This veteran provided me inspiration on this PF journey
A columnist pays tribute to her late uncle, a Vietnam veteran
Veterans Day is approaching on Nov. 11, and most of us know someone who served in the military. For this column, I’d like to honor someone who left behind some promising words of the highest degree.
During a recent conversation, the person I was chatting with brought up my late uncle. So many memories came flooding back of the brief but heartfelt conversations I had with my uncle when he was alive.
Lance Cpl. Antonio S. Trejo served with the U.S. Marine Corps and was a Vietnam veteran. I was very young when he returned from the war, so I don’t remember much about that period. As a young child, I didn’t notice a change in him like the adults in my family did. I always knew him as the wild and crazy uncle. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized he was fighting a war within himself.
I later learned that he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD is a “psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, series of events, or set of circumstances.”
My uncle hid his disorder well from most of us. Growing up, I didn’t see him very often because he lived in another part of Texas. But when he visited, he always made me laugh. The more he visited, though, the more I began to see a different side of him. I saw the sadness, anger, and guilt he had brought back with him.
I understood this because I, too, had similar feelings when I received my pulmonary fibrosis (PF) diagnosis in 2019. I know the two afflictions can’t be compared, especially because I didn’t fight in a war, but I could sympathize with the wave of emotions he confronted.
In addition to PTSD, he later developed dementia. But he also had moments of clarity. This is when he was able to give me some of those surprisingly encouraging talks.
I remember one conversation my uncle and I had about my feelings of guilt that stemmed from anger about my illness. He asked me why I felt guilty about having a legitimate emotion. I told him I had no right to feel guilty when so many others had more of a reason to be angry or sad about their situation. I said I should be grateful that I’ve been able to seek treatment for my illness and I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself.
His words to me have been cemented in my memory for some time. This is the first time I am sharing them. He told me, “You have always been stubborn since you were little. You never gave in to what anyone told you, so why are you giving in now? When have you ever given in? You might as well throw in the towel, or you can face the demon chasing you and give it the fight of your life. It is always your choice.”
Throughout his life, my uncle did his best to fit into civilian life again. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service until he retired. We lost him on Dec. 4, 2020, the same year we lost my mother. It was hard to lose both of my dear ones just six months apart.
Last encouraging words
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about this, but I’ve been having trouble figuring out the best way to come to terms with having PF. My feelings are still up and down when it comes to my illness. I have a hard time stabilizing my emotions, but my uncle’s words still linger in my memory. A year before he passed, he told me, “You will always have a hard time accepting this fight, because you haven’t found your footing and you keep thinking of your illness as a tragedy instead of a challenge.”
I admit that I have a lot of work ahead to be willing to accept this lifelong fight. I tend to grow frustrated, and at times I feel defeated. I am doing better with my anger, but I’m still not without flaws.
To all our veterans — those who are still with us and those who aren’t — thank you.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.