Almost everyone will be faced sometime during his lifetime with a catastrophic illness or injury, but there are ways to deal with that in dignity, a BYU professor of family sciences says.

Barbara Vance addressed the topic, "Who Has Sinned?: Catastrophic Illness in the Family" in a lecture Tuesday night, saying "75 percent of the people in the audience will one day experience a catastrophic illness or injury."You don't expect it to happen, but catastrophic illness is not for sissies. Take it from me."

Vance is a survivor of a catastrophic illness. She had a stroke two years ago and since then has learned to accept "the new Barbara."

In the final speech of the Brigham Young University Family Living Lecture Series, Vance said, "Catastrophic illness or injury is as unique as a thumb print. Your experience may be different from my experience like my thumb print is different from yours, but there are enough similarities" to give hope to those dealing with illnesses.

Vance defined catastrophic illness as any ailment that lasts a long time, is physically debilitating and drains family finances. Such illnesses include a stroke, heart disease and cancer.

Catastrophic illness happens mostly to those over 40 years old, but many people are facing it earlier by developing atrocious living habits, she said.

Speaking to the young college students, Vance said: "Many of you have clogged arteries already and many of you have high blood pressure. They are silent killers."

Catastrophic illness affects all members of a family, not just the ill person, she said. It can happen any time to any person.

In biblical times, many people wondered if illness was caused by sin, but Vance said illness was a way for "the works of God to be manifest in others through healing."

During her speech, the professor gave several suggestions for dealing with catastrophic illnesses and injuries. It is important to realize that "you are not your illness or injury," Vance said. "You are far more than that. Perhaps part of your body is dead, but you are not dead."

"You can't hold on to an illness or injury unless you want to. Do you want people to know you as a stroke? It's up to you to be you who you were before your illness or injury."

Vance said a person has a choice to be a victim or thriver, not just a survivor. Self-pity is the worst enemy a person can have, but it's important to realize that "you didn't cause it (the illness), and neither did anyone else. It just happened."

Allowing the body time to heal and self-adjust is also an important step in recovering from such an illness, she said.

"That is not popular in the world we live in, but you need to listen to your body," Vance said. "Perfection is not the goal, but progression is."

The survivor also has a tendency to be egocentric and focus actions and thoughts on himself, but talking about the illness or injury is necessary for recovery, she said.

A survivor also expect others to read their mind and understand what they need or want, but that can't be done unless they are informed by him or her, Vance said.

Grieving and letting go of who they were before is the final step to recovery, she said. Survivors of a catastrophic illness have different challenges, but they have the same personality.

People associated with survivors need to spend time getting to know the new person and trying to understand how he feels, Vance said. "Don't take away their independence, and separate yourself emotionally."

Enjoying now and making the most of what life brings can turn a catastrophic illness into a stepping stone, she said.

Vance, a professor at BYU for 21 years, is a co-author of the Fitness For Life manual used throughout LDS Church colleges and universities.