Besides being on the same soccer team, do you know what these three
boys all have in common? They all have chronic illnesses. Chances are,
you know someone with a chronic illness, too.
What Does Chronic Illness Mean?
A chronic illness isn't the name of just one illness. It's a word used to
describe a group of health conditions that last a long time. In fact, the
root word of chronic is "chronos," which refers to time.
There are many kinds of chronic illnesses - Bob, George, and John all have
very different kinds of chronic illnesses. Some illnesses (like a cold or
the chicken pox) only last a short time and go away on their own, but
sometimes an illness doesn't go away. Don't worry, most chronic illnesses
are not contagious - you usually don't catch them from someone else.
But chronic illnesses can be genetic, meaning that parents can pass the
tendency to get them on to their children before they are born through
genes. If a person has a chronic illness, he needs to take care of his
condition for months or years.
"In a nutshell, it's a problem or condition that may limit what a person can
do, that doesn't always go away," says Marisha Madrigal, a social worker
who works with sick kids in California.
Does that mean a person with a chronic illness will always be sick? Not
necessarily. There are hundreds of chronic illnesses - from asthma and
diabetes to lupus and lung disease - and each one affects the body
differently. For instance, babies born with lung disease often outgrow
their illness. Kids with scoliosis often wear a brace to get better by the
time they finish growing. And though some people with a chronic illness
may never get rid of their condition altogether, they will definitely learn
ways to manage it. They may also have to do special things to stay
healthy that other people don't have to do. Some may even go into
remission, a fancy way of saying somebody gets a break from being sick.
How Does a Chronic Illness Affect Someone?
Because there are so many chronic illnesses, it's difficult to say exactly
what to expect. Some people with chronic illnesses aren't able to function
as well as they'd like. Some illnesses might cause a person to tire easily
or miss a lot of school. Other chronic illnesses may make it necessary to
have to use a wheelchair or to carry around some special foods or
But whatever a person uses to get through the day, chances are he's
going to feel different because of it. If you know someone with a chronic
illness, it's important for you to deal with the person and the situation as
best as you can. This means that although it may be uncomfortable to
mention someone's special needs, it would be downright silly to ignore
them. No doubt, an offer to help or a few questions from you about how
he feels would help you understand what's going on and how to best
handle it. Best of all, it will pave the way so you two can focus on the
things that make that person who he is - not just a person who has a health
problem, but a person who likes soccer, loves movies, and hates math,
and who just happens to have a medical condition.
How Can a Chronic Illness Affect You?
Although chronic illnesses are managed in different ways, all of them
have one requirement in common: a doctor. Frequent doctor visits and
doing tests to help guide treatment are often part of what it takes to
manage a chronic illness.
If you have a parent, sibling, or friend who has a chronic illness, chances
are he'll be away from work, home, or school every once in a while -
sometimes for long periods of time, depending on the illness and how
severe it is. No doubt he finds it as frustrating as you do, but be patient.
The doctor is helping to figure out what his body needs and what medicines
and other treatments will make living with the chronic illness as easy as
How It Feels to Have a Parent or Sibling
With a Chronic Illness
Even though you're not sick, you may feel pretty bad when someone
you love is. Maybe you feel guilty for being healthy. Or maybe you feel
mad that this illness - and person with the illness - is getting all the
attention and you're stuck at the doctor's office with your brother or sister
when you'd rather be outside playing. Quite possibly, you're scared and
want to know what to expect and how to behave. All of these reactions
are understandable; lots of kids who know someone with a chronic illness
feel that way.
You might have to chip in a bit, too. If a parent or sibling is often weak, you
can help by doing an extra chore or two. If he's tired, maybe you'll play
outside (instead of making noise inside) while he naps. You shouldn't have
to change your life completely, but you might have to make a change or two.
Talk to your parents or siblings to find out what they need. Just be sure
and tell them what you need, too. "You don't want to change your life so
much that you can't be a kid anymore," Madrigal says.
What's your best bet?
Ask what your family needs and let them know how you feel. Sharing
your feelings will help them share theirs. Together, you all can find a solution
or ways to meet everyone's needs - not just the needs of the person who
is ill. If talking to people close to you is hard, don't lose hope: there are
people all over the world in the same situation. You can find them by asking
your mom or dad or a doctor to hook you up with one of the thousands of
support groups for friends, brothers, sisters, and kids of people who have
Remember, your parent, sibling, or friend may not be able to beat a chronic
illness, but if you talk and learn about it, you can help him deal with it a
whole lot better.
dedicated to improving the health and spirit of children. Today, as part of its
continuing mission, the Foundation supports the operation of a number of renowned
children's health facilities throughout the nation, including the Alfred I. duPont
Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, and the Nemours Children's Clinics
throughout Florida. Visit The Nemours Foundation to find out more about them and