For those of you who haven’t heard, Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts, announced today that she was diagnosed with a blood disorder, MDS, myelodysplastic syndrome. Roberts will start treatment tomorrow and get a bone marrow transplant later this year. See her emotional announcement here:
Fifty-one year old Roberts beat breast cancer five years ago. In fact, when I heard that she has MDS today, I was like: Wait a minute! Didn’t she just beat cancer like 5 minutes ago? It felt that way to me. What I find striking about Robin’s emotional announcement is that she was so gracious. She even thanked the viewers who prayed for her five years ago! It’s very easy to become jaded after getting a jarring diagnosis like this–and to think it’s not her first time getting life changing news.
Double Jeopardy for My Family
As I have discussed, at at the age of 24, I was diagnosed with a rare illness, Myasthenia Gravis, in 2008. At the same time, my maternal aunt was fighting stage 3 colon cancer. Despite the odds being against her (at the time she was 60), she beat it after a year of chemotherapy. A few weeks after we celebrated her being cancer-free, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Miraculously she beat that too!
Robin Roberts’ news reminds me that I’m not alone. If you’re currently fighting an illness, I hope you can find some modicum of comfort from her words. I have many physical illnesses. People–family, friends, cab drivers–always ask me things like: How do you do it? Aren’t you angry at life or God? Yes, there are excruciatingly painful nights when I’m up screaming or crying. I’ve learned not to deny the pain but to also not deny my blessings. If I ask “Why me?” about my trials, I also have to ask “why me” about my blessings. In life, as in math, you have to balance the equation. I can’t fathom why I have the blessings I have–the most loving nieces and nephews, a loyal family, and a church that visited me in the hospital. My cousin, the associate pastor at the time, snuck in 20 visitors after hours! He’s very good at that. During treatment, I probably had 50 visitors from church including some people I didn’t even know. And the day I was released from the hospital, Kuya Jon Jon* even took me to see the New Kids on the Block in concert when everyone said I shouldn’t go because I just had surgery. I know that not everyone has all my illnesses (The odds of having 3 of my 4 diseases are 1 in 50,000,000. I never calculated the fourth illness because once you get to 1 in 50,000, does it really matter if it’s 1 in 60,000?). But I also know that not everyone has my support system. It’s not perfect (there are moments of loneliness and misunderstanding) but it’s pretty damn good.
To the women out there living with chronic illnesses, how do you keep hope alive? What helps you deal with the pain? And to the women who have beaten illnesses like cancer, what helped you survive? Who helped you survive–how were they supportive?
–Your Stylist, Jessica
* “Kuya” means “Older brother” in Filipino or Tagalog. It’s a term of respect and affection. I refer to my older cousins as Kuya or “Ate,” which means “Older sister.”