To laugh about a disease is to take away its power
On November 14, the StFX Students’ Union presented their second X Talk of the year, hosted by The Xaverian Weekly. Unlike previous years, the Students’ Union held the first X Talk during Frosh Week in order to both bring awareness to the events and to begin another Frosh Week tradition that leans more towards the intellectual.
The theme of this X Talk was “Health”, with each speaker able to address it however they wished, resulting in four exceptionally varied approaches.
The first speaker was Tyler Kingston, who is in his third year at StFX but first year in the nursing program. He provided a facetious yet sincere view on what it means to be misdiagnosed and the dangers of over-diagnoses in today’s society. With a speech filled with jokes that left the room roaring, Kingston brought attention to the problem of doctors diagnosing patients of which they have spent only a few minutes speaking with. He emphasized the differences between mental duress and mental illness, the first being a reaction to an event or a temporary frame of mind and the second being an ailment requiring some form of treatment. Speaking with frank honesty and relatable personal experiences, Kingston started the evening off tremendously.
Following Tyler, Charlotte Curley took the stage. Curley graduated with First Class Honours in Psychology in May of 2015 and, after a year and a half of conducting research on developmental psychology, returned to StFX for the accelerated nursing program. In the future, she hopes to work as a nurse with mothers, babies and families to promote health and well-being. Curley decided to share her experience living with post-concussion syndrome (PCS) for the past four years. Taking a mindful approach to the topic, she spoke of the challenge of knowing that the best way to cope with her symptoms is to isolate herself, but seeing the personal and social repercussions of frequently removing herself from social situations – a struggle all those who have suffered a concussion know all too well. Curley focused on strategies that helped her manage her condition and encouraged the audience to find holistic, self-care approaches that work for them individually. Her quiet passion moved the audience as she revealed the struggles she has overcome and those she continues to work through due to her post-concussion syndrome.
The third and final student speaker of the night was Sophie LeBlanc, a third year Chemistry student who was diagnosed with narcolepsy at the age of 14. Due to her diagnosis, LeBlanc has had to prioritize her well-being and especially her sleeping patterns in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Throughout her speech, she notes that sleep is often the first thing to be sacrificed when someone is busy, stressed, or attending social events and is often seen as an inconvenient necessity. However, Leblanc stresses that there needs to be more emphasis placed on sleep and the benefits that it brings to mental health, productivity, metabolism, lower levels of stress and anxiety, improved attention and performance at school, and much more. LeBlanc acknowledges that many people find narcolepsy fascinating and like to ask numerous questions when they find out she has it, yet she takes each curious inquirer as an opportunity to educate them about her rare neurological disorder and the importance of getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night. LeBlanc wrapped up the student speakers with an unequivocally honest and personal account of her struggles with health and the strategies she employs to care for herself as best as she can.
The keynote speaker of the night was Jeremie Saunders, producer and co-host of SickBoy Podcast. The Halifax native lives with Cystic Fibrosis and shares his experiences and challenges through the podcast, with the help of his two best friends, Brian Stever and Taylor MacGillivary. As stated on their website, the three have seen first-hand how awkward people get when they are faced with difficult situations and don’t know what to say. To tackle this, the SickBoy Podcast takes a lighthearted, laughter-filled approach on living with serious illnesses in attempts to take away some of the stigma. If this wasn’t impressive enough, Jeremie is also a multi-award winning professional actor and yoga instructor – in all his spare time, of course. The three young men interview people on each episode with a different chronic disease and focus not on the illness but rather on the person living with it. Every segment is uniquely personal and intense, yet Jeremie, Brian, and Taylor make each guest, from people with brain cancer to astronaut Chris Hadfield himself, feel comfortable and able to share details about their best days, biggest challenges, and everything in between. Saunders brought this same energy and passion to StFX as he spoke of growing up with Cystic Fibrosis and how Sickboy came to be.
After his talk and a lengthy Q&A with an eager and curious audience, the three hosts hosted an episode of their podcast at The Golden X Inn, which was quite the unique experience for all those present.
CBC released “Sickboy: The Documentary” on October 15 that shed light on Saunders’ personal life, namely his relationship with his parents and his marriage, as well the transformative effect that the podcast has had on everyone involved. The poignant documentary only solidifies Saunders’ argument that to laugh about a disease takes away its power and that is exactly what Sickboy accomplishes.