Survivorship Reconsidered

My new column this month at dLife is not exactly a book review, but something more akin to a “book encounter.”

I recently received an advance copy of medical writer Jill Sklar’s The Five Gifts of Illness.  Sklar was diagnosed herself with Crohn’s Disease in 2002.Gifts_of_illness

What she’s done is explore the whole concept of “survivorship” from a new angle:

“Surviving chronic illness is a relatively new concept in the history of civilization,” Sklar writes. “Looking back over the last millennia, most individuals were lucky to survive long enough to reach adulthood…” She points out that Lance Armstrong with his LiveStrong campaign was the first to “pierce the American psyche by adopting a symbol of survivorship.”

Right-O.  Years ago, “coming to terms” with your disease was a non-issue, since surviving generally wasn’t an option.  If that doesn’t make you feel lucky, the rest of her book just might.

She’s interviewed over 100 people living with serious illnesses about their diagnosis experience and how they’ve since re-assessed their lives. (Several interviewees come from our diabetes community, including myself {briefly}, Violet, and Gina Capone.)

In the end, nearly everyone interviewed found their chronic illness experience in some way life-affirming — leading to a kind of Reverse Midlife-Crisis: instead of fretting that your life is halfway over, the disease impels you to celebrate all the life that you have left.

According to Sklar, the five themes or “gifts” that emerged after people were unexpectedly diagnosed with serious illness were:

  • Relationships
    – some existing friendships were “weeded out” by the bad news, but many
    others deepened, and rewarding new friendships were discovered
  • Time
    and Being
    – a sense of well-being is no longer taken for granted, and
    actually becomes a motivational force (like wanting to marry, have
    children or travel NOW, rather than later)
  • Altruism – finding new value in volunteer work, and devoting their lives to helping others
  • Emotions
    – becoming “committed to having a more emotionally fulfilling life.”
    Ironically, many people felt less fearful and more emotionally free
    after their diagnosis
  • Goals – a strong shift in life goals
    (professional, family, retirement, spiritual) that altered the course
    of their life for the better, they said

I certainly wouldn’t wish diagnosis on anyone, but personally, I could relate.  My diabetes truly has brought me all five of these “gifts.”  Read more about it at Straight Up.


5 Responses

  1. joan
    joan April 24, 2007 at 8:58 am | | Reply

    As a type 1 for 30 years, I, too, can relate to the “5 gifts of suvivorship.” I am much more giving, loving and compassionate. My relationships are more intense, my purpose in life is one of contribution to others, very different than before.

    I have met so many wonderful fellow diabetics through support groups and participating with the Behavioral Diabetes Institute in San Diego. It is so wonderful to be in a room full of people, the majority of whom are diabetic and who understand from a experiential perspective about the day to day management of this condition.

    Thanks Amy for the great post.

  2. Kendra
    Kendra April 24, 2007 at 9:28 am | | Reply

    Yep, I’ve received every one of those gifts along with the “gift” of Type I diabetes. It’s what keeps me getting up in the morning . . . and also reassures me that my desire to start a family “sooner rather than later” is not something I should view as a bad career move but something that is important and necessary for my particular circumstances. I don’t have the luxury of saying “I’ll do x when I’m 40″ which I think helps me to embrace the moment and not put off my desire to enjoy life until later when things will be more ideal – ideal never happens. Life is happening NOW and I’m so grateful! :)

  3. Tesney
    Tesney April 24, 2007 at 10:53 am | | Reply

    My life mantra is to live life to the fullest and this book sounds like it’s right up my alley. I went right out and bought it this a.m. Looking forward to a good read!

  4. gina
    gina April 30, 2007 at 11:33 am | | Reply

    I just got my copy on saturday! I started reading it today on the train and I already love how honest it is.

  5. » “Patients” versus “Health Care Consumers”? Both, If You Ask Me - DiabetesMine: the all things diabetes blog

    [...] with chronic health conditions — up to 133 million Americans, according to some sources.  It was author Jill Sklar who opened my eyes to just how fortunate we are, as the phenomenon of surviving and thriving with a [...]

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