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Peterborough woman writes book on learning to live with chronic illness

  • Cam Auxer of Peterborough runs a website helping to connect people with chronic illness, experiences which she has turned into a book. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Cam Auxer of Peterborough runs a website helping to connect people with chronic illness, experiences which she has turned into a book. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/30/2020 10:31:18 AM

Cam Auxer of Peterborough found a way to find the best in her life by writing and connecting with others, who like her live with chronic illness.

She’s been diagnosed with a number of chronic conditions, including osteoarthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromuscular dysplasia and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, as well as dealing with two cancer diagnoses and major heart issues that have left her unable to do strenuous tasks.

Auxer has suffered from various forms of illness – some chronic and some acute – from childhood. She knows just how isolating it can be.

When she was a child, she had asthma and allergies, but they didn’t limit her much, she said. It was just her normal. But as she got older, she began to have more severe health problems, some of which left her virtually housebound when they were at their worst.

In her 30s and 40s, she began to experience migraines and dizzy spells, and joint dislocations.

She was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2002, and in 2005, she had a heart attack, and then two more while hospitalized for the first one. She had another heart attack in 2008.

“All of these things were happening to my body, and it was really depressing,” Auxer said. “I was so weak and tired, I started to get really depressed.”

Following her heart attacks in 2015, Auxer said her fatigue was at its height, and she was at a low point emotionally, she felt isolated but didn’t have the energy to get out and interact with people. That’s when she reached out virtually.

She started blogging about her experiences, a form of therapy in itself for her. But the real comfort she found was being able to connect with people. The experience was so critical to her, she decided to start her own website with resources for people with chronic illness, called Pajama Daze – and though she didn’t know it at the time, the website would soon become the inspiration for a much bigger project.

As more and more people began to use the site to share their experiences and knowledge, Auxer said she began to see there was a need for its message.

“I thought, ‘There’s a book here,’” Auxer said.

But she didn’t want to just focus on her own experiences, she said. After all, the whole point of her website was that it was collaborative – people with the same problem sharing their experiences. She reached out to people she had met through her site, asking them to contribute, and in the end, 31 people, plus Auxer, agreed to share their stories, resources, and coping mechanisms.

It wasn’t an easy task, Auxer said. And between her own health complications and those of the people contributing, it took a total of three years to get the book ready for publication.

“When you have 31 people, with varying stages of illness, things don’t happen quickly,” Auxer said.

And she was struck with her own tragedies in the last year of the book’s production. Only shortly after moving to Peterborough in January of 2018, she received a call that her sister had committed suicide. And only a few weeks after that, Auxer was diagnosed with cancer again – this time breast cancer.

But earlier this year, the book, “When Bodies Break: How to Survive and Thrive with Illness and Disability,” was finally released. Included within its testimonials, it includes tips about how to maintain an income, take charge of your hospital visits, and ways to cope with a disability.

It’s not sugar-coated, Auxer said.

“This started out being a book version of Pajama Daze,” Auxer said. “But it ended up being a lot edgier than that. There’s nothing warm and fuzzy about chronic illness. There’s nothing warm and fuzzy about pain.

But it’s not all bleak, either.

In finding ways to cope with their illnesses, contributors to the book took refuge in art, found inner strength, and learned to take things one day at a time.

“The book is about resilience, focusing on what we can do, and what we can’t do,” Auxer said. “Chronic illness doesn’t have to change who you are. You can live well with chronic illness.”

Auxer said she herself has had to learn to stop, take stock, and appreciate the good things in her life – which despite the sometimes isolating aspect of her health, are indeed many. She enjoys yoga and walking, joined a local church, and has begun to learn to play the bowed psaltery, a stringed instrument similar to a zither.

“There’s all these beautiful things that have come into my life, and I’ve had to learn to appreciate my body for the fact that it’s gotten me this far,” she said. “I know having had to deal with these health issues right from a young age has taught me resilience. As many challenges as it’s presented, I’m really grateful for that.”

The profits from the book go to support autoimmune disease research at the Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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