My Playbook for Battling Through Setbacks

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by Athena Merritt |

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If the proverb “misery loves company” holds true, my brother, Antony, and I will be inseparable this NFL season.

On Sept. 15, we watched the quarterbacks of our favorite teams leave the field with injuries, taking with them the New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers’ favorable Super Bowl odds. With the physicality of football, injuries are to be expected, but the damage to Drew Brees’ thumb and Ben Roethlisberger’s wrist occurred when they made seemingly innocuous throws. These events remind me of the times setbacks from sarcoidosis land in my life.

The unpredictability of sarcoidosis, as I recently told a reader responding to my column titled Stumbling into the Unknown,” is what makes the disease so difficult to treat and live with. Although I can’t game plan for setbacks like my favorite team (the Saints) or my brother’s (the Steelers), I’ve developed a playbook of sorts over the years that I draw from to get through them. 

The power of positivity

A setback is always a blow to the spirit, which unleashes a stampede of feelings like fear, worry, and depression. I’ll let them run free for a brief period before reining them in by reminding myself that nothing is set in stone. Odds are beaten every day. My football fandom, which I wrote about in July, comes from the inspiration I draw not only from the players’ battles on the field, but their battles off the field, as well.

I saw Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier receive a devastating spine injury during a game in 2017. In May, Shazier, who was only given a 20 percent chance of walking again, danced at his wedding. Shazier has hopes of returning to the NFL. Last month, he was catching and throwing footballs during a Steelers pregame warmup, on his way to recovery. I’ve always believed — and research shows — that the mind can be a powerful aid when it comes to healing. The first step is thinking positively. 

One hurdle at a time

Trying to tackle a setback all at once can be overwhelming. Just ask Brees. After dislocating his shoulder in 2006, he was told it would be eight months before he could throw again and two years until the joint felt normal. I handle setbacks the same way Brees reportedly rehabbed from his injury: by setting short-term goals and striving to beat them.

Recruit a cheerleader

Overcoming a setback is never easy. There will be plenty of tough days and doubts. That’s why it’s vital to have family and friends to encourage you on the journey. In 2001, I lost more than 20 pounds while battling Lyme disease, which was undeterred by the antibiotics my physicians were throwing at it. My friend Kim told me, “You have to fight.”

I clung to her words then, and I clung to them less than two years later, when my battle with sarcoidosis began. I still cling to them whenever I tire of the ongoing health battles that are part of my daily life because I believe in beating the odds. That’s why I can’t wait to see Brees — once considered too short to play in the NFL — again standing on tiptoe to see over his line, defying the odds.


Note: Sarcoidosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sarcoidosis News or its parent company, Bionews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sarcoidosis.


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