Stroke Awareness Month

A Survivor’s Essay

Is Stroke a Preventable Disease?


Rhonda Peterson


I will venture to guess that most people reading this article are already very aware of stroke and the changing dynamics stroke inflicts upon survivors, families, and friends. Some people may have heard the latest theory touted by medical communities stating that “Stroke is a preventable disease.” And possibly, in some cases, it may be true. However, this statement does nothing to make me feel good about having this disease. On the contrary, the words make me feel as if I could have done something to prevent it but instead CHOSE to neglect my health and voluntarily have a stroke. How insane is that line of thinking?


I refuse to subject myself to any more guilt trips. I promise to check my cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight and to keep them within normal limits. These are controllable risk factors. However, I can do nothing about my age, ethnic group, or family history. I promise to observe the warning signs of stroke and to call 911 if they appear. I will do everything within my power to prevent stroke from happening in my life or the lives of my loved ones, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. However, by learning everything possible regarding stroke, I may not be able to prevent this disease. Instead of giving me the power to accept the things I cannot control the statement that “stroke is a preventable disease” drains me of vitality and exacerbates my healing process.


Car accidents are preventable too! Should we stop driving to prevent further accidents? Safety belts and air bags have prevented serious injuries in some accidents but certainly not all. I am not aware of statistics regarding how many strokes this type of education has prevented. In fact, stroke is not selective when it comes to educated people; stroke strikes young and old, men and women, all ethnic groups, and backgrounds. What should I have done as a preventative measure against the stroke I experienced? The answer was a resounding, “There was nothing you could have done differently” from several neurologists.


I believe that stroke is as preventable as cancer, heart disease, and other catastrophic diseases. Yet, I have not seen national ad campaigns labeling brain cancer or Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) as preventable. Some cancers are curable if detected early and education is an important tool in detecting cancer in its earliest stages. But to make a statement that all cancers or all diseases are preventable would be ludicrous.


It is vitally important that stroke survivors understand that their stroke was an unforeseen and extremely unfortunate occurrence. It is paramount, to my psyche at least, to know that life goes on in the face of adversity. Although I am now thoroughly educated towards the warning signs of stroke there may come a time that I do not realize I am exhibiting stroke symptoms because my stroke happened on the right side of my brain. A right-sided stroke affects a person’s awareness to the left half of the body. All the education in the world will not override this fact. I may have to rely on others to know the warning signs of stroke and to immediately seek medical assistance for me.


Actually, I’m not sure if stroke fits the paradigms of a disease! Does it grow like a cancer? No. Is it life-threatening? Yes. Does it worsen throughout your life? Yes and no. Does it follow family genes? Yes. Can you contract it by other means? No. Is there a cure? No. Does public education prevent stroke? It heightens awareness but does not prevent stroke from occurring.


So, take heart, stroke survivors and live fully in the knowledge that medical science has taken great leaps in the advancement of stroke therapies and recovery efforts. Believe that you are improving a little more each day. Try to keep focused on recovery and the steps you are taking towards your personal goals. Learn as much as possible about your particular stroke. Take what information is important to you and your family and go forward staying centered on today and tomorrow. Most of all, know that depression is a side effect of stroke and try not to patently buy into the statement that stroke is a preventable disease.


Copyright © May 2002

The Stroke Network, Inc.

P.O. Box 492 Abingdon, Maryland 21009

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