Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness

Does Illness Have a Face?

Mirror, Mirror on the wall…who’s the fairest of them all?  Remember that from Snow White?  It’s funny (in an odd way, not a ha-ha way) that before being diagnosed with a health challenge I’d wager that virtually no one stands in front of the mirror and asks, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall…who’s the healthiest of them all?  When we have our health we assume that it’s because we’re supposed to be healthy.  The moment the doctor shatters that illusion the mirror cracks and we find that there is another person in the kingdom who is the healthiest.

There is no face of illness.  Many who have a health challenge walk in this world anonymously.  Of course there are those who have visible symptoms resulting in use of devices to assist in walking or breathing; loss of hair; tremors in limbs, etc.  When the body presents the symptoms to the world it’s like outing the individual, making them the face of illness.  Unfortunately, the rest of the world isn’t familiar with illness and backs away or gawks at the person and interestingly the public begins to create their own stories in their head.  They create stories about how the person got sick, what the body is doing to the person or casting their own prognosis based on the physical symptoms.

Interestingly most “big” illnesses (those we speak about frequently), like cancer, parkinsons, multiple sclerosis, etc. have spokes persons.  They become the face of that particular illness.  It’s always the person who has survived or is living well because their face becomes synonymous with hope.  I want to people to realize that the face of illness is not simply the celebrities, but the postal clerk, the judge in town, the car salesman and every other walk of life.  There is no typical health challenged person. 

The face of illness is yours, the individual who is facing a health challenge.  You are the vehicle that spreads hope about health and healing.  It’s your story that will have staying power because those in your life are emotionally connected to you.  The celebrity is a story you tell at dinner, but your story is the one that comes up in frequent conversations because those in your circle have access to someone who can answer their questions about the illness.  I know it’s not what you wanted, but you are the expert about your particular health challenge.

We would like to think that certain people whether it be ethnic, socio-economic, or other subset of the population are face of illness.  Unfortunately that is the case with certain hereditary illnesses like Sickle Cell Anemia impacting the African American Community or Tay Sachs, impacting the Eastern European Jewish community.  But the illnesses we hear the most about are equal opportunists. 

How do you feel being the face of illness?  What has your health challenge given you permission to talk about that you may have been hesitant to discuss before?