Kelly Conway

@lolabellaquin | contributor
I am a patient advocate and author of the blog "As my Joints turn: My autoimmune soap opera. I live with multiple chronic illnesses including fibromyalgia, thyroid disease, spondlyoarthropathy, DSAP, and high blood pressure. I work full-time as a speech-language pathologist and trying to balance my health and career is difficult. I’m also the cofounder if IFAA (International Foundation of Autoimmune & Autoinflammatory Arthritis).
Larissa Martin

Why Disability Education Needs to Be in Classrooms

I think it would be beneficial for schools to teach about disability. As a person with cerebral palsy and an amputee, sometimes I am asked about my disability. I really don’t mind telling people about it and educating them a little bit. However, conversations like that leave me wondering how much education they’ve received about various disabilities, if any at all. This starts the wheels in my head turning, and I ponder why awareness of disabilities is not included in the regular educational curriculum. I feel including disabilities in education would be beneficial and may even decrease discrimination. While some who discriminate can be cruel, I often feel those judging individuals with disabilities are acting out of “fear of the unknown.” Education about disability can cover causes, symptoms, treatments and important things to consider when interacting with a person with a disability. The teachings should include both visible and non-visible disabilities, and physical disabilities as well as mental. This should be started in grade school and continue throughout the educational career. The curriculum can be catered to the specific age groups. For instance, younger children can be taught what questions are acceptable to ask. Older children can do a specific case study of a particular disability, examine different laws such as the Americans With Disabilities Act), learn about philanthropy to help those with disabilities or study those who have paved the way for awareness and recognition of disabled individuals. One man who comes to mind is Ed Roberts. At a young age, Roberts contracted polio, but rather than letting it limit his mind and body, he used his disability as an opportunity to become a pioneer for disability inclusion in the community. I believe education has the ability to greatly reduce discrimination. We need to create a more accepting and  understanding environment for kids with disabilities, not just at home but in schools as well.

J Lock
J Lock @jlock45
contributor

To the ER Doctor Who Insulted Me for Being On Disability Benefits

To the ER doctor who was more than rude about my being on disability benefits, I do not owe you an explanation as to why I am on disability benefits or why I am not working. That fact should be totally irrelevant in how you approach my care. Furthermore, in the event that you do find out my occupational status, you should be professional enough to keep your ignorant opinions to yourself. Regardless, I would like you to know the following: When I came to the emergency room for help because my chronic illness pain level was entirely too much for me to handle and I feared something more acute was happening, I expected your help. I expected your medical expertise, professionalism and respect. You asked me what I did for a living, to which I replied, “I’m on Social Security Disability.” You looked at me and shook your head and asked me “What for?” I simply replied, “Crohn’s disease.” You again shook your head at me and said, “I don’t like that. You should get a job.” When I then tried to explain to you that I couldn’t work due to the chronic pain and unpredictable chronic diarrhea I experience because of Crohn’s disease, your response was something I still cannot believe. You actually looked at me and said, “You should get a wheelchair with a bucket on it and go to work.” First of all, what in the actual fuck? Who says that to someone? If I could work, I would. I was an Alzheimer’s / memory care and hospice nurse before my chronic illness became too much for me to handle while working full time and raising my daughter. Even though my career was physically and mentally demanding, I loved it and would give anything to be able to do it again. Making the decision to stop working because I was too sick was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made in my entire life. If I was able to somehow find the ability to just “go to work,” I wouldn’t have stopped working in the first place. I couldn’t exactly stop being a mom or stop being sick, so the only thing I could do was stop working. Secondly, you have absolutely no idea how difficult it was for me to obtain my Social Security Disability, or what I had to go through while I waited nearly four years to receive that first dime of assistance. I not only lost my ability to work and be healthy, but my family lost everything — including our home. The process it took to file and wait for disability was so incredibly devastating that I actually attempted suicide, because I couldn’t live with myself knowing I caused such financial difficulty and struggle for my family. Lastly, as a doctor, you should know better than to speak to any patient this way, but speaking to me this way while having my physical and mental health history right in front of you is simply inexcusable. My self-worth was already dangerously crushed, and just as I was managing to put the pieces of my life back together, you came in making flippant jabs about how I should just go back to work. As if it were so simple. Your comment was not only rude and insensitive, but you managed to bring back all those self-defeating feelings. And you in no way motivated me to go get a job; I can only assume that is what you were trying to accomplish by saying something so condescending and hurtful. You clearly have no understanding about how devastating Crohn’s disease can be. A wheelchair with a bucket is not the answer here. Though this encounter happened nearly three years ago, it still stings when I think about it. I cannot believe someone I was seeking help from treated me in such a patronizing way simply because you didn’t like the idea of me being disabled. Whatever the reason for my disability, I deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I deserve to have my needs met in the same fashion as any other patient that comes into any emergency department. I deserved your best, whether I have a white collar job, a blue collar job or no job at all. I did not receive your best that day. I can only hope you never make another patient feel as embarrassed and ashamed as you made me feel. Not only did you dismiss me and avoid treating my physical symptoms because, like many chronically ill patients, I was not seen as an emergent patient with definitive symptoms or real needs; but you jeopardized my mental health by cruelly voicing your personal opinion about my already sensitive and distressing situation. Please doctor, do better in the future.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: What You Don't See When You Look at Me

When you see me at work in the morning, you don’t know what it took just to get me in the door. I drive with the heated seats on, air conditioning blowing, tennis ball lodged between my hip and the center console and an ice pack around my knee. Even with all of that, I am still typically gripping the steering wheel in pain, just trying to get to work so I can get out of the car and move my joints. When you see me at the gym, wearing my headphones, working out next to you, you don’t see what it took to get me there. You don’t know that every afternoon, my pain increases substantially, a fever sets in… I feel like I have the flu. Every. Day. I have to convince myself to go to the gym because I know the movement is good for me. There are days I cry on the commute to the gym but power through because I won’t let this disease dictate every single thing I do. When you see me park in the handicapped spot at Target and get out of the car, smiling at my daughter, you don’t see the struggle behind my happy face. You don’t know that one good trip to Target will knock me out for the day. You don’t know that my daughter says she enjoys going with me because I’m funny and we have a good time, but that I know she knows I need help. If there is one blessing I’ve gotten from my rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, it is that I’m aware of what I might not be seeing. I encourage you to not judge those with a chronic illness, to not question the amount of pain they are in, or how awful their pain really is. And to go a step further, when you see someone slowly walking across the road, instead of feeling frustrated that they are slowing you down, take a minute to realize she may be going as fast as she can. Image via Thinkstock.

Erin
Erin @erin_c416
contributor

I'm Done Apologizing for My Learning Disability

I have struggled with a learning disability and slow processing speed since elementary school. Slow processing speed is exactly what it sounds like — the brain takes in and responds to stimuli and other information much slower than “normal.” I vividly remember always taking longer than everyone else to do basic things like complete a short worksheet, do my part of an in-class group work assignment, and take a test. Although I may work at a “slower” pace than my peers, the pace I work at allows me to access my work and complete it to the best of my ability. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way. The education system tends to view someone who is “slow” as a burden and an “inconvenience” to the class. This view has been strictly enforced throughout my educational career, mainly by my peers and teachers constantly telling me to hurry up or something to make me feel guilty and apologize for being slow. I used to apologize over a million times a day for it, but not anymore. I’m done apologizing for the “inconvenience” of slow processing and I’m not sorry. To my teachers, I’m not sorry for trying my best to learn just like my peers. I’m not sorry for “slowing down” and “holding back” the class. I’m not sorry for “taking too long” to give you an answer. I’m not sorry that you can’t be patient with bright, capable students like me. To my peers, I’m not sorry for “not being good or fast enough.” I’m not sorry for taking a class that “isn’t for people like me.” I’m not sorry for refusing to conform to your outrageous mold that I clearly don’t fit into nor want to. I’m also not sorry for “ruining your grade.” To my workplace, I’m not sorry for my “inability” to do “simple math.” I’m not sorry that I’m not answering your question right away. I’m not sorry for attending a college that I’m “clearly not capable of attending.” Yes, I’m also not sorry for not caring one bit. I am who I am and I refuse to apologize for being me and for a condition I have no control over. My advice to anyone who is struggling with the pressure and expectation of apologizing for slow processing speed is to embrace the strengths it gives you as well as the difference it makes. For me, slow processing speed gives me the ability to savor a moment, make rich connections to ideas and have a solidified understanding of the theories of the world. Slow processing has also given me confidence as a learner since it constantly keeps me within the learning style that works for me. There is also a major difference in my overall performance when my processing speed is accommodated versus when I’m under the timer. The difference is whether I succeed or fail, and I choose to succeed just like everyone else. I also learned that the haters will eventually slow down and understand, even if they seem reluctant. I’m #NotSorry for the “inconvenience,” and you will never change my mind.

Ozzy Juuso

Losing Friendships Because of Chronic Illness

On one hand, I get it. Who would want to deal with this? Who would want a friend that gives fatigued half-replies when you need them, is never able to meet up with you spontaneously and is too anxious or tired to have FaceTime or phone calls? Who would want a friendship as tiring and unfruitful as ours, especially when you have your own fights and battles occurring? If you don’t want to talk to me for a while to focus on your own issues, or just to unwind and be alone for a while, you are entirely valid and you don’t have to justify that to me. On the other hand, some of you hurt me. You hurt me by leaving me when I needed you most. You hurt me by making me feel like my conditions are worse for you to witness than they are for me to live with every day of my life. You hurt me by making me feel alone, different and excluded when all I wanted was to feel included and just the same as everybody else. Maybe I should specify; if you went about it in a negative way, you hurt me. To the friend who told me after six years that we were going in different directions in life because I couldn’t get a job, and that you never wanted to speak to me again because of that, you hurt me. Our friendship was never based on my employment and that should have never come into the equation. To the friend who told me I’m never around anymore and I’m no fun when I am, you hurt me. The day you told me I would never be loved if I “carried on like this,” I realized who you really were. Ultimately however, I thank you. I thank those of you who went about leaving with human decency, for being honest with yourself and with me, and for admitting that your own issues are the priority for you, as they should be. I thank you for taking time away from me to focus on yourself and work on your own health. I thank those of you who went about it in a negative way for revealing your true colors to me. Thank you for not wasting my time any longer. Thank you for not pretending anymore. Finally, I thank those of you who never left. Those of you who are still here, watching the chaos of my life unfold and offering a helping hand, even if it’s just a quick “Hey, how are you doing?” I will be eternally grateful for those of you who try, as well as those who tried and couldn’t handle it. You all help me to feel a little more human while I go through things that make me feel so alone.

Kerry Wong

When Accessibility Isn't So Accessible

I went out to eat the other day, and while I was there I had to use the restroom, which was up a few stairs. Not a full flight, probably somewhere between five and 10 steps. I typically use a cane for support as a result of arthritis and sarcoidosis but I figured I would be able to manage this, even though stairs usually hurt my joints more than regular walking. I looked for a ramp afterwards, because there had to be a way for someone who cannot do stairs at all to get there, right?  Right.  I did not find a ramp; instead, what I saw was this. If you can’t tell what this is, it’s an industrial wheelchair lift, one that requires a second person with a key to operate it.  So if someone in a wheelchair has to go to the bathroom, he has to first get staff’s attention, and say like a child in kindergarten, “Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom.” Chances are that staff person won’t have the key, so she’ll have to go find the key, or find the person with the key, who will likely finish whatever she’s doing before attending to this customer.  Then there’s the big production — which draws the attention of half the restaurant — of opening the lift and maneuvering the customer into it, or staring while the customer maneuvers into the tiny space. These units often beep loudly while in motion, drawing the attention of anyone left in the restaurant who isn’t already looking. After using the facilities, the customer then has to either wait until someone makes eye contact from the main floor, or yell out to find someone (drawing everyone’s attention once again), and repeat the painful process once again. This is not acceptable. It may technically be compliant with ADA regulations, but it is not right. It robs a person with a disability of the ability to do something as simple as going to the bathroom independently. It not only takes away their independence, but robs them of their dignity, making them a spectacle for everyone to watch. And it takes a long time, which is not always something one can afford when needing to use the bathroom. This may be legal, but it is not good enough. I had to use one of these lifts once, while I was in Washington, D.C. to meet with my U.S. Senators and House Representatives to discuss legislative issues related to health care. Those days on Capitol Hill require a lot of walking, and I would not be able to participate if not for my mobility scooter. If this lift situation had arisen on my way to a meeting, I would surely have brought it up. Who am I kidding? If this had happened on my way to a meeting, I would not have made it to the meeting. I had to wait over 15 minutes for someone to come with a key to operate the lift, and it took another 10 minutes for me to get down — and that’s after spending a good 10 minutes trying to find an “accessible” exit, five minutes by the lift, trying to get anyone’s attention/help, and five minutes with a kind passerby who tried pressing every button and several combinations to try to get the lift to work for me. I decided right then I’d never go through that again. I would sooner take the 20 minute path back to the elevator, through the basement, onboard the tram, through another basement corridor, to the exit in another attached building than go through that again. If I were in a restaurant with a lift like that, I’d sooner use the bathroom in the coffee shop across the street. Better yet — I won’t be in that restaurant again.

Kelly Conway

When Your Dog Is Chronically Ill, Too

I always write about myself as a person living with multiple chronic illnesses (rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, Graves’ disease, high blood pressure, and disseminated superficial actinic porokeratosis), but today I am going in another direction. My beautiful dog, Georgia Grace is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who also lives with debilitating chronic illnesses. We make a chronic dynamic duo and this is our story. I decided I wanted to get a dog for my 40th birthday. I had two “mean girl” rescue cats, so I researched for almost a year to find a dog breed that would: 1. Get along with my cats. 2. Be a dog that I could manage with my physical limitations. I’ve always rescued animals in the past, but this time, I decided to go to a breeder and get a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. I did read about the health issues, but I didn’t take that information too seriously. I had eight dogs growing up. I had no worries. I wanted a companion and a reason to be more active. A Cavalier seemed like the perfect choice. Georgia Grace came home with me in June of 2009. She was perfect. Smart, sassy, easy to train. She was active, but I could manage it. The cats tolerated her and my furry family was perfect. “Perfection” lasted for two years before things began to unravel. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are very delicate from years of puppy mills breeding unhealthy dogs together. There are several hereditary breed diseases and it seems like my dog decided to be an overachiever and get most of them. Georgia struggles from a painful neurological disease called syringomyelia (also a human condition), hip dysplasia, luxating patellas (her knee caps move), arthritis, chronic dry eye syndrome (she no longer makes tears), chronic ear infections (she rubs her head so much from syringomyelia she causes eye and ear infections), chronic valvular heart disease (her mitral and tricuspid valves are both leaking), chronic skin lesions, and the most recent diagnosis is diabetes. Her diagnosis of heart disease at age 7 devastated me, then nine months later, I almost lost her to diabetic ketoacidosis. We spent Thanksgiving in a veterinary hospital together. I held her as she slept and prayed she would come home again. My little warrior fought back once again, proved she has nine lives, and now blood glucose tests and shots of insulin are our new normal. Georgia was 2 years old when diagnosed with syringomyelia and I was told she most likely wouldn’t survive past age 3. I struggled knowing that my little dog was destined for a life in pain. However, my knowledge of chronic illnesses and her unbreakable will made us a good team. In addition to medication for pain, I explored holistic treatments like herbs, acupuncture, laser treatments, and cannabinoids. I explored every option until I found a mix of treatments that worked for her. As anyone living with chronic illness knows, being sick is expensive. Being Georgia’s mommy is definitely expensive and stressful at times. I work multiple jobs to afford her treatments, knowing that is not good for my own health, but will help me keep her in good health. Many people have told me that I should give her up or put her to sleep because of excessive veterinary bills. Neither is an option that I will consider. I have to admit that I do take care of her better than I do myself. Most people who meet Georgia can’t believe that she had so many ailments. She is a happy and good natured dog who loves play with stuffed animals and beg our neighbors for treats. Georgia is the epitome of the “you don’t look sick” phenomena. Once she gets to the point where she isn’t happy and I can no longer keep her pain at bay, I will help her cross the “rainbow bridge.” My vow to her is that she will never suffer. Being Georgia’s mom has taught me many things over the years. I’m constantly inspired by her love of life. She rarely complains, even when living with diseases that would affect the strongest of men or women. I originally got a dog to help me be more mobile. I faithfully take Georgia for daily walks. Ironically, our arthritis makes us walk with similar gaits. The similarities don’t end there. I take 12 pills a day, she takes 13 pills a day. I take one shot a month, she takes two shots a day. We both have skin diseases that can’t seem to be cured and sadly, we both live in pain. The similarities are endless. It is clear to me that she was meant to be mine. Pets are such a comfort when you are chronically ill. Having a pet that is also chronically ill is both a blessing and a curse. Georgia inspires me to never give up and to focus on the positives in life. Our life together is not always easy, but it is very full of love. Georgia’s main purpose in this world is to give and receive love. Lucky for me, I’m the one who gets to love and be loved by her the most. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Kelly Conway

When Your Dog Is Chronically Ill, Too

I always write about myself as a person living with multiple chronic illnesses (rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, Graves’ disease, high blood pressure, and disseminated superficial actinic porokeratosis), but today I am going in another direction. My beautiful dog, Georgia Grace is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who also lives with debilitating chronic illnesses. We make a chronic dynamic duo and this is our story. I decided I wanted to get a dog for my 40th birthday. I had two “mean girl” rescue cats, so I researched for almost a year to find a dog breed that would: 1. Get along with my cats. 2. Be a dog that I could manage with my physical limitations. I’ve always rescued animals in the past, but this time, I decided to go to a breeder and get a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. I did read about the health issues, but I didn’t take that information too seriously. I had eight dogs growing up. I had no worries. I wanted a companion and a reason to be more active. A Cavalier seemed like the perfect choice. Georgia Grace came home with me in June of 2009. She was perfect. Smart, sassy, easy to train. She was active, but I could manage it. The cats tolerated her and my furry family was perfect. “Perfection” lasted for two years before things began to unravel. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are very delicate from years of puppy mills breeding unhealthy dogs together. There are several hereditary breed diseases and it seems like my dog decided to be an overachiever and get most of them. Georgia struggles from a painful neurological disease called syringomyelia (also a human condition), hip dysplasia, luxating patellas (her knee caps move), arthritis, chronic dry eye syndrome (she no longer makes tears), chronic ear infections (she rubs her head so much from syringomyelia she causes eye and ear infections), chronic valvular heart disease (her mitral and tricuspid valves are both leaking), chronic skin lesions, and the most recent diagnosis is diabetes. Her diagnosis of heart disease at age 7 devastated me, then nine months later, I almost lost her to diabetic ketoacidosis. We spent Thanksgiving in a veterinary hospital together. I held her as she slept and prayed she would come home again. My little warrior fought back once again, proved she has nine lives, and now blood glucose tests and shots of insulin are our new normal. Georgia was 2 years old when diagnosed with syringomyelia and I was told she most likely wouldn’t survive past age 3. I struggled knowing that my little dog was destined for a life in pain. However, my knowledge of chronic illnesses and her unbreakable will made us a good team. In addition to medication for pain, I explored holistic treatments like herbs, acupuncture, laser treatments, and cannabinoids. I explored every option until I found a mix of treatments that worked for her. As anyone living with chronic illness knows, being sick is expensive. Being Georgia’s mommy is definitely expensive and stressful at times. I work multiple jobs to afford her treatments, knowing that is not good for my own health, but will help me keep her in good health. Many people have told me that I should give her up or put her to sleep because of excessive veterinary bills. Neither is an option that I will consider. I have to admit that I do take care of her better than I do myself. Most people who meet Georgia can’t believe that she had so many ailments. She is a happy and good natured dog who loves play with stuffed animals and beg our neighbors for treats. Georgia is the epitome of the “you don’t look sick” phenomena. Once she gets to the point where she isn’t happy and I can no longer keep her pain at bay, I will help her cross the “rainbow bridge.” My vow to her is that she will never suffer. Being Georgia’s mom has taught me many things over the years. I’m constantly inspired by her love of life. She rarely complains, even when living with diseases that would affect the strongest of men or women. I originally got a dog to help me be more mobile. I faithfully take Georgia for daily walks. Ironically, our arthritis makes us walk with similar gaits. The similarities don’t end there. I take 12 pills a day, she takes 13 pills a day. I take one shot a month, she takes two shots a day. We both have skin diseases that can’t seem to be cured and sadly, we both live in pain. The similarities are endless. It is clear to me that she was meant to be mine. Pets are such a comfort when you are chronically ill. Having a pet that is also chronically ill is both a blessing and a curse. Georgia inspires me to never give up and to focus on the positives in life. Our life together is not always easy, but it is very full of love. Georgia’s main purpose in this world is to give and receive love. Lucky for me, I’m the one who gets to love and be loved by her the most. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Kelly Conway

When Your Dog Is Chronically Ill, Too

I always write about myself as a person living with multiple chronic illnesses (rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, Graves’ disease, high blood pressure, and disseminated superficial actinic porokeratosis), but today I am going in another direction. My beautiful dog, Georgia Grace is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who also lives with debilitating chronic illnesses. We make a chronic dynamic duo and this is our story. I decided I wanted to get a dog for my 40th birthday. I had two “mean girl” rescue cats, so I researched for almost a year to find a dog breed that would: 1. Get along with my cats. 2. Be a dog that I could manage with my physical limitations. I’ve always rescued animals in the past, but this time, I decided to go to a breeder and get a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. I did read about the health issues, but I didn’t take that information too seriously. I had eight dogs growing up. I had no worries. I wanted a companion and a reason to be more active. A Cavalier seemed like the perfect choice. Georgia Grace came home with me in June of 2009. She was perfect. Smart, sassy, easy to train. She was active, but I could manage it. The cats tolerated her and my furry family was perfect. “Perfection” lasted for two years before things began to unravel. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are very delicate from years of puppy mills breeding unhealthy dogs together. There are several hereditary breed diseases and it seems like my dog decided to be an overachiever and get most of them. Georgia struggles from a painful neurological disease called syringomyelia (also a human condition), hip dysplasia, luxating patellas (her knee caps move), arthritis, chronic dry eye syndrome (she no longer makes tears), chronic ear infections (she rubs her head so much from syringomyelia she causes eye and ear infections), chronic valvular heart disease (her mitral and tricuspid valves are both leaking), chronic skin lesions, and the most recent diagnosis is diabetes. Her diagnosis of heart disease at age 7 devastated me, then nine months later, I almost lost her to diabetic ketoacidosis. We spent Thanksgiving in a veterinary hospital together. I held her as she slept and prayed she would come home again. My little warrior fought back once again, proved she has nine lives, and now blood glucose tests and shots of insulin are our new normal. Georgia was 2 years old when diagnosed with syringomyelia and I was told she most likely wouldn’t survive past age 3. I struggled knowing that my little dog was destined for a life in pain. However, my knowledge of chronic illnesses and her unbreakable will made us a good team. In addition to medication for pain, I explored holistic treatments like herbs, acupuncture, laser treatments, and cannabinoids. I explored every option until I found a mix of treatments that worked for her. As anyone living with chronic illness knows, being sick is expensive. Being Georgia’s mommy is definitely expensive and stressful at times. I work multiple jobs to afford her treatments, knowing that is not good for my own health, but will help me keep her in good health. Many people have told me that I should give her up or put her to sleep because of excessive veterinary bills. Neither is an option that I will consider. I have to admit that I do take care of her better than I do myself. Most people who meet Georgia can’t believe that she had so many ailments. She is a happy and good natured dog who loves play with stuffed animals and beg our neighbors for treats. Georgia is the epitome of the “you don’t look sick” phenomena. Once she gets to the point where she isn’t happy and I can no longer keep her pain at bay, I will help her cross the “rainbow bridge.” My vow to her is that she will never suffer. Being Georgia’s mom has taught me many things over the years. I’m constantly inspired by her love of life. She rarely complains, even when living with diseases that would affect the strongest of men or women. I originally got a dog to help me be more mobile. I faithfully take Georgia for daily walks. Ironically, our arthritis makes us walk with similar gaits. The similarities don’t end there. I take 12 pills a day, she takes 13 pills a day. I take one shot a month, she takes two shots a day. We both have skin diseases that can’t seem to be cured and sadly, we both live in pain. The similarities are endless. It is clear to me that she was meant to be mine. Pets are such a comfort when you are chronically ill. Having a pet that is also chronically ill is both a blessing and a curse. Georgia inspires me to never give up and to focus on the positives in life. Our life together is not always easy, but it is very full of love. Georgia’s main purpose in this world is to give and receive love. Lucky for me, I’m the one who gets to love and be loved by her the most. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Kelly Conway

When Your Dog Is Chronically Ill, Too

I always write about myself as a person living with multiple chronic illnesses (rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, Graves’ disease, high blood pressure, and disseminated superficial actinic porokeratosis), but today I am going in another direction. My beautiful dog, Georgia Grace is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who also lives with debilitating chronic illnesses. We make a chronic dynamic duo and this is our story. I decided I wanted to get a dog for my 40th birthday. I had two “mean girl” rescue cats, so I researched for almost a year to find a dog breed that would: 1. Get along with my cats. 2. Be a dog that I could manage with my physical limitations. I’ve always rescued animals in the past, but this time, I decided to go to a breeder and get a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. I did read about the health issues, but I didn’t take that information too seriously. I had eight dogs growing up. I had no worries. I wanted a companion and a reason to be more active. A Cavalier seemed like the perfect choice. Georgia Grace came home with me in June of 2009. She was perfect. Smart, sassy, easy to train. She was active, but I could manage it. The cats tolerated her and my furry family was perfect. “Perfection” lasted for two years before things began to unravel. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are very delicate from years of puppy mills breeding unhealthy dogs together. There are several hereditary breed diseases and it seems like my dog decided to be an overachiever and get most of them. Georgia struggles from a painful neurological disease called syringomyelia (also a human condition), hip dysplasia, luxating patellas (her knee caps move), arthritis, chronic dry eye syndrome (she no longer makes tears), chronic ear infections (she rubs her head so much from syringomyelia she causes eye and ear infections), chronic valvular heart disease (her mitral and tricuspid valves are both leaking), chronic skin lesions, and the most recent diagnosis is diabetes. Her diagnosis of heart disease at age 7 devastated me, then nine months later, I almost lost her to diabetic ketoacidosis. We spent Thanksgiving in a veterinary hospital together. I held her as she slept and prayed she would come home again. My little warrior fought back once again, proved she has nine lives, and now blood glucose tests and shots of insulin are our new normal. Georgia was 2 years old when diagnosed with syringomyelia and I was told she most likely wouldn’t survive past age 3. I struggled knowing that my little dog was destined for a life in pain. However, my knowledge of chronic illnesses and her unbreakable will made us a good team. In addition to medication for pain, I explored holistic treatments like herbs, acupuncture, laser treatments, and cannabinoids. I explored every option until I found a mix of treatments that worked for her. As anyone living with chronic illness knows, being sick is expensive. Being Georgia’s mommy is definitely expensive and stressful at times. I work multiple jobs to afford her treatments, knowing that is not good for my own health, but will help me keep her in good health. Many people have told me that I should give her up or put her to sleep because of excessive veterinary bills. Neither is an option that I will consider. I have to admit that I do take care of her better than I do myself. Most people who meet Georgia can’t believe that she had so many ailments. She is a happy and good natured dog who loves play with stuffed animals and beg our neighbors for treats. Georgia is the epitome of the “you don’t look sick” phenomena. Once she gets to the point where she isn’t happy and I can no longer keep her pain at bay, I will help her cross the “rainbow bridge.” My vow to her is that she will never suffer. Being Georgia’s mom has taught me many things over the years. I’m constantly inspired by her love of life. She rarely complains, even when living with diseases that would affect the strongest of men or women. I originally got a dog to help me be more mobile. I faithfully take Georgia for daily walks. Ironically, our arthritis makes us walk with similar gaits. The similarities don’t end there. I take 12 pills a day, she takes 13 pills a day. I take one shot a month, she takes two shots a day. We both have skin diseases that can’t seem to be cured and sadly, we both live in pain. The similarities are endless. It is clear to me that she was meant to be mine. Pets are such a comfort when you are chronically ill. Having a pet that is also chronically ill is both a blessing and a curse. Georgia inspires me to never give up and to focus on the positives in life. Our life together is not always easy, but it is very full of love. Georgia’s main purpose in this world is to give and receive love. Lucky for me, I’m the one who gets to love and be loved by her the most. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .