As I begin to write this, my gaze moves from the blank page in front of me to linger on the copy of Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture that arrived in my mailbox at some point during the day. Like any good student (which, incidentally, would be why Cal Newport’s How To Become a Straight-A Student arrived in my mailbox yesterday, as I need to rectify the ‘F’ I semi-officially received in anatomy earlier in the week), or any semi-decent student (which I claim to be) that prefers not to read terribly-written brain-wasting “sagas” (such as, for instance, Twilight) to a craving for stories that have happened, or at least could have happened, to feed a craving for perspective to intermingle with my own (I don’t count sparkly vampires as a perspective, but I’ll stop ragging on Twilight now).
In Lecture, Pausch writes: “My medical saga was what it was, and I’d already been over it and over it. I had little interest on giving a discourse on, say, my insights into how I coped with the disease, or how it gave me new perspectives”. He continues to note that having cancer is not a uniqueness (2008, p. 9).
Having any disease is not an uniqueness. Having cancer was not what made Randy Pausch who he was, and having asthma is not what makes me who I am. There is a term that is associated, somewhat colloquially, within a number of communities of people with chronic disease wherein the individual in question is deemed as a “warrior”. I may be the girl who occasionally photographs herself giving The Finger (yes, that finger) to her nebulizer, and maybe ignited the action—at least in my circle—but there is more to being a warrior than doing what you’re supposed to do, or badassing some of the predictable out of it. There’s more to being a warrior than dealing with what’s in front of you. Being a warrior is about dealing with what’s ahead—as John Green has said “What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” Warriors? Try.
I’m a kinesiology student, so let’s bring some exercise in here (being a kin student with moderate asthma brings some interesting stories also, but I’ll save those). Aside from some temporary burning-off of stress hormones, in the short term exercise does very little. As with exercise, what is directly in front of me, or inside my body, matters very little in the future to those who are outside of me, which just so happens to be everybody else on the planet who is not me, as according to Yahoo! Answers, I make up approximately 1.42857143 x 10^-10 of the world’s population (I’m not good at math so I don’t really know what that means, except for there’s a negative in there, so I am pretty insignificant). If I as an individual make up a ridiculously microscopic portion of the world’s population, then what matters is the people who I reach; the people who reach other people. Like exercise, being it in the long-term is what matters. The ripple effect is what matters. “If we are honest about what we are facing, we can offer hope to others that they are not alone” (John Wooden). The effect on others is why warriors fight—to shape a better world for those around them, to help others not have to go through what those before them have already conquered; and if it has yet to end, to help those alongside them engage in battle.
So I have a lot of smart-sounding quotes and words behind me, now where are they going? In spite of all of the amazing things I have in my life and ahead of me, I am not the one that matters. What matters is that we are the ones here now, and we are the ones shaping our world. We are the ones remodeling the perceptions people have of asthma as if these notions were clay. It’s not up to an over-dramatized commercial on TV, a cartoon with the kid who is golden on a few puffs of Ventolin when they get tight (read: actually anxious) or an ad promising that the next drug will be the one, or a blog post exploring what we are about today. It’s about what we will be about. Today is all we have to create change for tomorrow.
I could have been diagnosed with this disease four years ago to treat it as just another medical thing in my life alongside the after-effects of being born ten weeks premature. I could have kept my stories to myself; could have kept my mouth shut when things weren’t right; could have not moved outside of myself.
What makes me who I am is that I’m not about to be passive in my journey. I am here to fight. I’m here to be as healthy as possible by taking my medicine, doing treatments as needed, and being as physically active as I can be. I’m here to share my story with hopes that it may help somebody—and thus far, I’ve had more positive responses that it already has than I could have ever imagined. Like Pausch, I’m not writing this to tell you what I’ve already said about living with a chronic disease in the past, though I will reiterate some amazing words from my the most personally influential prof I have had, Jay Greenfeld, who said “We cannot control our circumstances, only our responses to them”. I am here to be . . . an asthma warrior.
I’ll stare life in the face with a determined heart and my story written across my outstretched arms ready to embrace what comes next. Then I’ll run at it, ready to redefine my own beliefs of “possible” . . . with an insatiable desire to hopefully affect those around me in the process.
I hope to meet you on the journey.
Kerri is a Kinesiology and Applied Health student living on the Canadian Prairies, passionate about making understanding of the actual impact of health-related choices tangible to people both with chronic disease and without. Kerri volunteers with the Asthma Society of Canada as a member of the National Asthma Patient Alliance Executive Committee, with a specific focus on the Team Asthma.ca program. She will be attending the World Congress of Asthma in Quebec City in August with the Asthma Society, as well as attending the Medicine-X conference at Stanford University in September as an ePatient scholar.