What I'm Thankful for This Christmas as a Person With Chronic Illnesses
With Christmas coming up, I’ve been hard at work trying to think of things to be grateful for. Like most people, my partner and I haven’t have a good year in 2016, so it’s was becoming a bit of a stretch to find anything.
But then I realized the one thing I’m forever grateful for. It’s the people in my life and just how much more important they become when you have a chronic illness (or six).
It’s simple and sad fact of life that you will lose friends with each diagnosis you receive. Sometimes it’s instant — they just disappear off the face of the planet. Sometimes it’s a phone call when they learn about your cancer diagnosis, only to spend three minutes asking how you are and the following 50 minutes talking about themselves that make you walk away.
Sometimes it’s just that being sick is a pain in the butt for all concerned. Cancelled plans and a general inability to live up to your previous self slowly breaks apart the friendship.
Then there are the people who choose to make the most challenging moments in your life a competition or go to insane lengths to turn the attention back on to themselves, leaving you with no option but to distance yourself. We grieve the loss of these relationships, and then life goes on.
But then there are the people who become the best friends you could hope for. Not only do they stand by you, but they somehow manage to rise to the occasion instinctively, knowing how to navigate the obstacle course of “being friends with a chronically ill person.”
They’re the friends who arrange plans so I can attend either part of the night out or all of it, depending how I feel. They’re the friends who know the value of just coming over to hang out and not mentioning illness at all, while always being there for you if you need to talk.
The friends who you can see once in a blue moon and still feel like no time has passed. The friends who are happy to just sit on the couch and watch TV with you. The friends who accept your fluctuating capabilities without comment and just work with you to find something that works.
They’re the parent-in-laws who have adopted me as their own and drove me to every chemo appointment and hospital stay. My father-in-law not only took me to the emergency room whenever I got sick, but he also sat with me without complaint for hours on end. And he decorated a chuck bucket he made so I’d have a laugh if I got car sick on the way home from chemo.
And then there’s my partner. He’s my best friend who has every positive trait I could ask for. The love of my life who I manage to love even more and every day.
He’s sympathy chucker who will hold my hair back while trying his best not to chuck himself on my head. (Yes, that of all things still impresses me the most.)
He’s the partner who can read me like a book and pick up on my symptoms before I’ve noticed them. He has no issues with picking up the slack in the relationship when I’m unable to so things. He’s the partner who supports me to strive for what I want and is there to pick up the pieces when I strive a bit to hard and crash (with only a good-humored “I told you so.”)
He’s the partner who has been by my side for every hospital visit, sat with me for days on end in hospital and who loudly and proudly advocates for me when I don’t have the ability to do it myself.
He’s the partner who will get frustrated with the situation, but he never gets frustrated with me. He knows the value of a well-timed cup of coffee or glass (or bottle) of wine, spoon hugs and cheeky butt grabs even when I was going though my “I look like a frog” stage of chemo.
He’s the partner whose sense of humor means we make good memories even during our most challenging times. He’s the partner who isn’t afraid to tell me when I’m wallowing, but he understands the value of the occasional sulk.
He’s prouder of my achievements than I am, and meets every success — no matter how small — with joyous celebration and every defeat with endless support.
And, most importantly, he’s the partner who responds to “Gee, you’re such a good guy for staying with her,” with an incredulous, “No, I’m lucky to be with someone I love so much.”
My 20 years of chronic illness sometimes can feel like the ultimate curse. But then I look around at the friends and family I have in my life, and I realize my health is the reason I’m surrounded by such amazing people.
And I then I realize … I wouldn’t change a thing.
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