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Venus Williams Shares Her Experience Dealing with Sjogren’s Syndrome

5-time Wimbledon champion talks chronic illness in new video

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Venus Williams has been a dominant figure both on and off the tennis court for decades.

The seven-time majors champion already is considered one of the all-time greats of her sport. She’s blazed a trail as a successful businesswoman with her lifestyle brand EleVen. She’s also a proven social activist, having helped women tennis players earn equal pay to their male counterparts after a years-long effort.

And to think, she’s done it all while dealing with the daily side effects of an immune system disorder.

In 2011, Williams was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome.

According to the Mayo Clinic:

Sjogren’s (SHOW-grins) syndrome is a disorder of your immune system identified by its two most common symptoms – dry eyes and a dry mouth. The condition often accompanies other immune system disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. In Sjogren’s syndrome, the mucous membranes and moisture-secreting glands of your eyes and mouth are usually affected first – resulting in decreased tears and saliva. Although you can develop Sjogren’s syndrome at any age, most people are older than 40 at the time of diagnosis. The condition is much more common in women. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms.

The disorder has no cure. It is considered relatively common, affecting .1% to 1% of the population. The Sjogren’s Foundation estimates the disease affects “as many as 4 million Americans, with an estimated 2.5 million patients currently undiagnosed.”

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For years prior to her diagnosis, Williams had been dealing with dry eyes and mouth, along with other symptoms such as joint pain, fatigue, loss of feeling in her hands, and lack of stamina. It took more than six years for doctors to correctly diagnose her. It was a frustrating time that included multiple pauses to her playing career.

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It is a wonder that Williams has been able to enjoy such a long career and sustained success at the highest level of sport. She and her younger sister, Serena, have won a combined 30 major singles titles and teamed up for 14 major doubles titles.

“I live with Sjogren’s syndrome every day.”

Venus Williams has been open about her condition from the beginning. She’s been an outspoken advocate for those facing similar struggles, offering interviews and sharing her experiences and advice.

Recently, she released a video to her YouTube channel offering an in-depth look into a lifetime of dealing with chronic illness. “I live with Sjogren’s syndrome every day,” she says early in the video. “And I’ve continued to find a way to make a life and make a career and the best life out of it.

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“It isn’t always easy, but that is a part of the challenge.”

Amazingly, Williams, 42, continues to enter the occasional tournament. She has shown little desire to end a professional career that began in 1994 at the age of 14.

For instance, she made a last-minute entry into this year’s Wimbledon, where she’s especially beloved on the venerable grass courts of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London as a five-time singles champion.

Williams and her mixed doubles partner, James Murray of Britain, reached the round of 16 before bowing out in an electric three-set match.

“You never know where I’ll pop up,” Williams reportedly said prior to the match, according to an article in the New York Times.

No doubt her competitive spirit is alive and well. (Just see how she put this wayward reporter in place during a post-match press conference. Fire!)

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Regardless of playing status, there’s no doubt Williams will keep up with her Sjogren’s syndrome advocacy work.

“When you can’t be who you want to be because you are being held back by your physical health, remember that everything counts. And being able to do even something is better than nothing,” Williams says midway through her video. “There are some days when you can’t do anything. But that day won’t be every day.

“Think about the things you can accomplish instead of what you can’t accomplish. Don’t be afraid of what you can’t do.”

It is the kind of advice we can all live by.

 

FROM THE WEB More on Venus Williams

Mental Floss: 15 Amazing Facts about Venus Williams

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