Today was Rare Disease Day. I woke up with notes in my email box reminding me that this was the big day. Oh, yeah. I guess I should say something about it on the blog, but what? I mean, I do have a rare disease, but why should anyone else care about it?
I spent most of the day thinking about that. I worked on the loom (weaving is right around the corner!), cleaned the house, cooked a yummy dinner, and pondered the relevance of rare diseases throughout the day. For a while in the late afternoon I almost started writing, but ended up knitting instead. Now it is evening and I think that I might be there.
You see, anyone dealing with a chronic condition eventually comes to terms with their altered life. Grace under fire becomes the status quo. We deal. We lean in. Maybe the big success of the day was taking a shower or getting dinner cooked, but by golly we did it!!
If you have a rare disease, it is a little harder yet. People have never heard of your condition. Your doctor may have never treated another person with your disease before. Your friends and family sometimes suspect that you might be an attention-seeking hypochondriac. You wander the internet looking for answers. There is little research being done for your disease because so few people are impacted by new drugs or treatments. In a world with finite funding for medical research it makes better sense to put the money where the most patients are: cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma. I get it.
The purpose of Rare Disease Day is to shine a little light on the many, many conditions that are classified as “rare”. It is also a campaign to raise some awareness about the human impact of being a patient with one of these conditions. To be frank, it kind of sucks!
You see, rare diseases are also referred to as “orphan diseases”. You do feel like an orphan. Alone, alone, all alone. I’m lucky to be hooked up with other people who share my condition, but that is because I live in a large metropolitan area. I have systemic sclerosis*, which is considered the most severe of the diseases in rheumatology. There are only 100,000 of us in the United States (which, if my math is right, is 1 in 50,000 Americans), so if you live in a small town chances are you will never find another person who has the same illness that you do. I am lucky. I belong to a support group and have found online resources, the most important of these being you people who take the time to read my blog.
Here is what I decided is the most important message that I should put out on this day set aside for me and all the many, many other people who deal with a condition/illness that no one has ever heard of before. If someone says, “I have (crazy-ass disease you’ve never heard of before)”, don’t say, “I’ve never heard of that!” in a dismissive manner as you turn away. Say instead, “What is that?” Invite the person that you are talking with to teach you about their unusual condition. Really, it will mean the world to them.
They will feel less like an orphan if you do.
*Systemic sclerosis, which is serious form of scleroderma, is an incurable, disabling, and progressive autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and scarring of the connective tissue of the skin, blood vessels and internal organs. It is often fatal, but in recent years the survival numbers have improved due to new therapies (I love my immunosuppressants!). Currently there is no drug to directly treat systemic sclerosis but there are drugs and treatment strategies on the way. Right now there is a bill in Congress to fund scleroderma research called the Scleroderma and Fibrosis Research Enhancement Act, H.R. 3666.