Recent messaging I’ve been exposed to, activities I’ve participated in, and health challenges with which I’ve dealt have prompted me to remind all my readers to continue to recognize and support the many and varied warriors among us. With October just around the corner, and news media, advertisers, and merchandisers splattering pink ribbons everywhere, breast cancer patients and survivors, as well as their caregivers, come most immediately to mind as individuals who need and deserve our support, but they are a just a small fraction of the many warriors in our midst.
Because of when the Committee gathered post-summer, fall reminds me of my previous pro bono publicity work for the Braintree-Milton-Randolph MA Relay For Life — an activity that regularly provides the opportunity to meet or hear the stories of patients and survivors who’ve battled or are battling many types of cancers (including breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, leukemia, lymphoma and more), and who are incredible fighters.
I was also diagnosed with a rare cancer — abdominal sarcoma — in September 2006, so this time of year always brings reminders of the emotional and physical challenges I faced at that time and continue to face 13 years later as a result of the chronic conditions cancer treatment and surgery left me with. In fact, on the day I’m posting this, I’m off to have some CT scans to try to identify the cause for some new digestive symptoms I’ve been having.
At different points over the past 7 years, I have had the good fortune of interacting with cancer and other health warriors on a weekly basis because of my “sometimes” need to receive IV iron treatments (I no longer absorb iron well from food or supplements). I say “good fortune” because, while I may arrive at my hematology/oncology practice not wanting to deal with the pricks of blood draws or IV inserts, or simply grouchy because I have to give up several hours weekly to this health inconvenience, when I witness or talk to other patients about what they are going through, I realize how small my challenges are. While I don’t wish bad health on anyone and feel great compassion for those dealing with it, the courage and grace many patients — and those who help them — exhibit under really difficult circumstances is both a reminder to me of how indomitable the human spirit is and an inspiration to me to stay positive and be grateful for the gift of life.
Our Heart Speaks: An Organization Near ‘n Dear To Our Heart That Supports Health Warriors
My pro bono work for Our Heart Speaks (OHS), an organization that provides a voice and means of healing through artistic expression to individuals finding themselves suddenly struggling with new disability or chronic illness, reminds me so often how there are individuals who feel fairly rotten on a daily basis, but who, for a variety of reasons, don’t feel comfortable or have the need for regularly sharing their pain, fright, and suffering with the outside world, including friends and family. I’ve learned thru my social media work for OHS that, particularly patients who suffer from “invisible illness,” such as digestive issues or chronic pain that isn’t obvious to both the loved ones and strangers in the patients’ lives, often feel like they must struggle with their health challenges in silence because there’s no “physical evidence” that can be seen by the human beings with which they interact that they are suffering.
As I alluded to above, we must recognize that warriors come in all shapes & sizes. Some warrior souls are cloaked in the body of a 90-year old woman, and some use the body of a 5-year old boy as their vessel. Some are battling cancer, some, other terminal or chronic diseases like ASL, MS, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. And, some struggling with serious mental/emotional illness that paralyzes them, or, with addiction or social issues, such as homelessness.
Other warriors among us are the medical professionals who give their hearts and souls to their patients by helping them both emotionally and physically deal with their illness. Still, other warriors can be found in the friends and family members of those dealing with illness who do all they can to envelop their ill loved one in an invisible blanket of love. I also believe warriors can be found among the many individuals who give their free time to generate both awareness about research studies and research funds in support of a particular health challenge or social cause.
As briefly touched on above, in addition to physical-health warriors, there are innumerable warriors among us who, while not belonging to one of the four broad warrior groups above, i.e., the afflicted/challenged individual, professional caregivers, friend and family caregivers, and awareness and fund generators, battle non-physical-health challenges that seem equally insurmountable to health challenges. These include afflictions and challenges such as poverty, injustice, discrimination, and bullying. Plus mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, addiction, and PTSD.
As you do when you celebrate Halloween and seek to identify who the person is under a particular costume, make an effort to identify the warriors beneath the surface of the individuals with whom you interact. And, regardless of their circumstances, let’s all be sure to give a shout out and emotional and physical support to all the warriors we come across in our daily lives, not just in September & October, but all year long.