The Truth About Chronic Illness


A friend announced on social media this week that she has cancer.

She prefaced her post by saying “I’m not sharing this for pity or sympathy, but to ask for prayer.”

It bothered me that she even had to include that disclaimer. Have we become so insensitive to the sufferings of others that we’d assume a person is sharing a cancer diagnosis just to receive pity?

Sadly, I think we make wrong assumptions about one another far too often these days. As someone suffering for over 10 years with one of the “invisible” diseases –lupus (and its sidekick, subglottic stenosis)– I can attest: most people aren’t very concerned about what you’re going through. And even sadder? This is true both inside and outside the church. And in my opinion, it just shouldn’t be this way.

I have another friend who recently underwent a major surgery. I’ll spare the details to protect her privacy, but she also posted recently on social media about people judging her for everything she is/is not doing during this season of recovery.

Stuff like that just makes me so mad!

The beauty of being almost 50 is that your love for honesty begins to trump your concerns over what people think about you. So, I’m just going to throw this out there, and you can take it or leave it or unfollow me or whatever:

People who are hurting and scared and sick all the time want to complain 1000x more than they actually do.

So when they DO say something…when they do ask for prayer…just send a little encouragement back. Pray for them. Let them know you’re praying. Ask how you can help and then if you’re able, show up.

Don’t judge what you do or do not see them doing.

I get this all the time, having lupus. All. The. Time! I have to back out of a commitment on a Tuesday and I get judged because they see me posting a picture of something I did a day or two later. They’re all, “Well, apparently she isn’t that bad off because she was able to do X-Y-Z on Thursday…Hmpf!”

The truth is that Thursday’s commitment happened because I got lucky on Thursday and woke up feeling like I could handle it. And maybe I woke up feeling stronger on Thursday only because I honored my body’s need for rest on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Think about how difficult it would be to balance all the demands of motherhood, a career, and a social life when nearly every day feels like the first day you’re coming down with the flu. That’s often what lupus feels like. Does that help you understand why some activities just cannot be accomplished?

If you knew what this deep-bone, never-ending pain is like, or how it is exacerbated by simple things like going grocery shopping…if you knew how utterly exhausting even the most simple things can be…maybe you’d understand that my erring in saying “yes” to too much, too often, is just me trying to regain some sense of life as it used to be, when I actually could do all the things I wanted to?

Maybe you didn’t know me when all this began, when my husband was deployed for a year and I worked full-time and raised two little boys by myself? Maybe you didn’t know me when I was the one who always showed up, who served on every committee, who led bible studies, who volunteered to clean and set up and break down, who would always babysit and cook for those who couldn’t. Maybe you weren’t around me when my house was (mostly) clean and uncluttered and I still had the energy to go for long walks after work.

I still am that person inside. But now I’m stuck in a body that too often says, “Sit your fat butt down…we’re not doing any of that…or anything at all.”

So, now, scheduling things is always a gamble. I might feel great when that day rolls around on the calendar. Or I might be like I am today, aching all over and regretting the anti-inflammatory painkiller I took even though I knew it would set my stomach aflame…because in the moment, dulling the other pain felt worth the trade-off.

I can have one bad day and then, not another one for months. Or I can muddle my way through months in a row of feeling like poo. And I never know what it’s going to be. But I can’t stop scheduling stuff, or trying to say “yes” to things because if I stop, that means I’m letting lupus win, and I absolutely refuse to let it.

The same is true, I’m sure, for my friend with cancer and the one recovering from surgery. They don’t have health-related crystal balls, either. But they’re also mentally determined to keep life as vibrant and active as ever.

So if you care about them –particularly if you call yourself a Christian– they should not feel like they have to apologize for being vulnerable, asking for prayer, or asking for help. Because I can promise you –there are dozens of other fears, worries, pains and concerns that they are keeping to themselves. And the more people respond negatively to them, the less they will open up.

And the less they share, the heavier the burden they carry alone.

Please don’t be the one who makes them do that. God never meant for us to do that to one another.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”-Galatians 6:2 (NKJV)