Don’t Tell RA Patients What They Could Be Doing to Cure Themselves

I recently read an opinion article in The Guardian that resonated strongly with me as a chronic illness patient. The article, Don’t Tell Cancer Patients What They Could Be Doing to Cure Themselves, focuses on patients living with cancer, but I think the issues and arguments in the piece can be applied to many other diseases–especially chronic illnesses like RA. In the article, the author, who lost his sister to cancer, writes of the additional burden his sister had to endure during her 15-year struggle with a rare form of sarcoma: the burden of unsolicited advice.

“If you’re a religious person, for the love of God, don’t tell someone with cancer that if they’d just drink juice (or take vitamins, or pray or have a “positive attitude”) that they could cure themselves,” says author Steven Thrasher. “And if you’re not a religious person, for the love of reason and decency, don’t tell someone with cancer any of these things, either.”


I’m in total agreement with Thrasher’s statements about pushing unsolicited and often condescending advice into the faces of those suffering from serious illnesses. So many times I’ve had to politely smile and nod as someone assures me that if I’d only drink a certain kind of cherry juice, I could cure my RA. Or tells me that I should be taking fish oil vitamins, cutting out gluten and dairy from my diet, and getting my body stabbed with acupuncture needles on a regular basis.

Some of these suggestions sound reasonable: exercise, healthy diet. I’ve actually tried acupuncture many times and it didn’t do anything except make my headaches a little better. Many of the countless “cures” I’ve had shoved at me (a lot of these involve vitamins and other supplements and strange concoctions) seem just plain ridiculous and stupid, frankly. I’m not an idiot. I’m pretty sure that if there were a cure for RA right now, I’d know about it. I’m sorry but no vitamin or miracle juice is going to cure the serious autoimmune disease I’ve lived with for 18 years.

What if these friendly “health experts” are only trying to help? What’s wrong with that? It’s not the kind of help I want–believe me. If you really want to help me, there is a long list of things you could do other than forcing some bogus treatment on me or making me feel like I’m not doing enough to take care of myself.

I’d love for someone to go shopping with me sometime and genuinely offer to hold my bags. I’d also love help with doing the errands that never get done because I’m too tired, in too much pain, or don’t feel well. But what I’d really love is for others to just be supportive friends. To listen with kindness and patience. To be understanding, non-judgmental, encouraging, and simply there.

Dispensing unsolicited health advice to someone with a chronic or terminal illness (or any illness) isn’t really a way for people to help the sick person, but to help themselves deal with the harsh reality of sickness and their own mortality. It’s like picking on someone else to make yourself feel better.

“Don’t tell a sick or injured person what they should do, because it’s a sneaky and harmful way of dealing with your own fear of death,” says Thrasher. “You’re saying, tsk tsk – I wouldn’t let this happen to me the way you’ve let it happen to you.”

“Giving advice to people…blames the sick person for your discomfort with their reality and shifts any accountability you feel back on to them,” Thrasher adds. “We have ethical responsibilities to the vulnerable in our communities – and we find excuses to avoid them.”

It’s understandable to want to avoid sick people. Sickness, disease, pain, anxiety, depression–it’s all scary. Sincerely engaging with those with RA who are suffering instead of dumping useless, insulting advice on them takes a lot more time, effort, and courage. And that is exactly what patients need–not some stupid copper bracelets or an expensive juicer.

It’s not my fault that I got sick, so please don’t make me feel like it is. Also realize that I’m an intelligent, well-informed, and determined person who is doing everything in her power to successfully manage her disease. When you offer up some flimsy, ridiculous piece of advice, it feels like a slap in the face for all of the hard work I have put into taking care of myself and my RA for all of these years.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (11)
  • Billi98
    11 months ago

    Amen, religious or not.

  • rockcandi
    11 months ago

    Thank you for this article! I wasn’t sure why it bugs me so much when people try to tell me how to cure RD, now I know. It IS because it makes me feel like they think I’m stupid or as if I haven’t done, and continue to do everything in my power to manage the disease. But there’s also this: when someone tells me that something as simple as drinking a certain juice or taking a certain vitamin can cure a disease that I’ve been battling for 30 years, they’re DIMINISHING the seriousness of what I fight against every day, every hour, every minute! I’ve been told numerous times also that if I believed and had enough faith, I’d be healed. Which really means, you’re not healed so therefore you don’t have enough faith. That’s the worst! I am a God-fearing woman and I know how much God loves me. I know He’ll heal me in HIS time.

  • Tich
    1 year ago

    Social pressure can be good and/or bad. Look at the massive advertising campaigns by Big Pharma; more people are getting treatment, but many make a decision not to risk the side effects… and put up with a lot of additional pressure from peers, doctors, and even strangers who don’t even know what we have. With RA, we have complicated problems. Is the science behind the medications relavent to us as individuals? That is a difficult question and many of us do need help making the decision. Just be careful who you trust. For me, I very much want to trust my rheumatologist. But after bad side effects from every biologic neither of us is sure how to proceed next. It’s a tough nut to crack, especially on your own.

  • CynthiaFarthing-Sayre
    1 year ago

    I look at unsolicited suggestions a bit differently, however, certainly understand other interpretations.I look at those who offer suggestions to be very caring and genuinely wanting to help and or facing the fear that they too could end up with the conditions of RD/RA and desire to avoid the nightmare, however possible. I respond to these suggestions with thanks, and turn the conversation back to their adventures of health. Asking the contributor about their health journeys avoids listening to suggestions that are known to be, just that, a suggestion. <3

  • KarenG.
    1 year ago

    Borax?! That sounds more like the current ‘teen challenge ‘ – kids popping Tide Pods in their mouths, for no good reason….. As for religious beliefs…. well. I was told my faith was not strong enough, since I wasn’t healed. Seriously…..

  • Erin Rush moderator
    1 year ago

    That’s a pretty good observation, KarenG! And I am so sorry someone questioned your faith. What an ignorant and unhelpful thing to say! Thank you for sharing! Best, Erin, RheumatoidArthritis.net Team Member.

  • jane
    3 years ago

    Yes, it is amazing the things i have been offered. One was going to cost $270 a month but my “friend” said if it helps what is cost. I researched it and it was a scam. I was annoyed with her for making me feel like i wasn’t trying hard enough. There are also people who know someone else with RA and compare their treatment to mine and then question if i have tried that.It is well meaning but it also feels controlling and frankly annoying.
    Some friends surprise you with their empathy and kindness and some you wonder what you had in common as having RA doesn’t mean i have lost my brain or need guidance to navigate my world.

  • Bamalady2318
    3 years ago

    Thank you. You don’t know how many times I have heard people trying to tell me what new or organic cure there is.

  • Bamalady2318
    11 months ago

    Update. Had a neighbor that was selling Korean Atomy products say that the one was a complete cure for my RA.

    I was nice, said no thank you, she continued on, walked away from my door and let my husband deal with her.

  • rhonda
    3 years ago

    I have started telling those people who give their uninvited advice “I’ve tried it” I mean don’t they think if there was a magic cure we would all be doing it. Cherry juice, cinnamon, yoga, meditation I even had one lady tell me injesting a small amount of borax would do the trick. That one I did not try lol. Thanks great article.

  • Angela Lundberg author
    3 years ago

    Hi Rhonda,
    Thank you for your comment! haha…BORAX?! That’s insane. I’m glad you didn’t try it. 🙂

    Angela

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