Beauty for Ashes: Finding the Good in the Suffering

Janneke Phung avatar

by Janneke Phung |

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Have you ever felt like you drew the short end of the stick in life? Do other people seem to have more reasons to be joyful than you do? When we are diagnosed with an incurable and progressive disease it can feel unfair.

Sometimes we may wonder if a life of pain is even worth living. However, if breath flows through your lungs today, then you have a reason to live. You have something to give this world.

I refuse to let my disease win. While ankylosing spondylitis (AS) has taken things from me, it has also gifted me many things.

Perseverance and self-control

Never in a million years did I think I’d have the strength to stick to a diet as strictly as I have for as long as I have. I have passed on my favorite comfort foods (fresh homemade biscuits with melted butter, anyone?). I’ve been strong enough to say “no” to birthday cakes, including my own. I have stood by as chips, wings, and ice cream were served at parties. I have served my family three homemade meals a day as I ate broccoli and chicken for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for months on end. So, excuse me as I toot my own horn — I think I’ve earned it. What hasn’t killed me has made me stronger.

Empathy and compassion

If you have lived with chronic pain, you have been given a gift that people who haven’t experienced this pain don’t have. Both empathy and compassion will help us build meaningful social connections with others who are struggling. We can walk alongside someone struggling with chronic pain because we’ve been there.

Gratitude for supportive relationships

My husband has always been selfless and caring. However, AS and the treatment path I have chosen have had a direct impact on him and our relationship. His meals are less fancy, because for each meal I cook separate dishes for my family and myself. We no longer get to enjoy restaurant dinners together because my diet no longer allows for those treats. All along this journey, he’s been supportive and understanding, for which I am grateful.

Respect for health and nutritious food

In my pre-AS life, I’d been known to not stop eating after one piece of birthday cake. My true friends know I snacked on chocolate and cookies to my heart’s content. I happily ate homemade bread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Since ankylosing spondylitis has gripped my body, I have learned that what I feed my body has a direct effect on how I feel. I no longer take my health for granted. I have gained a deep appreciation for delicious and nutritious (starch-free) foods.

Perspective and peace

As a result of the pain I have suffered, I have gained a healthy longing for heaven. I have come to terms with the fact that nothing protects us from the aches of this world. I have prayed not only for the removal of pain but also for the strength and courage to endure suffering with grace. I am living for what is yet to come. I like to think that the heavenly banquet that’s mentioned in the Bible will include delicious, buttery biscuits and other amazing, starchy pastries!

What have you learned from your pain? How has your perspective on life (and death!) changed as a result of your pain? In what ways can you be a blessing to others, despite or as a result of your disability? Share it with the world.

I’m convinced that our deepest life message comes from our most profound struggles. Our weakness and pain will become great assets. We will more easily endure pain when we find a purpose in it.

Choose to use your struggles as a springboard to love and serve others.

Channel your pain to bless others.

Beauty for ashes” — that is what I’m shooting for!


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.


keith beasley avatar

keith beasley

As with all of the articles that I have read on your site, this one meets my reader concerns of being informative , meaningfully -structured, and reflective to others with differing medical conditions or contexts . To illustrate this last factor , your article has value to a friend's son , whose additional cancers preclude him from trial acceptance , and to relative whose mental health issues are so complex , maltreated and seemingly incurable . Thank you .

Janneke Phung avatar

Janneke Phung

Hi Keith, thank you so much for your kind words! It means a lot to me to know that my painful journey is now helping others - that's made the challenges along the way all worth it! Thank you for sharing my column with others! Wishing you all the best!


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