Coming to terms with chronic illness and grief over what’s lost

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Jessica DuLong

Published February 17, 2021

Tessa Miller was just 23 when her nightmare of deadly infections, procedures and misdiagnoses began.

Over the next several years, Miller tried dozens of medications, was hospitalized more times than she can remember and required three fecal transplants. She visited gastroenterologists, allergists, oncologists, pain medicine specialists, endocrinologists, gynecologists and neurologists.

Her ultimate diagnosis of Crohn’s disease finally explained the “inflammation, ulceration, bleeding, fissures, abscesses, intestinal narrowing and all kinds of gnarly stuff” throughout her digestive tract.

But the diagnosis also meant that she had to come to terms with being chronically ill, caught in what Miller wrote is “that foggy space between the common cold and terminal cancer.” Six in 10 adults in the United States suffer from chronic disease, and due to Covid-19, researchers expect that number to rise.

In “What Doesn’t Kill You: A Life With Chronic Illness — Lessons From a Body in Revolt,” released February 2, Miller shares life lessons she absorbed while learning to grieve the self she’d once been and the future she might have had en route to accepting who she was.