Living well with a chronic condition

By David Schroeder, M.D., cardiology, Providence Heart Clinic at The Oregon Clinic Gateway

Being diagnosed with a chronic condition – whether it’s diabetes or heart disease, emphysema or arthritis, asthma or any number of other conditions – can come as a shock. One day, you think you’re fine. The next, everything’s different. Now you have “a condition.” You’re going to have to make some changes, adjust your lifestyle. It’s going to take some getting used to. But as many have learned, it’s not all bad. Some good can actually come of this.

One of my favorite quotes on the topic comes from Sir William Osler. Osler was one of the four physician founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital and is often referred to as the father of modern medicine, so his words carry some weight. He said:

“If you want to live a long life, get a chronic disease and learn how to take care of it.”

That may sound like crazy talk: how can developing a disease help you live a long life? But I understand what Osler was getting at. People diagnosed with a chronic condition are forced to confront their vulnerabilities and admit that they are not superhuman. Their new reality forces them to accept the importance of taking better care of themselves – of following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, managing stress and staying in touch with their doctors. All of these behaviors help people live better lives, but many of us do not adopt them until we have to – that is, until a medical diagnosis forces us to. Once we do learn to take better care of ourselves, we start down a path toward a longer, healthier life – not only in spite of a chronic condition, but in some ways, because of it.

Providence Medical Group offers a series of workshops designed to help people with chronic conditions learn how to positively manage their disease and live full, healthy lives. Living Well with Chronic Conditions is open to Providence Medical Group patients with all types of chronic conditions. The free, six-week workshop is led by peers who have been through the program and who have chronic conditions themselves. Developed by Stanford University, the program has been proven to help people better manage their disease, reduce their outpatient and emergency room visits, and improve their overall health, energy level and ability to participate in the activities they enjoy.

Learning from their peer leaders and from each other, participants in the workshops discover practical ways to deal with pain and fatigue, to manage their symptoms and medications, to talk about their disease more effectively with their health care team and family, to relax, to handle difficult emotions, to eat well and to exercise safely. The workshops guide them through the process of setting goals and making step-by-step plans to improve their health.

If you are a Providence Medical Group patient and you are struggling to cope with one or more chronic conditions, Living Well with Chronic Conditions could change your life. For information on where and when the next Providence workshops will be offered, contact Melissa Dilley at 503-893-6605 or melissa.dilley@providence.org. If you’re not feeling quite up for a workshop yet, you can find more information in the program book, Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions. Participants in the workshop receive a free copy of the book, but it’s also available through libraries and book stores.

Living with a chronic condition can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to sap the joy out of your life. As participants in the Living Well with Chronic Conditions workshops learn:

  • A chronic disease is an opportunity to reconsider your lifestyle – and to improve it.
  • Not only is it OK to ask for help with your disease – you’ll be better off for it.
  • Many people have found ways to manage their chronic diseases and live rich, full lives. You can learn a lot from them.