At the age of seven, I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA). My arthritis was severe and the doctors at BC Children’s Hospital did their very best to keep me pain free. For the most part, I enjoyed a “normal childhood” and played competitive ice hockey. Unfortunately, by ten, I was on so many different drugs that part of my kidney died and from that point on I required monthly blood work. By twelve, I needed surgery on my right knee, because it became too swollen and inflamed. As time went on, the disease worsened, and by fourteen, I was forced to quit ice hockey. Thankfully, I was able to stay active with floor hockey throughout high school when I wasn’t in pain.
By eighteen, I decided to stop taking all medications because I was in remission but my doctors advised against this. For the first time in over ten years, I was in remission and medication free. I decided to take a couple of years off after high school and enjoy life. I went to music festivals, went camping and snowboarding, and learned how to wakeboard. I was able to enjoy a typical young adult lifestyle by going to concerts and nightclubs without worrying about if my joints would flare.
By twenty-two, the pain returned and quickly worsened. A year of scans, x-rays, and blood tests that failed to identify anything eventually led me to visit a rheumatologist. I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), another form of arthritis. At twenty-one, I decided to go to school and I enrolled at KPU. For two years, I suffered with unbearable hip, spine, and neck pain that often prevented me from sleeping. I never once told a professor that I had AS, because I didn’t want to be treated differently from my peers. I have found that over the year’s people have a difficult time understanding what an inflammatory disease feels like, because for the most part it is invisible on the outside.
I have found that AS is worse than rheumatoid arthritis because of the never-ending fatigue I have experienced. In any given year, I get a good night sleep less than what could be counted on with one hand so normally by mid-day I am ready for a nap, but I rarely can because of school or work.
Now that I have graduated! I have been applying to get into medical school, including UBC and once accepted I will try to become a rheumatologist. Additionally, I am working towards becoming a nurse practitioner. Either way I know having a lifetime of experience as a patient will provide me with compassion and empathy required to practice medicine.
I’ve had arthritis for seventeen years and have recognized that I would not be where I am without my family and friends and daily support is essential. And I believe deep down that if I can beat arthritis once I can do it again. I have never really known a life without pain, but I welcome a world without the disease or its symptoms.
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