OPINION: Only you can define who you are

by | Apr 17, 2020 | Opinion

Nate Marksman, Sports Reporter

It’s easy to get discouraged if born with a debilitating illness, or diagnosed with one later in life.

But an illness doesn’t define who you are. You do.  

I have met many people who were diagnosed with different illnesses. I always thought feeling pity was a way to show sympathy. But I learned that’s not necessarily the case. No one wants to be looked at differently or feel inferior to anyone.

When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I noticed people around me changed the way they looked at me. Even their behaviour towards me was different.  

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 13 and was initially admitted to Etobicoke General Hospital. From there I was transferred to The Hospital for Sick Children a few weeks later. A lot happened within that time but I’ll never forget the most important memories I had there.

I made many friends during my time at Sick Kids. They shared their stories about dealing with diabetes. I met others who had different ailments, and for the most part, we all wanted the same thing: to be treated normally.

Even my parents and older siblings were noticeably more cautious around me. My grandmother, thankfully, never showed me pity but I guess it’s because she had Type 2 diabetes and knew how I felt.

I understood the reason for everyone’s cautious behaviour, but I was getting older and I wanted to be independent. There are days when I needed help, but we’re capable of knowing when we need it.

I learned some important lessons from a close friend I attended high school with who went to Sick Kids with me. Raquil “Jamar” Dakari Pinnock died of Sickle Cell disease. But it was his eagerness to never give up is what I’ll always remember. We didn’t see each other as two boys with illnesses, but as friends who supported each other.

My friend Raquil “Jamar” Dakari Pinnock who supported me through tough times despite his own fight with Sickle Cell disease. (Family photo)

His support helped me through tough times, especially when I realized my condition was affecting my body as I grew. In my youth, I played competitive soccer and was proud of my strength and speed. However, after being diagnosed with diabetes I noticed it became more of a struggle to do pushups and other physical activities.  

I thought it would be better to quit because even though my coaches were doing everything to make the game easier for me, I felt like I was continuously trying to catch up with my peers.

But it was Pinnock who reassured me that with hard work and determination I’ll have the respect of my peers for showing them I’m trying my best. I probably would have given up soccer and a few other things a long time ago.

At the time, I didn’t think his words would have a powerful impact on my life to the extent that they did until both my parents were diagnosed with cancer just months apart from each other.

I didn’t know what they were going through but I was there for them as much I could be.

At one point, they expressed feeling different emotionally, but thanks to my friend’s powerful words of encouragement, I was there to remind them that cancer doesn’t define them.

I want to encourage others that it’s okay to show concern for someone suffering from an ailment, but instead of expressing pity, treat them the way you’d like to be treated.