Embracing the Good Things
Despite the many problems that come with chronic disease, a surprising number of families believe their experiences are also shaping them for the better. Le Kieva Campbell, 32, has struggled with severe asthma since she was a toddler; so does her son, Khalil, 4. "It's certainly hard seeing your child suffer the same way you have," says Campbell, who lives in Tallahassee, Florida. "But when he's having a bad attack, it's so helpful that I know exactly how it feels. It's scary, like having an elephant sit on your chest, and I understand."
Seeing how well Khalil's doctors have been able to control his symptoms inspired Campbell to be much more proactive about her own treatment. "It's incredible how much I've improved just by switching some medications around. Most of the time, I'm symptom-free. Because of my son, I'm doing a much better job with my own asthma."
And in fact, many experts believe that for some families the positives that come from handling a long-term health problem can eventually outweigh the negatives. "Everybody talks about post-traumatic stress, and that can be a real issue in chronic illness," says Dr. Dorlen. "But there's also something called post-traumatic growth. Not everyone finds meaning in his or her illness, but many do. They'll say it's become the way they've discovered just how strong their family really is."
"I know it's a clich?, but getting sick has been the biggest blessing of my life," agrees Young, who says there are times -- when she's directing the middle-school band, playing her saxophone, or just goofing around with Ryan -- when she realizes just how happy she is. "Even though I've been cancer-free for several years, I really do strive to make every single day one of the best of my life."