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I’ve spent the better part of the month discussing the difficulties of life with sarcoidosis, a disease of unknown origin for which there is no cure. I’ve done this because I have this disease and I have done this because April is “Sarcoidosis Awareness” month. I have wanted those without the disease to gain a better understanding of it and those with it to know they are not alone in their experience.

Having sarcoidosis is difficult. It’s a life full of compromise and challenge and letting go. It’s a life of physical pain and mental anguish but I didn’t write about these things for people to feel sorry or me. I didn’t write about these things for pity. I wrote about them because they are real.

Another thing that is real about having sarcoidosis is coming to a far deeper understanding that it is not what happens to me that matters but how I face it and what I decide to do about it that does. So, while having this disease presents its fair share of disquieting discomfort, it also presents an opportunity. It has shown me that I have choices and it has taught me a lot about who I really am. Am I weak or am I strong? Do I surrender too easily or do I put up a good fight? Can I accept what I can’t change or do I choose bitterness? Do I focus on what I lost or do I strive for a happy today? Have I given up or do I still make plans for my future and for my life?

I am weak sometimes but mostly I fight. I grieve my losses, as anyone should, but I don’t remain stuck in them. I’ve come to understand acceptance is a process and that with it comes peace and that peace brings joy. I avoid bitterness and I don’t compare my lot to anyone else’s. Sarcoidosis has given me an inner resolve that I would not otherwise have…a strange sort of gift. I am strong. I am also grateful. Today, I have a far more grateful heart than I did before I got sick. It’s the uncomplicated, all too often overlooked, day to day, almost mundane things that bring me the most joy. The simple act of waking up each morning is a reminder that every day is a gift. Every breath of air my lungs still allow me is priceless.

So while I’ve spent the better part of the month trying to explain the trails of life with sarcoidosis, I would be remiss if I did not also let my readers in on a little secret. I am happy and I am probably the happiest I have ever been because of this disease, not despite it. I have learned that I am able to rise to remarkable challenges and make good decisions about what is right for me. I am not a quitter and I did not cave under the weight of this disease. I can still find peace and joy in life no matter what. This disease teaches me to live moment to moment and day to day. This disease has trained me to appreciate the good that I am still given because it has shown me that nothing is guaranteed and that loss is inevitable. Life and health are not forever.

Today I choose to live with a grateful heart.