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I Love My Life! Living Strong with a Chronic Illness

With a little help from your friends and family, you can still love your life and have fun if you're a teenager living with a chronic illness.
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WebMD Feature

Do you live with a chronic illness? Maybe you have asthma, allergies, or migraine headaches. Or perhaps you or your best friend has diabetes, arthritis, or cancer. Each day, thousands of teens across America are diagnosed with chronic illnesses -- long-term health problems they live with 24/7.

There's often no "cure" for chronic illnesses. Still, with new breakthroughs in treatment, most teens can live active, fulfilling lives. How? By maintaining good lifestyle habits, taking the prescribed medications or treatment, and seeing your doctor regularly to monitor your health.

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According to internist Harris McIlwain, MD, coach of the Tampa Bay Spirit boys' soccer team, many active teens have health problems today. McIlwain says that several of his players have asthma and use their inhalers before and during the aerobic soccer games. He has also coached teen soccer players with diabetes in the past.

"If you understand your illness," McIlwain says, "and follow your doctor's instructions to manage the symptoms, you should be able to do the things you want to do and enjoy your friends and sports."

Half the problem of living with a chronic illness can be telling your friends that you have asthma, diabetes, or cancer. While the fear factor is normal, it can be extra tough when you're a teen. After all, not only is your body stretching and your hormones exploding, chronic illness feels like another intrusion.

Teens Rock On

Gary and Rob are both members of the popular Atlanta-based rock band, Ethan and the Ewox. As well-known musicians they play more than 250 shows a year, often traveling all night to get to the next town. Would it surprise you to learn that both Gary and Rob have lived with chronic illnesses most of their lives?

Gary, the drummer for the band, was diagnosed with Type I, or juvenile, diabetes as a young teen. Type I diabetes is an insulin-dependent form of diabetes. Insulin is the body hormone that regulates sugar metabolism. This means Gary must prick his finger more than six times a day -- even on tour -- to check his blood sugar. Once he gets his blood sugar level, he injects himself with the necessary dose of insulin. He takes injections several times each day to assure that his body's insulin level is normal (yes, we're talking needles and shots).

Since his diagnosis around age 12, Gary had to make dramatic lifestyle changes. His doctor showed him how to check his insulin. A registered dietitian explained how to change his diet, which pretty much had been fast food at the time. "But it [diabetes] never got in the way of my drumming," says Gary. "In fact, I think my drumming has helped me with my diabetes. Drumming for hours each day is an aerobic workout, and physical activity is a must for those with diabetes."

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