I've lived most of my adult life dealing with illness in some form or other. Since college, I have no memory of what being "healthy" is like without worrying about, or living through, the next relapse. My experience of traversing from the country of Health to the Land of the Ick is not the same as others'. A few years ago, when a friend told me she was suddenly found to have breast cancer, I broke down and wept. Terribly embarrassed, I apologized all over the place. My friend was cool and calm, and thanked me for my response. Why would she thank me for being a cry baby?
She said people who are healthy had no idea how her reality just made a fundamental shift from being Well to Having Cancer. They were very busy trying to convince her that nothing had changed. She will beat this thing that had intruded itself and go on as usual. They didn't understand that life would never be the same no matter what the outcome. She appreciated that I did understand and I was grieving for the loss of her identity as a "healthy" person.
My wise friend (who is in remission now and counseling cancer patients at a big cancer center) was being gracious. Yes, I was crying for her, a new traveller in this strange place, but the truth is, I was crying for myself, too, who had already been there for a while.
I read a blog post recently The New Country Called Heart Disease, that reminded me of this conversation.
Carolyn Thomas is a heart attack survivor. She writes this wonderful blog, Heart Sisters, "all about women and heart disease – our #1 killer – from the unique perspective of a Mayo Clinic-trained heart attack survivor and patient advocate from Canada."
While she writes mostly for people dealing with heart disease, much of the advice and information she provides is generalizable to coping with any chronic disease.
Another article you may identify with:
And Heart Sisters provided this helpful 20-minute video from the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making, from both the patient's and the doctor's point of view. It is a long video so grab a cup of tea or coffee before viewing.