ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As an artist who has lived with chronic illness due to auto-immune issues, Stacey Ballard relies on art for her own healing. She has led art workshops for chronically-ill patients for 20 years, working with individuals who suffer from Parkinson's, Cancer, and other diseases.
I have been dealing with chronic illness for most of my life with 20 surgeries in the last 25 years.
When I was 10 years old, my doctors discovered I had a hyperthyroid that they couldn’t control with medication. When I was 13, I started to have horrible cramps, which I was told were normal. It took me 10 years to get the correct diagnosis of endometriosis. At 19, I had a near-death experience and it changed the way I have looked at life. I felt the love of God (whatever you call him or her) and I understood my connection to EVERYTHING. I studied many religions and philosophies until I found what works for me……which is LOVE.
For the next 15 years, I had one surgery almost every year and spent a lot of other days in the ER and hospital rooms.
At age 23, I was jaundiced (yellowed skin and eyes signaling serious liver issues). After stabilizing me in a hospital room, they found I had no insurance and kicked me out. The doctor pointed to a spot and said: “See this, if it’s cancer you’ll have a year to live, if it’s not, then you have a rare disease.” And then rushed me back in and put me back under anesthesia. A day or so later, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune liver disease called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC), which is related to Crohn’s.
I was diagnosed with PSC at 25 years old, about 10 years later and after 13 surgeries, I went into end-stage liver failure. I had double coverage by health insurance (Blue Shield & Cigna) and had been with them for many years. But after 2 ½ years on the list, at one appointment with my Stanford doctor, he shook his head and said “if you don’t get out of California you’re going to die waiting on the list.” I was 39, sleeping almost 20 hours a day and beginning to accept I might not make it.
My best chances of survival was going to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville and after an application and many tests, I was accepted. But then my insurance companies denied me.
Luckily soon after that, Medicare saved my life.
I continue to struggle every day with chronic illness and chronic pain, but at the end of the day I continue coming back to art.
Now, I have a message for others with chronic illnesses: you can use art and beauty to transform an otherwise painful experience into a transformative one. Just like I did.