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The meaning of illness

A few weeks ago, Ryerson University in Toronto hosted the annual Jehangir Saleh Lecture. This was the second annual lecture hosted by the Saleh family and Ryerson University to honour Jehangir – a philosophy student and person with CF who passed away from the disease at age 28 in June 2013. You may remember a previous blog by Jehangir’s sister, Jasmine. To learn more about Jehangir and how the lecture series came about, read Jasmine’s post here.

The lecture explored what it means to live with a chronic illness; something that Jehangir spent the last few years of his life reflecting upon. Dr. Kay Toombs, Associate Professor Emerita of Philosophy at Baylor University was the guest speaker.

Dr. Toombs explained that her interest in the phenomenology of illness came from her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) as a young adult. Her reflections further deepened when her husband was diagnosed with cancer. For Dr. Toombs, there is a distinct difference in understanding disease and experiencing it – understanding the meaning of illness is essential for healing.

It was an interesting talk for anyone living with chronic illness, presenting a thought-provoking perspective our society’s understanding of medicine and how it relates to incurable illness and the idea of people being cured but not necessarily healed. Countering that, she also explored the idea that people can be healed but not cured – a concept those with cystic fibrosis can certainly relate to.

Dr. Toombs also shared what she’s learned from living with MS:

·         Healing is possible in all circumstances. However, it is not a solitary endeavor; we need the assistance of others

·         We must try to form healing communities that reject individualism and embrace relationships

·         Recognizing and embracing our vulnerabilities opens others up to sharing their vulnerabilities

·         It is possible to live a whole, meaningful life, full of joy in the face of illness
Do you feel these learnings are relevant to life with CF? What would you add?

Thank you to Jasmine Saleh for inviting us to the lecture and allowing us to share in the legacy of Jehangir.