Have you ever watched the movie “Finding Nemo?” If you have, you might recall the scene in which Dory, the optimistic, forgetful, and friendly fish, tells her newfound fish friend Marlin, a clownfish who just lost his only son, Nemo, to “just keep swimming.”
Dory’s simple three-word phrase reminds us to hang in there, to keep trying, to not give up, and to fight when we face adversity.
My name is Janneke Phung, and I have a relatively recent diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis. For decades, I’ve struggled with pain — neck pain, back pain, headaches, sacroiliac joint pain, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain, the list goes on.
I went to the dentist for TMJ pain, but found no relief. I sought acupuncture for back pain, but the pain persisted. I went to physiotherapy for neck pain, yet my aches continued. I saw my family doctor for the headaches, but the drugs piled up and the pain wasn’t masked.
Eventually, I found significant relief for many symptoms with low-impact chiropractic care, but I knew something else was wrong and still unexplained. As I look back at my calendar from several years ago, I had weekly doctors’ appointments in an effort to find out what was ailing me.
If you are reading this because you are facing adversity in the form of pain related to a rare disease, such as ankylosing spondylitis, I encourage you to stay here and settle in — you are understood. Perseverance when facing a disease like ankylosing spondylitis takes extreme courage, strength, and determination, no matter the type of treatment you choose. It helps to know that you are not alone in the struggle.
The beauty of Dory’s personality is that she stands by her friend Marlin during his time of struggle. (In fact, I bet he couldn’t get rid of her even if he tried!) The journey is difficult, but Marlin is never alone.
If you are reading this because you love someone who is facing a rare disease diagnosis or struggling with a misdiagnosis or a lack of diagnosis of physical pain and anguish, I encourage you to stick around as well. Your friendship, loyalty, and support in difficult times is priceless and rare, and so helpful!
The journey is long. For many of us, it takes years, or even decades, to receive a diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis. For years, we suffer physically (have any of you spent hours awake at night in agony?), mentally (have you ever wondered if the pain is “in your head,” or worse, a doctor has suggested that?), spiritually (“why does God allow such pain without answers?”), etc.
Then, when we finally receive a diagnosis, we are overcome with emotions, including grief (I am officially no longer a “healthy person”), fear (it is a disease that “progresses,” after all), sadness (how will this affect me for the rest of my life?), relief (a starting point for treatment!), validation (Yay! I didn’t imagine all my unexplained pain!), and determination (how will I fight this?). This disease sticks with us for life, and we have a choice to make: Keep swimming or drown.
Go and watch “Finding Nemo” and let me be your Dory. “Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!”
Note: Ankylosing Spondylitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ankylosing Spondylitis News, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ankylosing spondylitis.
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