A Chronic Illness Patient’s Response to the New York Times Op-Ed

July 13, 2020

“Is It Ok to Dump Him Because Of His Medical Condition?” What a question. It’s also the title of a New York Times Op-Ed that I came across the other day. It’s a title that stuck out to me right away and a question I’ve been dissecting ever since. I’ve asked others about it. What did they think of the question and of the advice given by ethicist Kwame Anthony Appiah in the piece?

While he believed it is better to get out of a relationship early because of the “burden” dating someone with a chronic illness would bring, I have to say that my answer is resolutely the opposite. Thinking about why I responded to the piece the way that I did, I stopped to think about all the examples in my life that have reinforced why I disagree.

At the age of 31, after being married for 6 years and having 2 daughters, my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My parents never expected for either of them to be diagnosed with a serious medical condition so young. Who really does?

Throughout my mom’s treatment, I saw a side to my dad that I’ll never forget. He stepped up. He was there to support her in every way and he never faltered. When I was older, I asked him about it. How did he do it? Was there ever any hesitation? Doubt? Fear? His answer to me was simple: what in the world are you talking about?

For him, there was no doubt or fear or hesitation because he loved my mom. He knew that she was the one who was dealt the bad cards, not him. And he would do everything in his power to make her time easier; to know that she had the love and support of the people who mattered most to her in this world.

That is my view of family. Of love. It is unwavering and unconditional. The same way my dad stood by my mom is the same way my husband stands by me.

A few months before we got married, I had my first surgery. It was April – we were getting married in September – and I told my then-fiancé that I understood if this was too much for him. But he felt the exact opposite. It couldn’t be too much for him because he knew that I was it for him. And he wanted to be there for me through all the highs and lows that come with being in a committed relationship. Of which there are many. He was there for me then and several years and 3 kids later, he is still my rock.

Seeing my dad with my mom and my husband with me dispels the fears that I always carry with me. Fears that were almost reinforced when reading that Op-Ed. That because of my illness I am somehow a “burden” to the people around me.

Burden: a small word that somehow packs a very powerful punch. Suffice it to say that I did not have a good reaction to seeing it on my screen, backed by one of the most well-known newspapers in the world.  I am not a burden. We are not burdens. The people who we love, and who love us, will never see us that way. Because we all struggle through something in life and need the support of the people around us to stick it out. No one is exempt from that.

While I didn’t agree with a great many things said in the Op-Ed, there was one quote that really stuck with me: “Being ‘able’ is almost always only provisional, a loan that can be revoked at any moment: Most people, if they live long enough, will have disabilities, and in some respect or another, a great many of us already do.” At this point in reading the Op-Ed, I sat back and let those words really sink in.

Dickinson Family

My mom’s health at 31 years old was not guaranteed. My health in my 30's was not guaranteed. We are healthy until we aren’t. And we cannot take for granted those precious years that we are “healthy” because it can so quickly be taken away from us. And then what?

Hopefully, we haven’t pushed so many people away by that point for fear of the “burden” that we would bring on them. And hopefully, we are surrounded by people who see us as people first, before being defined by a condition or illness.

All this to say that I am grateful. I am grateful for my family who has never once looked at me as anything other than a person they love. I am grateful for the friends who I can depend on… even when I need a last minute babysitter. I am grateful for all of the people in my life who look at me and see me for me. Those who see a mom, a wife, a friend, a colleague. I will always cherish them as they help to quell my fears every day. And they perfectly exemplify the unconditional love that we all deserve.

Kristy Dickinson

Founder & Patient