By: Diana Cruz
Being diagnosed with a medical condition, especially at a young age, can take on an unfathomable toll. Physical, mental, and emotional aspects of yourself that haven’t even fully developed are now forcibly taking on the additional role of simultaneously fighting, healing, and growing. As someone who was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder as a child, and displayed symptoms even earlier on in life, it was difficult for me to understand what was going on with my body. The non-stop infections, the continuous weakness that increased with weekly blood tests and frequent operations, and the never-ending dizziness at an age where I was supposed to be the most energetic left me feeling inexplicably different than the kids around me.
From very early childhood, I have experienced fatigue and exhaustion, disorientation and dazed perception, and intense and frequent infections and sickness. As a daughter of a traditional Hispanic Dominican household, my mother resorted to several home remedies, in hopes that one of her concoctions would soothe and heal what I was undergoing. Unfortunately for me, that meant various blended-up vegetable smoothies (I still hate red peppers to this day) and medicines that I’d never even heard of. After countless attempts to remain healthy, a bone marrow operation, and a few medical tests later, I was finally diagnosed with Autoimmune Lymphoproliferative Syndrome at the age of 13.
Regardless of the physical symptoms that I endured during this time, unfortunately, the effects I felt mentally and emotionally were more profound. Throughout the duration of undergoing medical trials to determine what my diagnosis was, I was given little to no education on what I was experiencing. This lack of knowledge and understanding resulted in feelings of confusion, anxiety, and mistrust within myself. If my body could not take care of itself properly, how could I maintain my health? This period of my life, especially as an adolescent and up until the age of 22, was an experience that brought about a multitude of feelings that I could not comprehend at my age.
As time passed and I grew accustomed to the frequent doctor’s visits and medications, I learned to make the best of my experience. The grievance I once felt towards my parents for not explaining what was happening to me transmuted into compassion and comprehension that they were doing their best with the hand they were dealt as parents to a sick child. Although it took many years to understand and countless moments where I had to be patient with myself, I have finally come to not only accept but love my body and all it has encountered. My body has gotten me through some very tough times and will continue to push me through many more. The faith I have in myself to maintain my health to the best of my ability is extraordinary – which would not have come about to the extent it has if it weren’t for the difficulties I’ve experienced.
Being my own advocate, standing up for my right to be educated, and remaining strong by any means necessary allowed me to not only get through these experiences but grow through them. Being diagnosed at a young age was of course not ideal, but I am grateful for the person it has transformed me into. I would not be who I am today if it wasn’t for the pain, confusion, and hurt that I’ve sustained. Please remember that you are never alone; there are always people who understand what you are going through and want to help. Strength and growth come in phases; please be kind to yourself throughout them all. Always choose optimism and remember that the hard days make life worthwhile.