By Debbie Konrad
Over the years, while dealing with my myriad chronic illnesses, I have found many people make it a competition about which illness is worse. Here is my story and why I believe that instead of competing with one another, we should try to stick together.
Ten years ago, my life changed forever. I was diagnosed with an incurable form of blood cancer, and my journey into the world of chronic illness began. Within the next five years, I was diagnosed with multiple chronic health conditions. I developed common variable immunodeficiency as a result of my cancer treatment. I was also diagnosed with a rare period fever syndrome. Having been healthy for the first 50 years of my life, it all took a toll on me - both physically and emotionally. I wondered: How did this happen to me? I was a person who did everything right. I exercised every day, ran five to seven miles, strength trained, did ballet, ate a healthy diet, didn't smoke and only had an occasion alcoholic drink.
Coming to terms with the fact that any one of these rare conditions could kill me has taken some time. Through online support groups, blogs, etc., I sought others who were in a similar place. And, with the exception of one or two of these groups, I found a common theme: a tendency for members to "one up" each other with stories of how their disease, experience and pain are so much worse than anyone else's. Or, as I like to refer to it: "disease-shaming." Instead of uniting ourselves into a community of chronic illness patients, it has become a contest between cancer, immune deficiency, chronic pain and other diseases. Support groups are important because they address issues that pertain only to a specific condition. But, saying to others their suffering is greater than anyone else's is unfair. Coping with any kind of chronic illness is hard.
It would be very beneficial to all of us in the chronic illness community to realize we need to come together as an organized group of patients to address the common issues that affect all of us. Instead of using our energy to dismiss the issues others are dealing with, let's use our energy to benefit each other in a positive way.
Debbie Konrad is a lymphoma, common variable immunodeficiency and periodic fever syndrome patient. She owns and operates her own custom drapery and soft furnishing studio, along with an e-commerce store. Debbie is a married mother of two sons and one grandchild, with another grandchild on the way. She enjoys spending time with her family, genealogy, gardening, reading and travel.