“A diagnosis of catastrophic illness changes everything. It’s a thick line drawn through your life, separating the before and the after.”
-Heather Summerhayes Cariou (Author – “Sixty-five Roses”)
April 1st heralded the beginning of Sjogren’s Awareness Month. It was my intention to blog a bit about Sjogren’s Syndrome, and specifically my own experiences, each day of April. That did not happen. Here we are on the final day of the month, and I blogged only a few times. I could beat myself up about not reaching the goal I set, but I get beat up enough by other things out of my control including my own body and the symptoms of Sjogren’s.
Though not writing daily, I’m glad I decided to commit to writing about Sjogren’s again because there were several people who contacted me privately, or commented publicly that they had never heard of Sjogren’s before reading one of my posts. I had mentioned to Mr. Wanton, if even one person learned of Sjogren’s as a result of my blog, it would be worth it.
Thank you to everyone who has read, commented, and shared my blog. I appreciate your assistance in spreading awareness, please continue to do so. Sjogren’s currently has no standardized treatment protocol and no cure, perhaps through continued awareness and increased research funding, over time that may change.
In the past I have been reluctant to write about my journey of diagnosis, and navigating the symptoms of Sjogren’s because I felt some people might see me as doing it “for attention” or to garner sympathy. This week I ran across another blogger’s post about how in our society we condone (or at least tolerate) so many types of attention seeking behaviour (one only need think for a moment about reality TV, the shenanigans of political leaders, or the proliferation of highly inappropriate or risque “selfies” on-line) yet when someone with a mental health issue or other chronic illness writes authentically about their experiences it is often frowned upon, deemed “attention seeking”, or having a “pity party”. That is unfortunate in my opinion; we have much to learn from each other’s honest health “stories”, both from a medical perspective as well as a human / empathic one.
I will be continuing to write about Sjogren’s, but I will also return to writing about other topics as well. As I’ve mentioned previously, I started this blog to write “wantonly” – about whatever grabbed me in the moment. When you have an illness that causes so much havoc with your body, it is hard to ignore. My life is not all Sjogren’s, but Sjogren’s does affect every aspect of my life.
To close out Sjogren’s Awareness Month, I was thinking about what I would want people to know most of all. The first thing is the seriousness of Sjogren’s; it is a progressive systemic disease equal in effect on quality of life to MS. It is definitely life-altering, but can also become life-threatening when organ involvement or lymphoma develops.
Secondly, it requires specific treatment and management individualized to each patient, yet it is a relatively unknown disease among medical professionals including Rheumatologists. In fact, one physician with Sjogren’s herself who does medical school in-service sessions discovered in her area of the USA only one medical school even had Sjogren’s in the curriculum. I have heard other doctors mention they heard the name in med school but had only two minutes of lecture on it. I suspect they were told it was only dry eye and dry mouth, as that continues to be the prevailing belief.
I want people to understand how scary it is to have an illness doctors are so unfamiliar with and to be unable to follow a standard, proven treatment protocol. I want it to be known that even though we may not have cancer, many of us are on a chemotherapy drug or a “biologic” drug, possibly for the rest of our lives. There is no such thing as remission.
On a personal level, I want people to know when I have to miss out on an event it is not always by choice. Each time I miss out on a once in a life-time event important to a family member especially my children, or a close friend, it breaks my heart a little bit more, even if at the time I say “it’s okay”. That if I seem rude when I have to interrupt you and leave immediately when we are standing to chat on the street or in a store, it is because I can’t stand up any longer. When you see me clothed head to toe under an umbrella on a clear summer day it is because being exposed to the sun is risking a disease “flare” that can cause further organ damage. If you knew me before Sjogren’s you might miss the person I used to be; you need to know I miss her too. Sjogren’s drew a thick line through my life, there’s no crossing back.