Either you have a chronic illness, or you love someone who does. Although my friend Mark Fry has MS, he’s used it to bless numerous people. During a recent interview, he told me how he learned to live his best life with a chronic illness.
I hope his story will encourage you and if it does, please share it.
NASHVILLE—an examination room at Vanderbilt Hospital, 1998.
“The walls of the clinic were covered with tan vinyl and the floor looked like a black and white checkerboard. Heavy disinfectant and dread permeated the air,” said Mark Fry.
“My wife and my parents seemed preoccupied with the busy, patterned floor. I studied a Boston Marathon poster on the wall. None of us said a word. Finally, the doctor came in. His face was lined with concern. I remember my wife and mother crying as he said: ‘You have multiple sclerosis, Mark. I assume you’ve heard of MS?’ I had, but for the life of me, I couldn’t seem to remember much about it.
Come to find out, MS is a chronic disease. One that could cripple me. One I will never recover from.
I looked back at the Boston Marathon poster, thinking how cruel it was to put up a poster like that in such a clinic. I felt like it was taunting me, saying, ‘Look what you can’t do, anymore.’
But I was wrong. Years later, I got it. MS is a marathon. One I’m still attempting to run.
I was only 31 years old then, with two kids and a wife. I kept wondering if I’d be in a wheelchair soon, or using a walker with green tennis balls on its feet.
Would people look at me differently?
Would they laugh at my jokes out of pity?
It was hard to grasp, but suddenly my life was different. Like an unwanted tattoo, my diagnosis was there for life.
Multiple sclerosis means “multiple scars,” but not all of them are physical. Dealing with a lifelong disease is tough business.
Here’s what I’ve learned about living your best life with a chronic illness:
• You’re not the only one. It’s tempting to think you are the only person with a chronic illness, but it’s not true. Almost half of all Americans adults—133 million people—have at least one chronic disease, if not more. Thinking that everyone else has it better, wastes precious energy—energy you need to fight your illness.
• You are NOT your illness. You just live with chronic illness. You can’t let it define you; you are still you. Instead, define your illness. Write out a clear, concise description of your condition and practice saying it. This will help others understand.
• You still have choices. At first, I thought misery was my only option (this is normal). But I’ve learned that I can choose to be “half-full.” It’s a real choice. A powerful choice. I can choose to turn my illness over to God, daily. I can thank Him for my blessings. I can help others. You can choose to be “half-full,” too. Ask God to help you. Take daily doses of encouragement and hope. (See Half-Full Encouragement, my FB page where I post uplifting thoughts)
• Ask yourself: So what . . . now what? Author and speaker Kevin Elko says a crisis can leave you feeling beaten down and lost. But it’s not the crisis that makes you feel that way. It’s what you think about the crisis. This question can help you redirect your thoughts. So what? I have MS. Now what? I’m going to make the best of it. Dr. Elko’s audio CD, “So What? Now What?” helped me deal with my diagnosis.
• Go ahead and grieve. The loss of good health is a real loss. As you come to grips with it, you may go through some (or all) of the stages of grief. The 5 stages of grief are: 1) denial & isolation 2) Anger 3) Bargaining 4) Depression 5) Acceptance. I went through them all. The key is understanding that grief is a natural process, not a permanent condition. Identify where you are in the process and try to work through each stage as quickly as you can.
• God may surprise you. I didn’t tell my boss about my diagnosis until he gave me the job of selling the exact drug I was taking. (What are the odds?) Helping patients like me gave me a new sense of purpose. This was something I never expected, but that was just the beginning. Now, to my surprise, I’ve written a book, become a speaker, a mentor and a triathlete.
• Think of yourself as an overcomer. Call yourself victorious. Celebrate every success. Lean into the battle, instead of trying to run away (you can’t). Mandisa’s song, “Overcomer” is my battle cry when I go through a tough relapse. When the needle is in my arm and the steroids are flowing, I turn the volume up. The song emboldens me to overcome.
• God is for you. When you struggle to climb out of bed, God feels your pain. He knows when it hurts to walk around the block. He understands when you’re frustrated. And God loves you through it all. Sometimes, these words come to mind when I’m hurting: You are mine and I love you, no matter what happens. I bought you with the blood of my only Son. I will never give up on you. Don’t you give up either.
• It’s not forever. Once I was telling my teenage daughter, who has never known me without MS, how good I’m going to feel in heaven. She said, “Really? You won’t have MS anymore?” I said, “Yep. No more MS. What binds the body here, will have no power there.” Right now, God helping me, I want to use my illness for good while I can. But it’s not forever; someday I will be healed.
• It’s not just about you. I’m often tempted to focus on myself—on my pain, what I can’t do, or how I feel. But I’m convinced my illness is not about me. There’s a greater purpose in it. For example, God has used my MS to show my children the joy of caring for others (namely, me). Someday my kids will have their own battles to fight; I pray that witnessing my journey will help them.
• Stay active. Eat and exercise like your life depends on it, because it does. Back in high school, I finished last in a mile race. I was mortified. But in 2017, 21 years after my diagnosis, I won my division for triathletes in 3 different races. Last summer, it was a different story. I had my worst relapse ever. It took me 30 minutes to walk a mile. I learned that if you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. Stretch. Lift weights. Do whatever you can to stay active.
• Don’t waste your illness. Use it for good. I use my MS to glorify God by mentoring others. I teach a class on dealing with chronic illness at my church in Nashville (we’d love to have you). I’ve written a book and I’m writing a companion workbook now, so it can be used as curriculum in other churches. My friends and I started a support group called “H.O.P.” (Happy Optimistic People with MS). MS is my personal platform from which to serve and I don’t want to waste it. As weird as it sounds, I’m grateful for the opportunities MS provides.
• You can live your best life with a chronic illness. Your mind is a powerful thing: it can either help you or absolutely destroy you. Setting my mind on serving God and others helps me live my best life. Is it easy? No. Is it fun? It can be. But if not, I am still determined to make the most of my life.
While many can live a Godly life and be who God wants them to be, I just don’t know if I would have or not. But having MS changed me. It’s helped me gain a different perspective. To want what God wants for me. Do I always think like this? Of course not. But as I help others in their struggle, I know God is using me for a greater purpose. And that feeling is priceless.” Mark K. Fry, Sr.
I’m blessed and humbled by Mark’s positive way of life. I hope you are, too.
Thanks for sharing with us, Mark. May God bless you.
*Mark Fry was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis over 20 years ago; he knows what it is like to live with a chronic illness. He jumped right into fighting his MS with a positive attitude and a desire to help others do the same. He served for over a decade as a board member with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Mark and his wife, Jackie, have been married for nearly 30 years and have three children. Mark also serves as an elder at his church in Nashville, TN. He has a full-time career in pharmaceutical sales and enjoys both writing and speaking to encourage others living with a chronic illness.
**I ordered Mark’s book a couple of years ago while we were remodeling. But unfortunately, it got stuck in a box before I could read it. When I finally did read it, I couldn’t put it down. Even though I don’t have a chronic illness, what he wrote was so powerful and encouraging, I just had to share it with you. Click on the pic to get Mark’s go-to book on living your best life with a chronic illness: