The divine purpose of my ankylosing spondylitis diagnosis

With no recent major physical symptoms, a columnist bids farewell

Janneke Phung avatar

by Janneke Phung |

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I’ve written about how receiving an ankylosing spondylitis (AS) diagnosis shook me to the core and became part of my identity for a long time. I felt doomed.

The literature told me that pain and disease progression would increase with time. This expectation became a self-fulfilling prophecy in my life for a while. The pain got progressively worse. The disease had won.

During that time, I was focused inward. In some ways, this response to an incurable diagnosis is understandable. It had disrupted my routine, rhythm, and reality. My focus on disease became a preoccupation as I sought to find a new normal.

My world became affliction-centered. I constantly talked about, feared, researched (oh so many hours late into the night), and provided others with the news and updates of The Diagnosis.

It consumed a constantly increasing amount of conversation space with others. My life became fixated on disease and finding a solution. I made the mistake of forgetting about my deep faith in a divine plan.

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Final words of encouragement for anyone with an AS diagnosis

Life-changing experiences

Even when not associated with chronic illness, hardships, I believe, are never barren. I often find my struggles to be accompanied by unexpected opportunities if I choose to focus outward. My diagnosis, for example, allows me to walk alongside others who face health struggles and empathize with them. People have unexpectedly opened up to me about their own pain. I’ve even noticed that people have softened in their interactions with me.

Although they’re painful, I believe God sometimes tucks trials into our lives to allow us life-changing experiences and opportunities. This trust in divine orchestration has brought meaning to my suffering.

When future trials undoubtedly come my way, I don’t want to forget the lessons I’ve learned from my struggles with chronic pain. I want my past affliction to prepare me for future uncertainty. I aim to keep my head up and look for opportunities that divinely open up to me because of my trials. Suffering initially seems bitter, but it ultimately can add sweetness and meaning to our lives.

Writing “Just Keep Swimming” has been one of these opportunities I’ve had as a result of my AS diagnosis. I’ve enjoyed it and considered it a privilege to walk alongside others.

I’m in a much better place physically than when I started writing this column over three years ago. My earlier columns were raw with fresh memories of debilitating pain. Since then, I’ve diligently followed a starch-free diet and made lifestyle modifications that not only have eliminated the pain associated with AS, but have also stopped its progression. All of these changes, though not typically mentioned as traditional treatment options, have enabled me to live a life that is relatively unaffected by the despair that AS once brought.

Frankly, I’ve felt like an impostor for some time as I wrote about AS while not having to deal with its enfeeblement. As such, I bid you farewell. It’s my wish that as you stumble upon “Just Keep Swimming” you will find hope in knowing that an AS diagnosis isn’t necessarily a life sentence, but an unexpected chance to explore divinely orchestrated and meaningful opportunities.

Thanks for reading! You can learn more about my story, browse starch-free recipes, or peruse the stories of others who successfully manage their AS with diet and lifestyle modifications on my website. Join me on Instagram and Facebook for the latest updates and recipes.

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.


Nathaniel Ziering avatar

Nathaniel Ziering

That's fantastic and beautiful. That's the journey I'm just embarking on. I was just diagnosed and never rid your column before. Glad got to catch your final entry. Best of luck.

Janneke Phung avatar

Janneke Phung

Hey Nathaniel, thanks so much for leaving a note! I'm sorry about your recent diagnosis - it can be overwhelming! However, I believe there's so much hope for people who want to manage their AS with diet and lifestyle modifications! Hang in there! While I won't be here anymore, I'll still be active on my website and I can also be found on social media. I'm so eager to share hope with people like yourself! Take care!

Cindy avatar


Happy to have found your message today. Although it hasn’t been confirmed yet, my 17 yr old son is suspected of having AS. I will follow you on Facebook and look forward to learning from you!


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