Life After Diagnosis

Todays survivors scaling mountains of illness to reach greater personal heights.

STRAIGHT UP

with Amy Tenderich

straightup-hires

So here I am, a “diabetic” turning 41 years old this month… now officially classified in the “at risk” category for everything from heart disease to gum disease to kidney failure. I suppose I ought to feel fragile, but instead, what I feel is mostly grateful (except on the really bad days).

I think back on that sunny Tuesday in May four years ago when the anvil dropped on our heads: my diagnosis with a chronic illness. Would my life – or what was left of it – become a drudgery? Was this the end?

It sounds almost bizarre to say so, but looking back now, that was actually the beginning… Remember that scene in the movie City Slickers where Billy Cyrstal says your life can be a “Do-Over?

Well, I’ve discovered that there are scores of inspirational people out there who’ve emerged from the shock and misfortune of diagnosis with a life-threatening illness – only to create a new, richer existence than ever before. They see their lives now as a sort of a monumental Do-Over. I am not alone!

The Gifts of Illness
My thoughts on this topic crystallized when I recently received an advance copy of an amazing new book called The Five Gifts of Illness by medical writer Jill Sklar, who was diagnosed herself with Crohn’s Disease in 2002.

She’s interviewed over 100 people living with serious illnesses about their diagnosis experience and how they’ve since re-assessed their lives. (Several interviewees come from our diabetes community, including myself {briefly}, Violet, and Gina Capone.)

“Surviving chronic illness is a relatively new concept in the history of civilization,” Sklar writes. “Looking back over the last millennia, most individuals were lucky to survive long enough to reach adulthood…” She points out that Lance Armstrong with his LiveStrong campaign was the first to “pierce the American psyche by adopting a symbol of survivorship.”

So we are truly living in a new era of Life After Diagnosis. Interestingly, the consensus among all the people Sklar interviewed was that their illness experience was, in the end, life-affirming – giving them a new appreciation of their own existence and their support community. My thoughts were, it’s sort of like Reverse Midlife-Crisis: instead of fretting that your life is halfway over, the disease impels you to celebrate all the life that you have left.
According to Sklar, the five themes or “gifts” that emerged after people were unexpectedly diagnosed with serious illness were:

  • Relationships – some existing friendships were “weeded out” by the bad news, but many others deepened, and rewarding new friendships were discovered
  • Time and Being – a sense of well-being is no longer taken for granted, and actually becomes a motivational force (like wanting to marry, have children or travel NOW, rather than later)
  • Altruism – finding new value in volunteer work, and devoting their lives to helping others
  • Emotions – becoming “committed to having a more emotionally fulfilling life.” Ironically, many people felt less fearful and more emotionally free after their diagnosis
  • Goals – a strong shift in life goals (professional, family, retirement, spiritual) that altered the course of their life for the better, they said


Living with diabetes is no picnic, to be sure. I certainly wouldn’t wish diagnosis on anyone. But Sklar’s list here really hit a nerve with me. My diabetes truly has brought me all five of these “gifts.”

Where the Survivors Are
Sklar also hit a nerve with a book that shares so many personal stories – because having been through this life-altering experience, nothing touches you like finding someone else who’s been there, too.

In fact, the mainstream media and healthcare organizations everywhere are catching on to the idea that patients want to connect with each other and build communities. That’s what dLife is all about, of course.

There’s been a rash of new web sites welcoming people with all sorts of disorders as well. Check out ChronicBabe, Revolution Health, DailyStrength.org, HealthCentral Network , and CarePlace to name a few.


To find the most vocal of diabetes survivors, don’t miss the Diabetes OC website , which now lists more than 170 people publishing diabetes web logs. I guess a lot of us have a thing or two to say about life after diagnosis.

 

* Amy Tenderich is co-author of the new book, Know Your Numbers, Outlive Your Diabetes.

Read more about Amy Tenderich.

Disclaimer
dLife's Daily Living columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: November 28, 2012

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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