Getting Old Is Not the Same As Being Ill

While getting old and being ill can both cause a person to slow down, they are not the same thing. 
BY Jane Biehl, Ph.D.
PUBLISHED June 17, 2018
I am in my late 60s – a time when many of my peers are experiencing the problems of aging. One of my closest friend attended an arthritis seminar where she was told her ailment was a result of TMB – too many birthdays! There is some sort of sick logic to this statement!

On the one hand it is reassuring to have friends to commiserate with on aching and creaking joints. I laugh when my younger friends just look at me in astonishment and I tell them they will understand when they get older. Actually, it is OK if they don’t! I distinctly remember rolling my eyes mentally when my parents and grandparents talked about rheumatism and their aching bodies. I tried to comprehend it but didn’t really “get’ it. Youth should have the perks of being young and mobile and flexible and pain free because life will get in the way soon enough.

However, I do balk when I mention casually that the various chemos I have been on over the past eight years have caused me to be fatigued. Often people respond with something like, “yeah – I don’t have the energy I did when I was younger. I understand.”

I never say anything because I do not like confrontation and don’t believe in one-upmanship. However, I want to scream, “NO YOU DON’T!!!” I expect to slow down as I get older. In fact, I think it is wonderful that we do. I love going out with my retired friends and not being in a hurry. We can linger over lunch or dinner without worrying about “getting back” to work or our children. After 40-plus years of working, we deserve it. I think our Creator did it all right – run around excitedly when you are younger, and relax and watch the youngsters when you are older.

But please, please, please do not say you understand the fatigue of cancer or many other chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s and many others. This kind of fatigue is different because it literally cuts you down at the knees.

Getting old is not the same as being ill, and experiencing both at the same time can be challenging. The kind of fatigue from aging includes not having as much energy, not moving as fast and slowing down. We watch where we step because we don’t want to fall. Every task takes a little bit longer to perform.

The kind of fatigue with chronic disease is going strong and suddenly collapsing. We get so tired we literally have to go home and to bed. I take frequent naps and am unable to function without them. I am chronically tired. I have a good night’s sleep and still wake up weak and exhausted. I do not feel better. It is a different kind of tiredness for sure because it is permanent.

The other main difference is I always felt I would live to my 80s and 90s like my parents and many of my relatives did. Now I am already living longer than the anticipated age for my kind of cancer. I am facing and working through an entirely different mindset and challenges.

So – yes, I understand aches and pains. I have double whammy because I have both. Unfortunately, my shoulder has had one operation and is now bone on bone. I can never have surgery because of the blood count associated with the cancer and try other methods to cope with the pain. I have severe arthritis and fibromyalgia – plus the cancer. I am in a different place than most of my peers.

I am not writing this to whine and complain. I thank God for every single day. I am only asking that when you say to someone you know what it is like – you don’t. But what you can do is reach out, take my hand and saying you care. That is all I and others really need.
 
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