Five years ago I was diagnosed with Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome, also referred to as MALS. It is a rare congenital condition that causes restricted blood flow in a misplaced celiac artery, resulting in chronic pain, nausea, and fatigue after eating. Eventually, the nerve cells, called celiac ganglion, that surround the celiac artery become so irritated that they continuously activate pain receptors in the brain.

Currently there is no cure for MALS, but there is a surgery that can help alleviate some of the pain. I underwent this surgery in December of 2016. The scarred ganglion were removed and the celiac artery was put in the correct place. Recovery was lengthy and it was heartbreaking having to complete my last semester of college from home. It stung when I picked up my phone and saw photos of my friends enjoying all the glory associated with being second-semester seniors. As saddening as it was to miss out on these activities, I focused on the fact that my health was slowly improving, which was much more important than Senior Week or River Fest.

Before I got sick I never thought that anything good could come out of having an illness.  As a psychology student, I knew how emotionally devastating illnesses can be.  With this in mind, I decided that if I couldn’t control my physical wellness, that I could focus on my emotional well-being.  I became determined to find the bright side of sickness.

Naturally, there were good days and bad days. There were times when the pain broke me down and I couldn’t stop myself from crying. When stress and anxiety kicks in, it can be really difficult to bounce back. However, I learned to rely on the people around me and the thought of a brighter future.

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The best part about being sick is getting to see how many people care about you. It is so heartwarming to get a visitor or receive flowers from friends and family, while laying in a hospital bed. Even something as simple as receiving a text from someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, making sure you’re okay, makes such a positive impact on one’s mood. It was people’s kindness and emotional support that aided my recovery the most. There is nothing better than feeling loved, no matter the circumstances.

There are many devastating aspects of illness, but throughout my journey I happened to find something amazing. Sickness has the power to bring people together. Suddenly, the busyness of everyday life and seemingly urgent issues fade into the background to focus on the most important issue of all: humans being there for one another when they need it the most.

Nicole Gustafson

Nicole Gustafson received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. She recently moved from Connecticut to Menlo Park, California and is attending graduate school at Santa Clara University. Nicole is studying Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Correctional Psychology.


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