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Venus Williams Shares a Common Fear About Making Plans With Chronic Illness


A huge challenge of having a chronic illness is figuring out what you have the energy and ability to do, trying to make plans and then having to deal with those disappointing times when you have to cancel last-minute. Venus Williams recently shared she has those same fears due to her chronic illness.

The tennis star, who will compete at the U.S. Open in August, first revealed she has Sjogren’s syndrome in 2011. Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease with symptoms such as fatigue, pain, dry eyes and dry mouth. In an interview with People published Tuesday, Williams said she manages her symptoms, which include swollen joints and fatigue, by getting rest, focusing on what she eats and getting the best medical care she can.

She said she also plans out her year with a schedule that’s “realistic” for her to stick to, taking into account her symptoms.

“I go to the tournaments that I enjoy, and I try to keep a realistic schedule,” she said. “I rarely withdraw because I make a schedule I can maintain both mentally and physically. I don’t want to let anyone down, including myself.”

Williams acknowledged that dealing with a diagnosis of Sjogren’s syndrome can be overwhelming, especially in the beginning, so she enjoys giving new patients advice. She said she views her illness as a “challenge.”

“I think it’s about living life on your own terms and looking at it as a challenge, not as the end all,” Williams said.

Soon after her initial diagnosis in 2011, Williams pulled out of the U.S. Open due to her symptoms. She later told People she was afraid her career would be “stolen” because of the disease.

I couldn’t raise my arm over my head; the racket felt like concrete. I had no feeling in my hands: They were swollen and achy. I realized [the U.S. Open] would be a miserable show… You realize, ‘I am not in control of this. Even if I want to feel good, I can’t.’

When you have a chronic illness, it can be inspiring to hear about athletes who are able to compete despite facing chronic illness themselves. However, it can be hard not to compare yourself to them, as well as respond to people who wonder why you can’t accomplish similar feats.

If hearing about successful athletes with chronic illness is hard for you, check out Mighty contributor Samantha Reid’s response to swimmer Kathleen Baker, who won an Olympic medal with Crohn’s disease:

It’s a great reminder that when you’re sick, you can still accomplish (almost) anything — but you can’t accomplish everything. I can write for a living, I just may not be able to like, run my own production company where I oversee 15 hit shows (like a certain Shonda Rhimes). Kathleen can swim in the Olympics, she just may not be able to compete in every single event she might like to. Maybe there’s an alternate world out there where Crohn’s doesn’t exist and I’m the next Mindy Kaling and Kathleen has 25 gold medals.

But in this world, we’re working with what we’ve got. And I think we’re doing a pretty bang up job.

Photo courtesy of Venus Williams’ Facebook page