By Karin Gelschus
As kids we dream of being astronauts, professional athletes, actors and race car drivers. I dreamed of playing hockey for the U.S.A. Olympic team. Growing up in Minnesota, my siblings and I were always ice skating on the pond in the backyard. The four of us had the perfect setup. My oldest brother was on a team with my younger sister who preferred cartwheels to skating, and my older sister and I were always a team. In the late ‘80s, we traded off being team USA. The matchups were intense, and I’d picture fans surrounding the pond and cheering wildly.
Backyard hockey turned into playing for the high school team, but after that my Olympic dreams faded. I focused on college and dreamed of being a writer. That dream turned into reality when I landed a position at a national magazine.
While traveling in Montreal for a story, my first symptoms captured and took over my body in minutes. Terrified of what was happening, I called my parents. Three months later I was diagnosed with lupus and all my dreams felt distant and unreachable. I couldn’t maintain a regular work week, much less strive to be anything more than healthy. Intensely competitive by nature, the defeated feeling that resulted was new to me. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see how I could succeed at my career, having a family or even staying healthy when I was constantly fighting an unrelenting disease.
“Start out small,” my doctor prescribed. At that point, it was hard for me to even open pill bottles or walk due to merciless arthritis, so I started with only 5 minutes on a treadmill. It was hard not to get upset and discouraged being that just four months earlier I was running 13-plus miles. It was slow progress, but it was still progress. To help get through it, I recited the guestbook messages from my CaringBridge site over and over again, “You are an amazing and strong person!” And, “Our prayers are with you as always!!”
I couldn’t and still can’t stand the thought of giving up because then I’d lose, and I can’t lose. It’s not my nature. Three years later and two attempts to run a half marathon, I’ve yet again signed up for another one. I did it before I was diagnosed, and I’ll do it again.
Since the days of pond hockey, I can say I’ve always put every ounce of me into the game at hand, and in this case, my life at hand. Our dreams form and evolve around our life experiences, but it’s what we overcome to reach our dreams that define who we are and how we’re remembered.
Have you modified your dreams? What dreams are you still chasing despite your diagnosis?
Karin Gelschus was diagnosed with lupus at 23. She currently works as an interactive marketing specialist at CaringBridge, a nonprofit providing personal websites that connect people experiencing a health challenge to their family and friends.