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

It’s All About How You Frame the Experience

As usual I was watching ABC World News, now with Diane Sawyer, when a story came up about a soldier, Lt. Colonel Tim Karcher, who had been injured in Iraq.  He had lost both his legs and by the time he returned to Walter Reid Medical Center he was dying of an infection throughout his body.  His wife gently told him that if he needed to “let go”, she’d be able to raise the family and go on.  He survived and is being fitted with prosthetics so that he can walk again.  He’s hoping to return to the service in some capacity.  That story alone speaks about choices and how we frame our experience, but that wasn’t the turning point for me about his experience.

Being interviewed he calmly turned to the interviewer and said, “You can decide if it’s a life ending experience or a life changing experience”.  In a moment a flash went off before my eyes and I got it.  The message was bigger than any billboard I’ve ever seen, bigger than the Jumbotron at a ballpark, and deeper than any previous quests for peace.  He challenged each of us facing a health challenge to make a decision on the road we’ll follow.  We’re at a fork in the road and the choice is clear, sit ont he couch moaning and groaning about how life is unfair, or get up, get out and live each day with whatever vim and vigor you have left, or hope to cultivate down the road.

There’s certainly a place for self-pity following an illness diagnosis, but when it defines you there is a sense of hopelessness and that plays mean tricks on your body.  Your body is trying hard to get well and if you don’t give it your full support then you’re abandoning your own body, your own self and I don’t believe that’s your intent (well or sick).  How will your diagnosis be a life changing experience for you?

That soldiers one line makes what patients have told me for years, that their diagnosis was a gift.  It was a gift because they made it a life changing experience.  They took the illness and made lemons out of lemonade.  They put up with all the treatment regimens in hopes that their lives would be better to some degree on the other end, even if it meant a lifetime of treatment.  When the diagnosis is a life changing experience there are choices about how life changing and how it will change your life, but let’s say it opens your eyes to possibility.  Maybe it gives you the freedom to do something you’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the guts to do…until now.

I recently listened to Michael J. Fox’s book, Always Looking Up, and even with all his fame and fortune, he wouldn’t have had many of the life affirming experiences he’s had without the diagnosis.  He has made his Parkinson’s Disease a life changing experience for him and his family.  He is living proof that it can be done.  If you look deeper and closer to your own personal experience I believe you’ll find people in your own sphere who have done the same. 

Your choice, life changing or life ending…I know which I prefer!


I've lived my life in service to others. I'm focused on mental health and how it impacts our relationships, culture, and society. Through creative expression and narrative I believe we can impact change.

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