Venus Williams’ Toughest Match

OFF THE COURT CHALLENGE: Tennis champ Venus Williams recently revealed that she's battling Sjogren's syndrome. Photo by Brett Weinstein/Wikipedia.

Shocking Revelation

“Tennis star Venus Williams has withdrawn from the U.S. Open shortly before her second-round match, announcing that she has been diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that can lead to dry eyes, dry mouth and painful joint problems,” The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday.

“I am thankful I finally have a diagnosis and am now focused on getting better and returning to the court soon,” said Williams, whose phenomenal career has included seven WTA Grand Slam titles and two Olympic Gold medals.

Winning Grand Slams Isn’t Everything

Off the court, Williams not only launched her own clothing line, but she has been a member of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Player Council and is a founding ambassador for the WTA-UNESCO Gender Equality Program, which addresses worldwide gender issues.

Williams was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness by her mother Oracene Williams and has indicated in interviews that she is one too. In a 2002 interview with The Observer, for example, Williams talked about her faith and said, “I know it’s not the most important thing for me to win the most Grand Slams and be remembered in this world. I certainly don’t have to win little tournaments here, there and everywhere, I don’t have to win at all.”

If the diagnosis forces Williams to retire from tennis, perhaps her drive and fame will lead her to become a spokesperson for the victims and families of autoimmune diseases, which affect women at a disproportionate rate.

What is Sjogren’s Syndrome?

The hallmark symptoms of Sojgren’s syndrome are dry eyes and dry mouth, but it can also cause organ dysfunction, extreme fatigue, and joint pain, according to the Sojgren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF). The organization says more than four million Americans suffer from the disorder, and nine out of 10 of them are women. About half also suffer from another autoimmune connective tissue disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or scleroderma.

Hope for Autoimmune Disease Sufferers

Insisde Edition anchor Deborah Norville is host of an internet talk show about rheumatoid arthritis called New Way RA. Norville’s mother was diagnosed with the disease when Norville was 10 years old and died from complications when Norville was 20.

In a 2009  interview with LifeScript, Norville said her mother’s diagnosis turned her world “upside down, put it in a jar, shook it up and spewed it all over the pavement.”

Her parents divorced and she and her sisters managed the household because their mother was bedridden. Norville said however, “There are blessings that come from everything. You could probably make an argument that my mom’s illness was a factor in all four of us [sisters] becoming incredibly capable, successful women. I think my mom is probably aware that we achieved some of that because of her illness.”

Norville, a Christian, is author of Thank You Power: Making the Science of Gratitude Work for You and said in the interview that gratitude resurrects the emotional memory of feeling good. “That’s a really good thing when you’re down in the dumps and are thinking, ‘I’ve got this crappy illness and these pills aren’t working.’ If you can find things in your life that make you feel grateful, you are going to feel better.”

Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week

Rest Ministries, a Joni & Friends affiliate, helps people suffering from all kinds of chronic illness turn their “illness detour” into a “pilgrimage of hope.” The ministry was founded in 1996 by rheumatoid arthritis sufferer Lisa Copen. Its website offers daily devotionals, a small group program, and online community. It is also sponsoring Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week September 12-18. The theme is Deep Breath, Start Fresh. For more information, check out Copen’s special message, as well as the video below.