I was diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C in 1985, when it was still called non-A non-B. My doctor didn't sugar coat his words when he said to me: "Toni, I am sorry but there is no cure. You have a ticking time bomb inside and nobody can predict how long you have to live."
My heart stopped and the course of my life was forever altered.
For the next few years, I desperately tried every alternative medicine treatments and modalities to no avail. This virus is a formidable foe. It replicates itself at the speed of light and attacks healthy liver cells leading to fibrosis, cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is the leading cause of liver transplants and has surpassed HIV in yearly fatalities.
My most challenging symptom however, was not physical. I felt that my life force was threatened and that the rug was pulled from under my feet revealing a bottomless pit of uncertainty.
Facing our mortality is no small affair but it can be the lifeline to living our very best life.
Once I accepted my condition, instead of fighting it, I learned how to live with my virus and overcome its physical, emotional and spiritual implications in my life. I empowered myself to make the very best decisions regarding my care. In my case, it allowed me to stay healthy and balanced until a cure for Hep C finally eradicated my illness earlier this year.
If you are facing any life-threatening or chronic illness that robs you of living full out, here are five steps which will shift you out of despair and allow you to embrace life amidst your challenging circumstances:
1. Become a Warrior of Wellness: Empower yourself and become your own advocate! Charter your path to wellness by researching your condition and the state of your health. This is not the time to stick your head in the sand and deny that you have a problem. Summon up all your courage and go for the tests, talk to the doctors, keep a file with all your records and take a friend for emotional support and to jot down information or comments that you may not remember later.
2. Create a Support Team: It can include your healthcare team (physicians, nurses, receptionists), family members, friends, mentors. They are your tribe now and will provide you with the help and support you need to face your condition with grit and grace. Don't forget that you have rights! Ask your doctor to release the results of any tests immediately. Most facilities have online portals that you can log into and receive the information at the same time your doctor does. Ask for second and third opinions when in doubt, and ask for alternative tests or protocols to research before making your decision.
3. Take Responsibility For The Quality Of Your Thoughts And Actions: The road to wellness can be bumpy and will require you to make important decisions affecting every aspect of your life. This is the time to clear your mind of the habitual chatter and to challenge long-standing beliefs that may no longer serve you. Many resources are available including Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Mindfullness-Based Stress Reduction and other types of meditation, Release Technique, The Work by Byron Katie, and shadow work to access unconscious beliefs.
4. Discover The New You: Use your challenges to grow towards your full potential. As you shed your old self and baggage of the past, you will discover how powerful and resilient you truly are. Connect with your inner source of love by focusing on gratitude and compassion. Surround yourself with people, books and objects that kindle your spirit and make time each day to unite inwardly with God/Universal Intelligence/Unconditional Love. Healing begins within.
5. Don't Sweat The Small Stuff: For many years, I spent so much time and energy worrying about things totally out of my control. Once I was able to accept the reality of my situation without emotionally freaking out, it became easier to take concrete action steps to keep as healthy and balanced as possible. Focus on what makes you happy and gives you a sense of meaning. Find your passions, unleash your creativity, connect deeply with the ones you love, because after all is said and done, I am convinced that it is ALL ABOUT THE LOVE.
Toni Feldstein is a Hepatitis C survivor and a passionate advocate on behalf of patients struggling with liver disease and fighting to get access to new effective treatments. She is a certified life coach and mentors individuals who face chronic or life threatening health conditions by helping them shift from fear and uncertainty to joy and happiness (www.IntegralBloom.com)