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2/10/2009

Michael J. Fox's Message Of Hope Captures Key Idea For The Chronically Ill: Would You Go Back?

The other night, I watched a fascinating documentary on PBS. I'll talk about that in a moment.

First, I'm going to start this post with a YouTube video clip from a 2006 interview of Michael J. Fox by Katie Couric.



A fantastic Frontline 6-part PBS documentary called "MY FATHER, MY BROTHER, AND ME" aired February 3, 2009. The topic was Parkinson's Disease but so much of what was discussed could apply to many other chronic illnesses.

For some reason the code to embed the video clip here is not working. So I will include the links to the PBS site where you can view it online.

Michael J. Fox was interviewed for this documentary. I'm including two links below... one for the interview with him and another for the documentary itself (in which he's also interviewed).

The first link is to Dave Iverson's interview of Michael J. Fox. It's running time is 19:38. It is divided into 5 parts. I highly recommend watching the whole thing... but the 2nd and 5th parts are particularly interesting to me because Michael J. Fox covers a topic that many chronically ill patients can relate to. He talks about how he would never want to go back to his life before Parkinson's Disease and he says, "somehow I've been able process loss in a way that I see the things that fill those gaps". If you just don't have 19 minutes and 38 seconds to watch the whole interview, focus on these 2 sections:

2. His personal perspective on living with Parkinson's...
This is where he explains how he wouldn't go back to his life before Parkinson's.

5. "For me, right now, this is my life, and I wouldn't trade it for anything..."
This is where he ties up the notion that he is doing what he's meant to be doing at this moment in time and while he'd love to find the answers for Parkinson's (and other illnesses), right now he's doing what he's supposed to be doing (this is a paraphrase... watch the video for his exact words).

VIDEO LINK 1:

Dave Iverson's interview with Michael J. Fox in conjunction with the Frontline 6-part PBS documentary called "MY FATHER, MY BROTHER, AND ME"

I just love, love, love this interview. For so many of us with chronic illnesses, it can be too easy to slip into, "why me?" thinking. For many of us, this mindset slips in briefly during the especially bad times only to be replaced by a more positive outlook of hope and purpose the remainder of the time.

No one wants to be sick. However, to be chronically ill and constantly angry about it is not healthy. What I love about what Michael J. Fox says in this interview is that it is aligned with how I see myself in relation to my illnesses.

Of course I wish I could wake up healthy tomorrow. Who wouldn't? However, I wouldn't go back in time and "erase" any of my illnesses from happening... no matter how much they hurt or challenge me. As Michael J. Fox so eloquently describes in this interview, I believe everything that has happened to me is (my words here) "part of my path".

Here is a link to his foundation:

The Michael J. Fox Foundation For Parkinson's Research

Let's just take the 1st major illness I was diagnosed with. If I hadn't had endometriosis, I would not have been in endo support groups at the local level since 1992. Through these groups, I have met some of the strongest, smartest, most caring, most resourceful, most compassionate people I've ever met. These fellow patients have been by my side as I learned to advocate for myself (and others) when interacting with healthcare professionals. They have checked on me after surgeries. They have called and emailed me to share experiences for mutual support.

If I hadn't had endo, I never would have started this blog. Through this blog, I have learned so much, met so many fantastic people, and given/received so much support.

I completely understand on a fundamental level what Michael J. Fox is talking about. Chronic illness really does change the way one looks at the world. Some might automatically think this to be a negative thing. However, I agree with Michael J. Fox that this can be a very good thing!

One little phrase has gotten me through many years of serious adversity:

"Everything happens for a reason"...

This phrase can be misused and uttered to people at times when it is not helpful. However, this phrase has been EXTREMELY helpful to me in coping with all sorts of things. When bad things happen in my life, I tell myself "everything happens for a reason" to get through the moment. I may not be able to see the reason something happens anytime soon (or even ever) but there have been many times over the years where something happened that I did NOT like at the time. Then, I have gone on at a later time to see that it was best in the long run... or that it helped me learn & grow, or that the negative happening was necessary somehow.

I just love the way Michael J. Fox words it in his interview. It's a great way to look at things.

The link below is to view the complete Frontline documentary. While the topic may be Parkinson's, much of this show could really apply to many other illnesses as well.

By the way, Dave Iverson is the man who interviewed Michael J. Fox in the link above. Mr. Iverson also did the documentary below. He, his father, and his brother all have Parkinson's Disease.

VIDEO LINK 2:

Frontline 6-part PBS documentary called "MY FATHER, MY BROTHER, AND ME"

In the full documentary, watch for Michael J. Fox's comments about 2 minutes into the 6th and final "chapter" of the online version of this show.

I really found this documentary very interesting!

Once you choose hope, anything is possible.
--Christopher Reeve


This article was posted by Jeanne via "Jeanne's Endo Blog" at www.endendoat.blogspot.com.

6 comments:

foxywaitingroom said...

I've always liked Michael J Fox - my father has Parkinsons and I've learned a lot about staying positive from people like him. Staying positive is so important for anyone with a chronic condition!

Would I go back? No way. I am so happy that I can appreciate all the good in my life that I can endure something as awful as endometriosis, PCOS and insulin resistance.

Thanks for reminding me to keep hope alive.

Foxy

Jeanne said...

Foxy,

If your father has Parkinson's, I would highly recommend the documentary, "My Father, My Brother, and Me".

It's excellent. If you have any trouble with the PBS links, I apologize.

They worked perfectly 5 minutes ago but when I just clicked on them, they got stuck.

I'm not sure if it's just my computer or what??

If it gets stuck for you, the show & interview should be easy to find on the www.pbs.org site.

In any event, I agree with you... positive attitude is so important!

Hope is huge!

Thanks for stopping by! :)

Jeanne

Melissa Ralston said...

Wow. I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes, deeply moved with the compassion that was expressed so deeply from the heart within this interview.

We should not have to shy away from discussing our symptoms. I love how he spoke on the Katie Couric clip about the fact that the illness was "ugly". Yes, illness is ugly. It's what we do with the illness that can transform it. Michael truly has managed to take the ugly, despite the ignorant responses in society, and turn it into a thing of real beauty.

We often look back on our lives, what would we change? And I agree with both Michael and Jeanne on this one - there isn't one aspect of my disease that I would change.

My multiple health conditions have taught me the true meaning of strength. We have a choice; we can decide to pack it in and have the "woe is me" state-of-mind, or we can do everything in our power to do something about it.

It has taught me the meaning of having compassion for other people's suffering. How many people would help offer comfort to a complete stranger who appeared to need even just an ear to listen?

It has taught me determination to go forward despite the obstacles that I face.

It has become a major motivator in my career path.

It has brought a world of support into my life from others who I never would have likely met, and who I am proud to say are among my good friends.

Yes, I hate this illness. But I also accept that it is a part of me and who I am. I wouldn't be able to get rid of the endo (or the cancer,or other illnesses) without getting rid of a major part of who I am.

Jeanne said...

Melissa,

Now it's my turn to get teary-eyed. Reading your comment just really hit many things home for me. I am so lucky to have met so many amazing women such as you in my journey with chronic illness!

I believe everything happens for a reason. I believe that we sometimes learn more from adversity than from just about anything else!

Chronic illness absolutely can make us stronger, can open up new windows for us, can provide opportunities to help others...

I wholeheartedly agree that patients should not shy away from discussing symptoms. Yes, the illnesses are ugly. It is absolutely true that what we do with the illness is what matters!

I agree that Michael J. Fox has taken an ugly illness and transformed it into an opportunity to help others, to educate the public, and to promote medical research.

He wisely uses his fame to attract attention to the Parkinson's cause while going out of his way in various interviews to expand the umbrella and make it clear that he realizes that there are other illnesses besides Parkinson's that may well benefit from the same or similar type of research to that his foundation is investigating.

He takes the adversity, pain, and hardship Parkinson's has thrust into his life and the lives of his loved ones... and converts it into a force for positive change, progress, and the pursuit of a cure.

Rather than wallow in self-pity or have the "woe-is-me" state of mind you talked about... he jumps into action and does his best to turn a negative into a positive.

Having been in endo support groups since 1992 and having blogged since last June, I have heard hundreds of stories from chronically ill patients.

Nearly every one of them experiences brief, transient moments of wishing they had never gotten sick in the first place.

HOWEVER, all of these same patients, almost without exception, have a firm belief that illnesses and adversity can provide opportunities to grow, learn, meet people, help people, etc.

The vast majority of chronically ill patients I know are able to see the hidden blessings of being chronically ill (most of the time, anyway) rather than fixating strictly on the downsides.

Every patient I know wants a cure for his/her illness(es). That does NOT mean they wish they had never gotten their illness(es).

Michael J. Fox has made an interesting distinction in various interviews. He makes it clear that he wouldn't go back to his life before Parkinson's Disease. He recognizes that the losses he has had from Parkinson's have been "filled in" with positive things.

At the same time, he absolutely wants a cure for Parkinson's! He has been interviewed as having said that when people are brought on board to The Michael J. Fox Foundation For Parkinson's Research, he makes it clear to them that the goal is to, as he puts it, "go out of business".

So it's obviously not that he wants to keep having Parkinson's Disease symptoms. It's that he wouldn't "trade" his life now for the life he would have had if he had never gotten Parkinson's to begin with. He recognizes the gifts or what some might call "blessings" that have occurred in his life that wouldn't have occurred if he'd never gotten Parkinson's.

As he put it in one of the clips I watched this past week, his illness has changed the way he looks at the world!

Melissa, I just love your comment! It ties together what I have heard from so many patients over the years. The dark clouds of illness really can have a silver lining.

If I didn't have endo, I certainly never would have started an endo support group in 2001. If I hadn't done that, I would have missed out on meeting dozens of amazing, strong, resilient, resourceful women. These women have enriched my life and I hope I've been able to give to them as they have given to me.

If I didn't have endo, I highly doubt I'd be writing a blog. That would be a shame because I love my blog. :)

Without a doubt, I am far more determined and persistent after decades of battling my illnesses and, yes, sometimes battling the healthcare system itself. These battles are not fun or easy.

I have to say, though, that I am much stronger for having weathered the storms I've been through... either directly with my illnesses, finding the right doctors to treat my conditions, battling injustices in the broken healthcare system, etc.

I have learned a very important skill from my illnesses... especially endo since I've had it the longest: how to advocate for myself within the healthcare system! That alone is huge.

If I didn't have endo, I almost surely never would have met you!

From 1992 when I joined my first in-person endometriosis support group through now, I have met some of the strongest, sweetest, more caring, more compassionate, most creative and determined women!

My illnesses are not me and I am not them. However, they ARE a part of me.

Ditto to everything you said, Melissa...

Jeanne

Melissa Ralston said...

Thanks Jeanne, I'm glad to have written it :) It's what I've honestly felt in my heart for a few years now, as well as the values that I'm trying to impart on my son as he battles his own health demon: epilepsy.

Personally I think that if we spend too much time in the "I want to go back and not have this happen", we're always going to be butting our heads up against the unattainable. We can't go backwards and undo what has been done. The Buddhists would say that this desire often leads us to the path of suffering. Living well, to me at least, means living with the fact that I can't undo what has been done, I can only move in this exact moment towards whatever goal I set for myself. Present-time awareness is so huge psychologically. I hear from a lot of the parents that I work with "If only I had..." or "In 5 years from now..." both of those are suffering statements. "if only I had..." leaves us stuck in the past, something that we have no control to change, and "in 5 years from now..." focuses on a future that may or may not be. So the statement is always "what can I do in this moment..."

Jeanne said...

Melissa,

Right on!

My acupuncturist has talked a great deal about mindfulness meditation and living in the present moment.

After discussing this concept with him many times over the years, I have heard and read about this philosophy other places.

Living in the present moment really is important. Dwelling on the past and worrying about the future are not productive.

Certainly it's important to be able to reflect on the past for the purposes of learning from mistakes or appreciating history.... but dwelling on the past and ruminating is not healthy.

Certainly it's important to do some planning ahead for certain things (with the understanding that the best plans may fall through, of course). However, worrying about the future and getting anxious about it are not healthy.

My acupuncturist is Buddhist. He is the calmest, most balanced person you could ever want to meet. He is a role model for making healthy lifestyle choices (what to eat, for example).

He is a huge fan of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. I really need to read this book he highly recommends:

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness

Have you read it? It's supposed to be really good!

Anyway, I always have so many books to read. There are not enough hours in the day for me to possibly read all of the books I would like to read. However, I'm glad your comment reminded me of this one because I have been meaning to read it for a long time!

My husband and I took a mindfulness meditation class from my acupuncturist and it was amazing!

Thank you for reminding me that I need to get that book by Dr. Kabat-Zinn.

Jeanne

P.S. Readers, Melissa mentioned her son... I have spoken with Melissa extensively offline about her son's struggles with epilepsy. I have a strong admiration for Melissa & how she advocates for her son!

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