A man sits balancing an inhaler and lungs on his knee

I Cope With Asthma, How About You?

Mom had hypertension. Aunt Gay had diabetes. And I had asthma. One day we were sitting at the kitchen table. And a question arose: "Which one of our diseases is worse?"

Mom and Aunt Gay chose asthma.

I was fourteen years old when we had this discussion. I said, "I think your diseases are worse. Why would you choose asthma?"

Aunt Gay said, "We watch you struggle to breathe, and think that nothing could be worse than not being able to breathe. It is hard for us to see you that way. So, if we got to choose, I would definitely not choose your disease."

Interestingly, we twisted the question: "If you could choose diabetes, hypertension, or asthma, which one would you choose?"

Mom said, "Hypertension."

Aunt Gay said, "Diabetes."

I said, "Asthma."

This conversation took place 37 years ago, and I still find it fascinating. It is a conversation that still runs fresh in my mind. Mom and Aunt G would rather have diabetes or hypertension over asthma. And I chose asthma, despite what it does to me.

Why do I choose asthma?

There are a lot of reasons I could give here.

Because I am familiar with it. I was born with it. I grew up with it. It is a part of me right from birth. So I have never lived a day without it. Asthma is like a protagonist living inside my body. I have learned to tame it. I do what it wants, and it leaves me alone. But if I inadvertently expose it to an asthma trigger, watch out!

But I know it. And so, I tolerate it. I accept it as a part of me, and I think, "It could be worse. I could have diabetes. I could have heart failure. I could have (name a disease). But, I don't. I have asthma."

One more reason is: "It could be worse. I could have a disease as grandma had."

My grandma had multiple system atrophy (MSA). It was a disease that made her muscles weaker and weaker. It presented similar to Lou Gherig’s disease and ultimately made her wheelchair-bound. It eventually took her life.

One day, as she sat in her wheelchair, drool dribbling from the corner of her mouth, she said, "I can't smile. But, I just want you to know I am smiling inside. I am smiling because you are here."

And she said, "I am not a "woe is me" person. I do not feel sorry for myself."

Instead, she continued living as best she could. She was a thinker. And so she jotted down her thoughts. And I have those poems to this day in a folder here on my desk.

One morning she wrote about her MSA:

I turned old so fast, MSA.
Just five short years with this dreaded disease.
It has brought me down writing these
Little thoughts – that insist on
Coming out at 5:00 a.m.

Interestingly, 5 a.m. is usually when the thoughts start filling my brain. And it is when I get up to write them down here. Coincidence?

Grandma did not like her disease, but she made the best of it. She learned to cope. And I think that is what she meant by saying she is not a "woe is me" person. And I am not a "woe is me" person either. I am not saying I have not had my moments. Still, I know the beast that is asthma inside me. I am used to it. I have it tamed as best you can tame asthma. And I would rather not have to get used to another disease.

Plus, asthma gave me this gift that allows me to be here and do this.

What about you?

Anyone can end up having a chronic condition. If you had a choice, would you choose asthma again? Or would you choose some other chronic disease? Let me know in the comments below.

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