Opinion: Benat Broderick, who lives with Cystic Fibrosis and is an Ambassador & Advocate for the disease, writes about why he feels there is a need for more education about "invisible diseases" like his.
Growing up with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) or with any medical condition, there is one thing you learn quite quickly and that is how to become ''independent’’. For people with CF, it could be having to stay in the hospital for over two weeks or having to manage their medication, etc.
I was never confident about living with a disease no one could see, but as I grew older, I realised there was a need for people with "invisible diseases" to share their stories. That’s what I try my best to do, help educate the public on CF and other invisible diseases.
You could look at me and say "there is nothing wrong with him" and in a way, you would be right. There is nothing visibly wrong with me, but there is a lot wrong going on internally.
Through growing up with this kind of assumption - and even now it still happens - it’s quite apparent that more education and awareness is needed surrounding invisible conditions, whether it be diabetes (which I also have) or arthritis. I still feel more awareness must be done, locally and nationally.
This is clear in my everyday life. One of the symptoms of my CF is a cough that most people would associate with a ''smokers cough". So, if I am in public and start coughing, people have and still do say things like "Do you have the flu?" or quite hurtful comments, and even though I understand it’s done with people’s best intentions.
Here in Ireland, I think there is more of a need to teach about invisible diseases, especially in schools, whether it’s through reading books or other ways. I feel from my experience not many people seem to be educated on invisible disease or disease in general.
At 15 years of age, I haven’t been taught about invisible diseases or any diseases - in primary school or secondary school - and I feel that should change. This could be both practical and lead to greater empathy and understanding for people with those diseases.
I could be sitting beside someone with an invisible disease and even though I may not know they are living with it, it would be good if schools could inform classmates that they have a disease of some sort, do an hour session on what the disease is and help to educate the students.
Of course, it is up to the individual person to decide if he or she wants to disclose whether or not the details of their health, but by helping to educate people in public it may make it easier for them.
I try my best to spread awareness of what it’s like with living with an "invisible condition" on a day-to-day basis. I have to take nebulisers to help get the mucus off my lungs so that I don’t get a chest infection; I have to do physical activity to help to prevent me from getting an infection.
CF is a disease for which there is no cure, so it involves us having to do as much as we can to stay healthy as possible until the one day there is a cure.
I know that at 15, I have the courage to tell people about CF and certainly, most people have heard of it. But if you look at me you wouldn’t know I have it. I think schools and colleges should start implementing once-a-week sessions about conditions such as CF, Crohn’s disease, and arthritis so that more people can understand these invisible diseases.
- Written by Benat Broderick
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.