By Kate McKenna
Being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at age fifteen was surreal. I didn’t understand how it had happened, what was going to happen or what it ment to my life. They told me everything I needed to know but it didn’t make sense. I was in total denial and had deemed myself invincible – I wasn’t going to let this get to me.
I had to start going for naps during and after school – not very cool when you’re a teenager and all your friends are full of life. They were very supportive of me though and I am so grateful to them for getting me through that difficult year.
When I reached sixth year, the RA was so sore that I couldn’t tie my shoe laces, button my shirt or brush my hair. My little sister had to come in every morning to help me get dressed and help put up my hair. It was even sore to walk. I felt like I had been reverted back to a child – with my parents having to cut up my meals for me because I couldn’t use cutlery properly.
Obviously, I had to give up hockey. My mom encouraged me to coach instead, which was very beneficial to me in the long run. It was hard not to be on the team anymore though but I really enjoyed coaching.
There were a few key people during this time that helped me so much. I was going to my GP, Ciara, once a week to get injections – she was so good to me during all this and helped with the psychological side of things as well as the physical. I was very depressed. Between the actual physical pain and the impact it was having on my life, I felt like I was losing the will to live.
I managed to do my leaving cert – I was allowed to take breaks during the exam which was helpful because it was so sore to write at the time. I didn’t expect much but my parents encouraged me to just do it. I passed the exams, but not with very good results. Of course I was disappointed, but very proud that I had done them. I promised myself that when I got better I would go to college and get a degree.
At this stage, I was seeing the late Dr Michael Kelly in Blackrock Clinic. We had developed a good relationship and he was always so nice to me. We used to make eachother laugh – which is nice when you are getting cortisone injections into every joint in your body! He made me think that it was not such a depressing thing and that I could live a normal life – “do whatever you can do”. I’m sorry I never got to tell him just how much he influenced my life before he died.
It has been 12 years since I was diagnosed, which actually seems like a lot when you put it down on paper! Apart from the occasional flare up, I am in good health. I am still taking painkillers and anti-inflammatory tablets every day, as well as injecting Methotrexate and and anti-tnf every week. But it’s just the norm at this stage!
I am working a job I love, working indirectly with children; I am playing hockey and even completed a triathlon recently! I am studying a degree at night and hope someday to work as a clinical psychologist. I have never felt as good.
RA has taught me a lot – it’s taught me you are stronger than you think you are, and even if something is painful, you can get through it. It’s taught me that good friends stick around when you’re in good form and bad. But most of all, it’s taught me that you should always “do what you can do”.
For information on support services available for people affected by Juvenile Arthritis, see the Juvenile Arthritis section of our website: http://www.arthritisireland.ie/news/newsItem.php?id=79