That’s exactly what I did — to a local class of nursing students two days ago.
Because I was invited! They’re studying the liver right now and I’m a liver transplant survivor since 1984. Initially, my friend Michael was in that class and asked me last February if I wanted to be his “show and tell” for that unit. I was game!
First, I congratulated them on a wonderful, important, career choice as nurses.
I did ask that no one record or take any pictures. I shared details about my diagnosis, lab results, the financial impact of buying health insurance, prescription refills, and hospital bills. I wanted those nursing students to leave with more empathy for their future patients and an appreciation to how managing liver disease is a part of so many aspects of your identity and daily decisions. With some humor sprinkled in on the fun aspects for comic relief!
But I didn’t want it to be public. This was something I normally keep private, as my Dad had advised me early-on not to talk too much about my illness. Mainly because he didn’t want me to lose any opportunities– especially business-related– based on my diagnosis. Most companies see any “health issues” as a liability and discriminate because of it. It’s not legal– but that’s why we have protections against having to reveal that in a job interview. Because all of have the right to work, even if one of those health issues includes a serious illness or disability.
I grew up to share his stoic views, but for a different reason. I didn’t want to be stereotyped as weak– as a “sick” person. It can also scare people off when it comes to dating. It’s the kind of information I don’t typically share until it looks like it’s headed toward a relationship, rather than the initial dates.
But in this context, I have an opportunity to empower and inspire hope.
In this context, being open about something I normally withhold would be helpful to others. I wanted to be an example of a person managing a serious diagnosis who has a normal life — and I wanted to embody for them a name to go with the diagnosis. To maybe help them become a little more understanding the next time a patient is difficult, angry, anxious or hurting.
The first time I spoke about it, I was more facts-oriented. I made sure to use technical terminology and the teacher sent me her power point so I tried to make connections to their material. It was more about feeling validated intellectually for me– I didn’t want the class to think I was uneducated about my condition and my body. I wanted to impress them with terminology, procedures I’ve had– facts like comparing lab values from when my liver almost rejected and present day, when it’s stable and healthy. Things they may study.
The students were attentive but also quiet. I wasn’t sure how I did, but Michael said I was great and the teacher invited me back.
This second time I spoke, I was confident. I validated myself, I didn’t need their approval. I relaxed. I did include some facts and terms, but decided instead to focus on telling them about me. What I like to do, what makes me happy, accomplishments!
I brought my own “show and tell”– running medals!
Two. From Warrior Dash 2016 (my first!) and the Titan 10k, just in July 2017. Two races which really challenged me. I JOKED about the Derby Firecracker 2017, when I was *dead last and was passed up by a 77-year-old woman and a snotty speedwalker. And I could laugh about it– especially since my Aunt Judy had been there taking pictures. And that was more important than my time and ranking!
And I never undermined myself by saying I was a “slow runner”– it never occurred to me. I got to stand in front of that class and reminisce about defining moments in my life when I did something with passion. I told them how happy running makes me, and that it gives me hope when I feel overwhelmed by the doctors’ appointments, price of medication refills, and those mornings when getting blood drawn hurts.
At the end, I got a bit emotional. I didn’t cry, but my voice broke a little.
The way *I see myself has changed since my first talk last February, and it was reflected in how I spoke.
Now I see myself as more than a liver transplant patient.
Now, I’m also a runner with serious training plans for long-distance races.
This opportunity was something I didn’t know I needed; it was a gift for me. Reminded me how far I’ve come– how resilient my immune system. Most importantly, my faith. My legs!
I told them my training goals for races this fall. I felt not just articulate, but healthy. You can’t run five miles without a certain level of fitness!
And I can run seven. I will run nine after training for this upcoming race.
Those students were all watching me. I had their full attention. And best of all, they really laughed and were more interactive. The teacher asked a few questions, and then I was done. And within the time limit!!
Last time I just left quietly, and then the teacher went on with her lecture.
But this time, two students approached me. They were on a small break. One brought me a postcard for an upcoming local Halloween 5k hosted by the college. She told me her name and that she’d be there. On her way out, she turned and stopped, made eye contact. Smile.
“Thanks so much for sharing your story.”
I’m invited back again. And I feel proud, happy, and healthy.