Raising Awareness, Building Community by Stephanie Christianson

Raising Awareness, Building Community
Stephanie Christianson

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) hosted a series of two 5k challenges here in Atlanta, Georgia. My family and I participated in last year’s 5K held on the 19th at Verizon Amphitheater in Alpharetta, GA, my hometown. We participated in this event because of my younger brothers who are both Type I Diabetics (T1D). My family does not have a family history of this particular disease; moreover, they were diagnosed in an atypical pattern. My youngest brother was the first to be diagnosed at the ripe age of 13, approximately three years later my other brother was diagnosed. It is also important to note I was 18 months into my diagnosis of Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome in my left leg.

While my brothers and I deal with two different chronic illnesses, there is an incredible overlap in lifestyle and outlook that lies under the surface. It wasn’t until the JDRF’s Walk One 5k challenge did I fully recognize the sheer scope of the number of people who are affected by chronic illness that may or may not see a cure in our lifetimes. This event was more than the 5k walk, there were interactive elements that further enhanced the bonding experience for T1D patients. Yet all throughout the event was connect it to what I go through with chronic pain. I became engaged, aware, and supportive in a matter of minutes.

When all is said and done, this event always reminds me of why I have become a biomedical researcher and advocate. The ability to promote a sense of community, educate the public, and boost morale for patients and caregivers is the best reward. We were all there in support and more importantly, to have fun. This is the key to improving your state of mind and quality of life. It is inherently tied to open communication for patients with one another, for caregivers and patients, and even for caregivers to other caregivers. One thing was highly evident, the participants were not discouraged or downtrodden by T1D. Joy radiated that October day last year. It is something that not everyone can see and fully appreciate without being there. For me, and my resolve to find a cure for CRPS, I took away an important lesson. Building communities and relationships is one of the best tools in combating chronic disease states. Those of us working in the medical field also use these opportunities to see what you’re studying and the population subset that you are researching. Being able to engage, communicate, and participate is priceless and something I encourage all researchers in the biomedical sciences to experience.

There is nothing more empowering and full of hope than a community coming together for a common cause. It could be the T1D community, it could be the chronic pain community, or the overarching chronically ill community, but rather, coming together with an indescribable resolve to push past barriers. It is all interconnected and operating to promote better health. In this context it is in hope of a cure. However, upon further examination, better health can easily become improving morale, raising awareness for patients and caregivers, and taking steps to improve quality of life through empowerment. In a way, it is a nuanced application of mindfulness on a macro scale.

I hope this coming NERVEmber can take this a step further in the fight against chronic illness.

Stephanie Lynn Christianson
Biomedical Researcher: Georgia Regents University
Power of Pain Foundation Delegate
Twitter: captdrsteph

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