By Sheryl Jedlinski
This Thanksgiving I am grateful to be alive, having eluded the deadly grasp of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; exceeded the five-year survival mark for people with advanced stage cancer; and enjoyed a good quality of life for most of my 23 years with Parkinson’s disease. It is not a lucky roll of the dice nor good genes that brought me this far. Rather, it is the strong support system of friends, family, doctors, and therapists who stand by me and help me up when I fall down. Some of the life lessons I’ve learned on this journey are:
- Living in a body that isn’t functioning takes mental and emotional strength, courage, and determination that I never realized I had.
- Having a slower-paced life doesn’t make it less meaningful; just different.
- Expressing gratitude helps us see the good things in our lives, rather than focusing only on our illnesses.
- Having a bad day is a choice we make. The better we adjust our attitude, the fewer bad days we will have.
Having a chronic disease can be difficult, challenging, anxiety-producing, isolating and then some. Trying to “manage” alone leads to poorer outcomes. Strong friendships carry us through good times and bad. Each of us must find a path and the people to help us navigate.
I have become my biggest advocate and supporter, taking an active role in my illness and building a support system to create a strong plan for the journey ahead. Just as boxers enter a fight supported by “cornermen,” those of us fighting chronic illness need our own support system to maintain our physical and mental well-being. Anchoring my team is my husband Tony, always by my side to help in any way he can. He has seen me at my very worst and my very best, yet each day he chooses anew to stay, and to love me unconditionally as I love him.
Though not a traditional Thanksgiving song, Ben E. King’s. Stand by Me speaks to the essence of how important a strong support system is:
“When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid
Oh, I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me”
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