Persevering Through Chronic Disease
- Tennis star Venus Williams, 42, is living with Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes dry eyes and mouth.
- Williams is a multi-time world grand slam tennis champion and the condition nearly ended her career. But she was determined not to let it control her life.
- There is no cure for Sjogren’s syndrome, but treatment options exist to help manage symptoms, such as medication that can help the body produce saliva.
- Anecdotal evidence from SurvivorNet experts points to how a positive mindset can help people face a health challenge, such as chronic disease or cancer.
- Practicing positivity, such as gratitude, could help reduce stress and anxiety, which can lead to physical issues.
Champion tennis player Venus Williams, known for dominating the courts, is living with a chronic disease that causes dry eyes and mouth, as well as painful joint aches. It nearly ended her career, but ike many determined warriors battling a health condition, she didn’t let the condition control her life.
Williams has been in the spotlight alongside her sister, Serena, since they were pre-teens for their all-star tennis skills. Over the years, they’ve racked up dozens of accolades and are widely considered all-time greats in the sport. Venus has won multiple grand slam tennis championships during her career.Read More
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“Dry eyes, dry mouth, joint pain, and fatigue,” were all common symptoms that Williams said affected her ability to play.
Eventually, her symptoms grew so severe, she couldn’t play at all.
“I got too sick to play professional sports before I got my diagnosis…I had to completely stop. I was out of the game for nine months,” she explained.
Then in 2011, Williams finally got some answers when she was diagnosed with Sjogren’s (pronounced show-grens) syndrome, which is an autoimmune disease. She even had to withdraw from the U.S. Open Tennis Championships that year to focus on her health.
“I live with Sjogren’s syndrome every day…It can be very uncomfortable,” she said.
What Is Sjogren’s Syndrome?
According to Mayo Clinic, Sjogren’s syndrome, “is a disorder of your immune system” defined by “its two most common symptoms, dry eyes, and a dry mouth.”
The condition causes “insufficient moisture production in certain glands of the body,” the Cleveland Clinic further explained. As an autoimmune disorder, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells and tissues.
The condition can either occur by itself or with another autoimmune condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis – an inflammatory disorder impacting your joints, according to the Sjogren’s Foundation. Other accompanying conditions may include lupus, which actress Selena Gomez famous has, and scleroderma, which causes inflammation in your skin.
One to four million Americans are estimated to have Sjogren’s syndrome, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Common Symptoms for Sjogren’s Syndrome
In addition to dry eyes and dry mouth, Cleveland Clinic says other common symptoms may include:
- Burning or redness in the eyes
- Blurry vision
- Abnormal sense of taste
- Dry cough
- Difficulty swallowing or chewing
- Dry itchy skin
- Vaginal dryness
How to Treat Sjogren’s Syndrome
There is no cure for Sjogren’s syndrome, but treatment options exist to help manage symptoms. In most cases, doctors may prescribe medication to address the symptoms causing the most problems.
Mayo Clinic says prescription eyedrops or an oral medication that helps produce saliva are common medications to manage symptoms.
Tips for Practicing Positivity During a Health Challenge
Venus Williams Makes a Lifestyle Change
As for Williams, she made a lifestyle change to help manage her symptoms. Williams shared with Health.com, she changed the way she eats to a raw vegan diet.
“I started for health reasons,” Williams said, adding that she switched up her diet to include more fruits, vegetables, and grains to help with inflammation.
Vegan diets “excludes all animal foods,” which includes “meat, poultry, seafood, effs and dairy,” according to Health. Instead, vegans develop a plant-based diet that includes foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains.
The tennis star went on to share, she enjoys making celery-root soup.
In addition to kickstarting a new diet following her diagnosis, Williams also emphasized that she keeps herself hydrated, manages her stress, and gets enough sleep.
WATCH: Staying positive matters.
How Venus Williams Persevered
It’s been 12 years since Venus Williams was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, but she hasn’t let the autoimmune disease stop her. It’s an attitude many cancer warriors also possess.
“I’ve continued to find a way to make a living and make a career and the best life out of it,” she said in her video post.
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Anecdotal evidence from SurvivorNet experts points to how a positive mindset can help people deal with a health challenge.
Dr. Zuri Murrell of Cedars-Sinai tells SurvivorNet in an earlier interview, “My patients who thrive, even with stage 4 cancer, from the time that they, about a month after they’re diagnosed, I kind of am pretty good at seeing who is going to be OK. Now doesn’t that mean I’m good at saying that the cancer won’t grow,” he says.
“But I’m pretty good at telling what kind of patients are going to still have this attitude and probably going to live the longest, even with a bad, bad disease. And those are patients who, they have gratitude in life.”
Dr. Murrell explains that patients with gratitude tend to handle treatment better because this attitude is one way to stay mentally healthy.
One reason this phenomenon is often reported anecdotally could be due to the reduction in stress level. Stress and anxiety can lead to physical issues, and practicing gratitude can help get both under control.
“The patients who do well with cancer, they live life with that kind of gratitude, but in terms of everything,” he explained. “They’re grateful, not for cancer, but they’re grateful for an opportunity to know that life is finite.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, multiple studies have indicated that learning to live with gratitude can lead to more happiness and less stress. One way to exercise gratitude is to take time to think about things you appreciate every day, and some people find it helpful to write down those things in a journal.
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