Chapter 3 of Richard Cheu's new book, Living Well with Chronic Illness: a Practical and Spiritual Guide (2013, Dog Ear Publishing), begins with a quote by M. Scott Peck: "The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers." (The Road Less Traveled and Beyond: Spiritual Growth in an Age of Anxiety)
Reading that quote took me back a few weeks: while sitting at physiotherapy, heat packs on shoulders, observing others stretch, lift, groan and grimace, it struck me that we were all people who, when physically at our worst, were actually showing up at our best. We were transformed when we decided to make a bad situation better; to make lemonade out of our lemon bodies. The key word here is: decided. For those who do not decide that they could, should or would get better, can't, shan't or won't.
Cheu promotes the belief that illness can be utilized as a catharsis for deep personal transformation. A caregiver for his wife who, for the past nine years, has suffered a progressive neurological disease, Cheu has used his knowledge and background in neurophysiology, pastoral counseling and ministry, stress management and patient care, as well as his obviously compassionate heart, to help his wife and others live as positively, abundantly and healthfully as possible.
Once one makes that decision for a better life, the starting place, according to Cheu's book, is ridding oneself of emotional baggage. This is a gigantic hurdle, for most of us carry a truckload. Fear of change and social isolation can also be stumbling blocks on a healing journey. Cheu gives us tools to get past those blocks and begin to see our illness as more of an opportunity so we can say "YES!" to life.
Cheu emphasizes the reduction of stress, which is no easy task. Chronic illness in itself generates incredible stress, going from one doctor to another until they become a blur, managing medications and their scary side effects, struggling to maintain a modicum of normal activity, and wrestling with a body that says "No" when you say "Go," just to name a few. Cheu outlines simple strategies for lessening this stress.
He also explains the stages of grief through which the chronically ill must pass: Shock, Anger, Resistance (denial), and Acceptance. I'm sure these stages ring true with you as they did with me. Thankfully, Cheu walks us through each stages toward an attitude of resilience.
Though highly practical in his approach, Cheu also is deeply spiritual in practice. However, he does not preach, nor does he espouse, any particular spiritual belief, but instead purports to guide us in seeing the bigger picture and discovering the meaning and purpose of our lives. He then offers encouraging words and step-by-step guidance in sharing our stories with each other.
The workbook pages allow you to acknowledge your fears and isolation, and guide you through planning towards taking action. Cheu provides inspiring and enlightening personal stories of others struggling with illness. Learning about how others have overcome their limitations, you don't feel so alone in your suffering and you see that there is hope.
I enjoyed reading this book, but most of all, appreciated Cheu's clarity in detailing the chronic experience and guiding the reader out of the emotional deep end towards a healthier, happier, more fulfilling life. I could easily see how far I had come in accepting my illness (which is still a work in progress), feeling good about the, sometimes, tentative baby steps and, other times, giant leaps I've taken toward reinventing my self and my life.
The only criticism I have of Living Well with Chronic Illness, and it is a petty one, is Cheu's somewhat archaic terminology when suggesting media with which to tell our stories. Digital audio recording and online photo albums were not included. As I said, a very small criticism.
Living Well with Chronic Illness is an easy-to-read companion for anyone suffering from a chronic illness who is ready to make a challenged life better. I thank Richard Cheu wholeheartedly for allowing me to read and review this hopeful, enlightening and enlivening book. It did, indeed, make a difference in my chronic life!
Life Disrupted: Getting Real About Chronic Illness in Your Twenties and Thirties
by Laurie Edwards
Thanks to guest blogger, Rihann for this book review! Her blog is found at (http://brainlesionandme.wordpress.com)
The first book chosen by our new ‘Spoonie Book Club’ features a subject close to our hearts and one which affects us all - chronic illness. The book, Life Disrupted: Getting Real About Chronic Illness in Your Twenties and Thirties by Laurie Edwards, does what it says on the cover, it discusses the experience of what it is like to live with chronic illness during these years, as well as those other milestones which are often experienced in your twenties and thirties, such as finishing university, beginning on the career ladder, starting relationships and later, starting a family and so on.
Laurie Edwards is certainly qualified to write this manual for those with chronic illnesses, as she herself battles multiple chronic illnesses. Not only does she include her own story but also features several other case studies with others battling a variety of different conditions. In my opinion, this makes the book even more relatable, as chronic illness encompasses a wide variety of different conditions, and by including more than one story, there is something from each individual that you can relate to your own experience.
Initially, I thought that the writing style seemed rushed and forced - as if the author was merely writing down her thoughts as they came to her - and often seemed more like a diary than a manual. However, what if we were to look at it differently? As patients, we often have to wait a long time for answers; to get a diagnosis, wait for appointments. So, isn’t it refreshing for a book about chronic illness to get straight to the point; to be concise and compact? Each chapter is short, making it very easy to read little chunks when the reader feels up to it. Fantastic for those like me who tire very easily but still like to read before going to bed.
One problem, however, is much of the book focuses on the experience of hospitalisations. A large number of chronic illnesses, like mine, do not create such crises that require frequent hospitalisations, and therefore, I would like more content that considers living with chronic illness away from the hospital.
The author does, however, beautifully describe how “one of the only predictable things about chronic illness is its unpredictability”, which, in my opinion, really encapsulates the experience of living with chronic illness, as often symptoms can occur with no warning and often a person cannot tell how they are going to feel day by day, or even hour by hour. Leading to that, one section delves into socialising with friends with chronic illness, with the author using her own and others’ experiences to explain how chronic illness can lead to many cancelled plans and apologies for missed events. This particularly resonated with me as, like the people in the book, I often need to cancel plans at short notice because of an exacerbation of symptoms.
A major drawback of the book is the emphasis on the US healthcare system, as, obviously, there are major differences between the healthcare system of the US and the UK, although it is interesting to contrast the two systems. The book discusses, for example, the huge financial implications of chronic illness, something, thankfully, those living in the UK do not have to worry about. However, in contrast to this, the author discusses the relationships she had developed with her medical team, and the frequent contact which she has with them. I concluded that the US healthcare system allows greater control and flexibility with their medical team which, unfortunately, does not reflect the experience within the NHS. My experience of the UK healthcare system has been long waiting times to see even a General Practitioner, and having a really hard time contacting a doctor when symptoms have become very bad.
To conclude, although the book does have some drawbacks that I have outlined here, it is fairly well written, and as the chapters are concise and compact, it does not take a lot of time to read. However, some of the book's chapters did seem underdeveloped. It does encapsulate the experiences that many face whilst battling chronic illness, and many will think “Finally! Someone understands exactly what I go through every day.”
BEHIND THE OLD FACE: Aging in America and the Coming Elder Boom
- by Angil Tarach-Ritchey
Tarach-Ritchey is a veritable fountain of knowledge, insight and skill in dealing with issues of the elderly. With a background that began in nursing home care, culminating in the creation and management of her own home care agency, she brings over 30 years of experience to the reader in a vehicle of profound sensitivity and compassion. She is the author of Quick Guide to Understanding Medicare, Medic-aid and other payer sources, available on Amazon Kindle, and "The Aging Question; A Vision for the Coming Elder Boom", a M2 Ebook, as well as being featured on websites, in publications, and as a guest speaker on matters of the elderly. She is founder of The Elder Boom™ Foundation, a "501C3 non-profit dedicated to educating families, professional caregivers and healthcare professionals to a new vision of senior living and care."
I am both a caregiver for my father and a baby-boomer with numerous health issues who needs to think about my own care in the future. I found this book easy to read and jam-packed with useful information and resources. It was also a good smack in the head when it comes to our own perceptions of the elderly. There is a story behind every old face, and sometimes we are in too much of a hurry, too distracted, too impatient to hear that story. What a blessing to have Tarach-Ritchey open our eyes and give us her hand and guide us through the murky waters of aging! How blessed are the aged to have an advocate like her to stand beside them!
Note: Angil Tarach-Ritchey passed away in 2015. Her passion, knowledge, caring and humor is deeply missed by many, including me.