ME MYSELF & I
Okay I'm going to talk about my story, I promise I'll keep it short...
In the lead up to my diagnosis 5 years ago I remember some injuries that caused me to go to receive medical attention. I suffered with achilles tendonitis for about a year, which can be caused by the inflammatory process in RA which affects the joints, affecting the connective tissue too. I also had a swollen knuckle at one point, that I thought I had broken but got told it was just bruised.
When the symptoms properly started I was in a three year musical theatre course at college, yes that’s right I was dancing for about 8 hours a day! I had just come out, and also was under a lot of pressure to work hard at college every day whilst living away from home so I was under a lot of stress. It started off with a lump in my wrist, I just assumed I’d slightly injured it so ignored it as most of us dancers do. It then got to the point within the next two weeks that I could no longer put my hair up or do my makeup. It was time to do something about it. I went to the walk in centre with what I thought was a broken wrist? I had no idea how id done that but that was the only explanantion in my mind.
When I told them my symtoms and pains ect they told me I may have juvenile arthritis and to make an appointment with my GP. When saying the word ‘Arthritis’ I was like sorry what? I thought old people only got arthritis? So I made an appointment with my GP who confirmed that it could be juvenile arthritis but to await blood tests and X-Rays in 4 weeks time. 4 Weeks to get the blood test, another 2 weeks to get the results to then get treatment after that. I couldn’t use my hands by this point so the thought of waiting around for all of these appointments and not taking part in college properly scared me. So... my parents to the rescue. After phoning them and explaining the suspected ‘A’ word, they decided to go private to speed up the process and get in contact with a top rheumatology consultant in Southampton.
After many blood tests, X-Rays, physical examinations and appointments, a week later I received the diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Oh. I was completely gutted. A chronic, incurable disease that id have to deal with for the rest of my life. At the age of 19?! What?!
Good news, they had caught it early so there was no permanent damage on the X-Rays, so as long as I stay on my tablets my RA will stay at the same level it is.
My initial worry was my career, how on earth would I be a dancer with a physically and mentally demanding disease. Doctors said it'd be unlikely id have a sustained dancing career, as soon as I heard that I had a two week breakdown at home and couldn’t get off the sofa for a while. The thought of going back to college feeling a completely different person was daunting. I was also SO embarrassed I had to tell my teachers and friends I had an ‘old persons’ disease, that I knew most people had no idea about.
I was initially given a steroid injection, to deal with my symptoms within hours and this lasted a couple of weeks whilst I sorted my medication. I was then put on Methotrexate 6x 10mg every Saturday, Hydroxychloroquine 200mg every day, and Folic Acid. I also started on three monthly blood tests to do a full blood count and liver profile, to test the levels of methotrexate. I am now on 6monthly blood tests as they were happy with my levels so far. I went home and did a lot of research on my new lifestyle; no drinking, a sustained diet, certain do’s and donts, tablets for the rest of my life, it was all a lot to take in.
Okay so after a lot of tears (I never cry) and endless support from my family and friends I went back to college. I spoke with my principals who spoke to all of my teachers for me so I didn't have to constantly talk about it. I told some of my close friends for moral support and got back to doing what I love.
I got some sickness when first taking the tablets, a common side effect of methotrexate, but my symptoms started easing up and I physically felt more like myself in a long time. I could again live my normal life, just with a few new tweaks.
I am now pursuing my dream job of a Professional Dancer, I have just completed my third cruise contract and am awaiting my fourth. It feels like even more of an accomplishment when I thought I'd be forced to give up at one point!
When you deal with the obstacles in life at your own pace and surrounded by love and support you can adapt to your new life.