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Semper fidelis: The Power of Friendship in Suffering.

No one, especially those of us in academia, wants to be seen as weak, incapable, or "less than" in any aspect of our lives. Weakness is a sharp contrast to the drive and tenacity requisite for entrance and success in academia. Most academics pride themselves on being "gritty," as Duckworth would say. As academics, we are expected to be in control of our research, students, schedules, thoughts, and personal lives simultaneously. Perception is everything to us. We do most everything we can to hide any sign of weakness ... until we cannot.

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in 2012 in my twelfth year as an academic. RA changed my life then and continues to do so every day. Since RA is an autoimmune disease, my immune system sees my body's tissues as unwanted invaders. My immune system's attack on my tissues causes inflammation resulting in swelling, pain, stiffness, and possible permanent damage from cartilage destruction. (1) The synovial tissues lining the joints of the fingers and toes are usually the first to succumb to attack, but other joints and organs can quickly become involved with subsequent progression of the disease. Widespread damage in seemingly unrelated organs and tissues such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, and eyes can also occur because the activation codons for RA reside in the DNA of every cell of an RA patient's body. Thus, nearly 40% of patients like me have other symptoms such as fever, fatigue, appetite loss, and weakness along with co-morbidities including osteoporosis, migraines, heart, kidney, eye, and/or lung disease, diabetes, and other diseases. (2)

Rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic illnesses do not respect gender, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, location, faith, or profession. The statistics speak for themselves--almost 50% of Americans suffer from at least one chronic illness; 40% have two or more chronic illnesses; nearly 75% of annual aggregate healthcare costs are for treatment of chronic illnesses; and 70% of deaths in the USA annually are from complications of chronic illness. (3)

With many chronic illnesses, there is not a pill, shot, surgery, or "app for that" since they are usually incurable and often inhabit our DNA. Such illnesses include (but are not limited to) diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, multiple sclerosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, muscular dystrophy, and rheumatoid arthritis. Goodwin and Morgan indicate that at least 20% of Americans with chronic illness report a major negative and/or debilitating influence from the illness on their daily life functions. (4) Wherever someone falls on the severity of symptoms, chronic illness is life changing.

Every. Single. Day.

Life with chronic illness is more than just a diagnosis and symptom management--

Beth Madison, PhD, is an associate professor of sciences at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. She delights in teaching introductory biology and physical science courses to nonscience-major undergraduates in both the traditional and adult studies programs. Her area of focus is environmental science, specifically soils and hydrology.

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Title Annotation:Communication
Author:Madison, Beth
Publication:Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Date:Dec 1, 2019
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