Laurel and Sarah were inseparable childhood best friends. But the last time they saw each other in person was in 1998 — the once vivacious Laurel has been homebound with severe ME/CFS for the past 20 years.
Laurel and Sarah met in the second grade, remaining close throughout college. “Without question, she was my best friend during my entire childhood and young adult life,” Sarah says.
Both shared memories of a semester abroad in London, where Laurel developed a passion for traveling and photography. After college, Laurel lived in Boston where she worked at a publishing company and was carving out an exciting new career.
“I loved my job and was excited about starting my professional career. I had just been accepted into graduate school and had completed my first course towards a master’s degree” Laurel explained. “However, everything came to a screeching halt at the age of 24 when I came down with mononucleosis. I never fully recovered and my life has never been the same. I had to put my graduate school goals (and pretty much all my dreams) on hold indefinitely. I have been unable to walk or speak more than a few words above a whisper for decades now. I require assistance with virtually all tasks of daily living.”
The last time Sarah saw Laurel was in 1998 while she was driving cross-country, briefly stopping to visit Laurel. The two reunited for dinner and sightseeing, but Laurel’s energy was nowhere near where it had been during their time together in Europe.
“After our visit, Laurel told me that she was unable to get out of bed for days trying to recover,” Sarah recalls. “She is still a voracious reader, but she must listen to books on tape now; she is still an amazing photographer, but relies on what subjects exist right outside her window. Some days she is well enough to sit outside for a bit.”
Laurel is now unable to have visitors due to the toll the sensory stimulation takes on her system. In light of Laurel’s struggle, Sarah has remained determined to help her childhood friend from afar.
“Sarah and I still connect whenever my health allows it. Social media has been especially helpful in that regard.
I am very grateful for her friendship of 40 years and I was so touched that she chose to create a Facebook birthday fundraiser for Open Medicine Foundation (OMF) this year,” Laurel says.
Sarah also reflects on all she has learned through witnessing her best friend’s heartbreaking experiences: “Before Laurel became ill, I had never heard of ME/CFS. This disease robs people of their dreams and their lives, and I wish more people were aware of that. It is utterly heartbreaking that while I have moved through life, continuing my education, establishing a career, becoming a wife and mother, and traveling the world, Laurel has not been able to have these opportunities because of what ME/CFS has taken from her. At times I will be in the middle of doing something mundane like running errands, and will have a moment of realizing how lucky I am to be able to do these boring, ‘normal’ things when so many people suffering from ME/CFS are denied the opportunity to carry out even basic tasks of daily living.”
Despite everything, Laurel and Sarah remain hopeful that a better future for people who suffer from ME/CFS is possible.
“I still have hope—largely thanks to OMF,” Laurel shares. “They have done so much in raising awareness and putting together a fantastic team of researchers to find answers, and hopefully a treatment or a cure can be found. It is that hope that makes every day a little more bearable.”
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