We’ve all heard all the expressions – “as long as you have your health, you have everything”, and “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”. Sometimes, these sayings make me angry, because I believe that good health is not the most important thing. I didn’t always think so. Like many Americans, I grew up believing that a trip to a doctor would make any ailment better.
But my thinking started to change 18 years ago when my daughter, Stefanie, was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. She was 13 months old– still just a baby, really, facing a chronic, disabling illness for which there is no cure. In the ensuing years, my family has faced a myriad of health ailments; my mother-in-law’s stroke, my father’s heart attack, my mother’s multiple sclerosis and bladder cancer, Stefanie’s cataract eye surgery – caused by her arthritis, and my own breast cancer – twice. It sounds like we’ve been jinxed, but we’re just your average family.
Little by little I have learned that facing these challenges has, in many ways, positively affected every member of my family. My son, John Marc, was described by every school teacher he had, as a caring, compassionate, kind soul. When he broke his leg in eighth grade and was on crutches for 6 months, he never once complained. When asked why, he replied, ‘my sister deals with pain and disability every day of her life – my problem is temporary’.
My husband and I have learned patience and perspective. As volunteers with the Arthritis Foundation and with Disabled Sports USA, we have made many friends who happen to be challenged by illness or disability. We judge our friends on the quality of their characters, not on the quality of their bodies. Our experience has taught us that integrity, sincerity, kindness, perseverance, optimism and friendship are important things.
I know able–bodied people who are petty, selfish, cruel, miserable pieces of humanity. I know disabled people whom I cherish and admire. I have a friend with cerebral palsy, intelligent, but deaf and unable to control her body. The stranger’s look of pity silently asks her, how can you be happy? How can you have a good life? Her answer is, yes, I am happy and yes, I have a good life. Not the same life as others, but still a good life. For those who get it, who can see the truth of this, the world expands and new doors are opened.
And so, while I believe that good health is not the most important thing, it is nonetheless, a good thing. For that reason, I support human embryonic stem cell research. I work on fundraisers to cure arthritis and cancer. I support humanitarian outreach through my church. Stefanie and I agreed long ago, that although her arthritis had formed our characters in a positive way, we are more than willing to say good-bye to it now. We are ready to move on to other formidable challenges, such as saving the health of our planet.
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