In my family, we are born with a competitive spirit (and stubbornness). My dad coached hockey and my siblings and I played a myriad of sports. My life revolved around sports. Every weekend was spent at the rink, field, or court— and I loved it!
Soccer Saved My Life
From an early age, soccer was my game and there was no denying it. I lived and dreamed soccer. It was my lifeline. Happy, sad, or angry— soccer was how I expressed myself.
I became very ill when I was nine years old (strep-induced vasculitis). We were told that I may never be able to walk again. No way that was going to work for me!
I faced disease like an opponent on the field. Disease didn’t stand a chance against my cutthroat attitude—I reigned the field with terror. Two months later, I was on the soccer field again, where I belonged, doing what I did best.
I thought soccer got me through the hardest days of my life, but there were harder days to come.
Time to Fight…Again
December 7, 2014 I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). The greatest game of my life was about to start.
December 23, 2014 I was rushed into two heart surgeries— I was having a massive heart attack. (Thank you, SLE.)
My body had already begun to shutdown. There wasn’t much left for me to fight with. I heard the words: “Fight, sweetheart. You just gotta fight!” Those words ignited the flame and set loose my competitive spirit that was waiting to shine.
Heart attack? Pneumonia? Staph infection? Sepsis? Bleeding to death? I was ready to fight. This veteran of disease was laser focused on defeating chronic illness.
Up for the Challenges Ahead
My coaches during high school (club and varsity) always had me defend against the best player because I was always up for a challenge. And here I was again, willing to fight my fiercest opponent. Did I know I could lose this battle? Did I know what losing meant? Yes, but I was going to fight with more determination than ever before.
If there were ever a more appropriate time for competition, it was that moment. My game face was still on.
I almost lost…several times, but even in soccer it didn’t matter how hard I got tackled— I always got back up.
I don’t give up. I keep fighting.
Clear Eyes, Strong Heart, Can’t Lose
My cardiologist told me that soccer saved my life. He said that all those years of pushing myself to be the best made me, and my heart, very strong.
Obviously I won (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this). Chronic illness has tried to strike again many times since my heart attack. I always try my best to fight back with my fists clenched and my eyes fixed on the prize.
Competition fuels my cardiac rehab workouts. Competition and passion drive my determination to become a cardiologist. It has allowed me to go head-to-head with fatigue. It has turned any fear of what chronic illness can do to my body into an opponent I can actually face with my head held high in confidence.
Competition has given me a will to live — it makes me fight harder, longer, and better.
Put your game face on—it’s time to fight chronic illness.
You Don’t Have to Do It Alone
Even though I credit my competitive spirit for my ability to live successfully with chronic disease, I couldn’t do it without my community. No one should feel alone in their struggles.
I’ve recently begun participating in an online community for autoimmune patients called Smart Patients. I am able to ask questions and get advice from others who really understand what I am going through.
Whether it’s asking for help, sharing a small victory, or just learning from the experience of many others, knowing you aren’t alone can be tremendously helpful.
Visit www.smartpatients.com to learn more about peer-to-peer support through online communities or enter your email address below to join the community today.
About the Author
McKenzie is a twenty-one year old college student. Two years ago she was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Cryoglobulinemic Vasculitis, and Primary Biliary Cirrhosis. McKenzie was born and raised in Michigan, but currently lives in Montana. She hopes to attend medical school someday to become a cardiologist. McKenzie blogs about her experiences dealing with chronic illness at Ceaseless Joy: Living Life with Lupus.