The following article by Jordan Riggs may help people to understand that it is ok to just sit back and take care of yourself. You must always put yourself before awareness.
|A beautiful painting of a pheasant by Jordan|
Jordan is an artist and writer in southcentral Alaska. She currently lives with Trigeminal Neuralgia, Gastroparesis and Chronic Intestinal Pseudo-Obstruction after sustaining nerve damage from nearly a decade of thyroid cancer treatment.
Opinion: New Patients and Awareness Advocacy
by Jordan Riggs
The next few weeks are a blur of learning how to properly manage the monster that you’re suddenly having to share your body with. New prescriptions with awkward-sounding names start popping up in your medicine cabinet. Appointments to referred specialists are scheduled, then re-scheduled to accommodate the doctor’s choice to extend their vacation. You struggle with how best to notify your employer about the new diagnosis, as well as the long-term prognosis: should you warn them about possible deterioration in your job performance due to the disease’s symptoms and medication side effects? Or ‘play it by ear’ and hope that they won’t notice? Some family members are supportive, while others question the legitimacy of the diagnosis and suggest that you get a second (or third) opinion. Friendships are tested as socializing abruptly transitions from fun to burdensome. When the disease’s symptoms (or the medication side effects) blatantly affect you, oblivious strangers chime in about the latest fad diet they’re convinced will cure you.
The weeks turn into months. Some longtime friendships have gradually faded away as other relationships are revived and strengthened. Family members at home have adjusted as well as can be expected, and other relatives suddenly take you very seriously after they looked up your diagnosis online. Work is challenging, but you’re regaining your old rhythm despite fatigue from the medication. People start using words like “tough” and “brave” to compliment you, but you don’t feel that way. You simply feel like you’re surviving, nothing more.
You make the decision to reach out and connect with people who know exactly what you’re going through. You discover that a support group meets at the local hospital, or you find a group on Facebook with people from all over the world who have your same diagnosis.
Fundraisers. Colored ribbons. Tatoos. Blogs. 5K runs. Pleas from other patients to write lawmakers to demand more research for the disease. Reminders of important upcoming dates to spread, spread, spread the awareness. Organizations, associations, celebrity spokespersons. It’s all so inspiring and overwhelming at the same time. Navigating this new chapter on your life has already consumed so much of your time, and now you feel under pressure to become a walking, talking billboard informing the world about your illness.
In the age of social media, the peer pressure for patients to become advocates for their respective disease is intense. Are you the type who relishes the opportunity to color your hair the same hue as your illness’ ribbon color, using your appearance as a catalyst to educate the public about your disease? Awesome! But what if you’re the type who prefers to only occasionally discuss your health issue, and prefer to blend in with healthy people and live normally? That’s okay too!
As patients, successfully managing our illness is to be true to ourselves and live with our disease in a way that benefits us the most. There is no “right” or “wrong” perspective regarding your very personal journey. An unspoken obligation seems to exist that pressures new patients to jump on the awareness bandwagon. However you choose to engage (or not engage) in these activities is up to you, and your choice doesn’t make you a “good” or “bad” patient within the community. When living with a life-altering illness, self-awareness trumps public awareness. Your only "real" job as a patient is to take care of yourself. Expecations placed on you are just that...expectations.
So whether you’re making art for an upcoming fundraiser - or are trying to come up with clever ways to avoid talking about your disease - keep it up. Stay true to yourself.