Learning to Laugh Through the Challenges

Coping with a chronic illness is always difficult. Having a group helps.

A lot.

Loyola Marymount University’s Chronic Illness Group is marking its 10th year of bringing together students who are facing challenges that can seem insurmountable – for companionship, dinners and presentations.

“And laughter,” added Lorianne Harrison-Reyes. She started the group after a first-year student, Caitlin Lopes ’14, came to her to suggest it. Harrison-Reyes said the students support each other and “learn to live a full, thriving life.” Harrison-Reyes believes the LMU Chronic Illness Group is one of only three in the nation.

Harrison-Reyes is well placed to encourage and be a resource for the group members: She survived a stroke in 1999, three months after she began working at LMU. Now, she is a resource case manager in the Division of Student Affairs. But in the course of her 18-year career, she has held several positions, giving her a strong knowledge base of the university. She is also a resident minister and Title IX community resource administrator, giving her a deep understanding of students and their challenges.

“Community is the greatest benefit of the group,” Harrison-Reyes said. “It is a support, encourages healing, and allows the students to be their best selves. They learn to laugh away the challenges.”

The group meets every other week for dinner, discussions and often a presentation on aspects of wellness. Members have a variety of long-term conditions, including chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, cancer, diabetes and Crohn’s disease.

Christopher Mozian ’15 told the Los Angeles Loyolan that the group “gave me a place where I could relate to people and talk to people who understand the struggles of living with a chronic disease. It has also provided me with the confidence to be more open about my disease and not ashamed to be who I am.”

Harrison-Reyes is a resident minister in Leavey 6, where she and her husband of 12 years, Alan Reyes, administrative coordinator for Student Psychological Services and the Marymount Institute, are available to assist students whenever the need arises. Daily, they are able to share with students helpful hints for stress management, study skills, how to meditate, how to utilize the daily Examen to learn from each day and how to focus on the few things that they can give 100 percent to, Harrison-Reyes said.