before being correctly diagnosed with sarcoidosis.  I haven’t been misd- … well, I haven’t been misdiagnosed with cancer (RA, Lupus, Psoriatic Arthritis, Still’s Disease, and Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease, but not cancer), and I’ve only had low-dose chemotherapy treatment, so I’m lucky – it’s not that bad.

I feel like I’m expected to say that I’m lucky because it’s not as bad as it could be, or as bad as it is for some others: I haven’t died or come close to dying from my illnesses.  But is that really the standard we should use for “luck”?  Yes, I’m grateful to be alive … but lucky?  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Awareness(shhh)

When my mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer over 20 years ago, she never really talked about it.  She didn’t want to make a big deal of it, didn’t want to worry my grandmother or anyone else.  She never even really said the C word until years later.  She just had “a thing taken care of,” and that was the end of it.  Even when we started doing events with the American Cancer Society, she was hesitant to own it for herself, to join with others in the Survivor Lap.

Anyone who knows me (or follows this blog) knows that I am not shy when it comes to talking (or writing) about my illnesses.  You’ve seen my posts about Sarcoidosis Awareness Month, Arthritis Walks and advocacy activities, and my involvement with World Autoimmune/Autoinflammatory Arthritis Day.  It took a little while to get comfortable with that, to get over the embarrassment and the fear of what other people would think of me.  Ultimately, I had to just get over it.  These illnesses aren’t my fault – I didn’t do anything to bring them on myself – and if writing about them can help anyone else, then that’s more important anyway.

That said, I’ve still been mostly quiet about one illness/area.  Physically, the details are not what anyone wants to think about, so I don’t write about them.  Psychologically, I was scarred by my third grade teacher: if any student had to go to the bathroom during the school day, she said we had 3 minutes; any longer and we would be in trouble (she assumed we must’ve been playing, not actually using the facilities).  I was conditioned to have this negative association with an entire system; a natural biological process became synonymous with being bad.  Even though I now know how wrong she was, it’s been so deeply ingrained that nearly 35 years later I’m still not comfortable discussing it.

https://www.iffgd.org/images/pdfs/IBSMonth.pdf
International Foundation for
Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders
http://aboutibs.org/
I recently discovered that in addition to Sarcoidosis Awareness Month, April is also IBS Awareness Month.  My initial instinct was to just let that pass without a word … but then I thought about why I write about the rest. 

The shame and secrecy make it so much worse.  Maybe if I’d heard people talk openly about this type of thing when I was younger, it wouldn’t have been as bad for me.  Maybe I could have spoken up when I was having problems, rather than waiting until I had to be brought to the emergency room at 8 years old.  Maybe I wouldn’t have developed such unhealthy habits that only make a “bad” situation worse.  Maybe I wouldn’t have felt so isolated, living with a problem that I couldn’t talk about, and even doctors couldn’t easily explain or resolve.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

April is SAM!

Living with a chronic illness is never easy – it can rob you of your abilities, your independence, your sense of self … not to mention the pain and other physical symptoms.  When your illness is cancer, MS, or another well-known condition, it usually brings with it sympathy and support from those around you:  most people have heard of these diseases, and have at least a basic understanding – they know these are serious, and want to be there for you.  When it’s sarcoidosis, however, that last part is often lacking.

With sarcoidosis (and many other rare/less well-known diseases), there’s not a fast and direct line from symptom to diagnosis.  It can take years of doctors, tests, and misdiagnoses before the right one is discovered, and even longer before a helpful treatment plan is worked out.  During that time, the symptoms get worse, but the understanding and sympathy from those around us often fades.

To an extent, some of that is almost understandable.  We seem to drag on, often looking well though we say we feel awful, unable to answer the most basic questions, like “what’s wrong with you?”  Our symptoms change from day to day, and often mimic or overlap with other conditions.  We call out sick from work, cancel social plans, avoid chores … and no one really knows why.

That’s why Sarcoidosis Awareness Month (SAM) is so important.  It gives us the opportunity to answer some of those questions, to help those around us to understand what we’re going through, and to help others living with sarcoidosis to know that they’re not alone.  It gives us a chance to say the word, put a face to it, and to build a community of patients and supporters who are in this together.

The first question to answer, of course, is What is sarcoidosis?  I’ll let the Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research answer that: