By Nicole Doyle, Miss Teen Minnesota 2015
As a three-year-old at the pediatrician’s office, I did not know what was going on. But I remember this day distinctly. I remember my doctor extending, bending, and checking all of my joints. The next thing I remember is entering a lab while holding my big purple stuffed bunny and squeezing tight. I did not want to be poked and prodded, but I had to.
This blood test forever changed my life. “I’m sorry to tell you this but your daughter has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis,” said the doctor. My parents were clueless: “kids can get arthritis?” Shortly after my diagnosis, we were sent to Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. They care for children and teens like me who have a broad range of rheumatic and inflammatory conditions. We were also sent because at this time, they were the only facility with pediatric rheumatologists in Minnesota. Thanks to the knowledgeable doctors at Gillette, I started an intense treatment plan to get this disease under control with a drug called methotrexate.
The treatment was okay at the start, but then I started to get sick. I was soon old enough to know what the medication led to: sickness, nausea, vomiting, and me missing school and activities. I remember being a little spitfire: sneaking upstairs claiming that I would only drink my medicine “alone,” yet secretly I was pouring it down the sink. Soon after, though, I would experience continuous flair-ups. Dr. Richard Vehe educated me on the importance of taking my medication consistently. I learned some valuable things that I’d like to share with other children and families dealing with this diagnosis.
For Kids and Teens: You are not alone! Treatment may stink at times, and side effects may be difficult, but it is very important! In fact, early drug treatment can prevent serious, permanent damage to your joints. And I encourage you to find a way to overcome arthritis through your strength and your hobbies, something that you like. It could be sports, artwork, blogging, anything. Find your “thing” and don’t let your diagnosis define you.
For Parents: Be your child’s support system. Stand by them, listen to them, and do your best to help them! Early drug treatment can prevent serious joint damage, enabling to your child to live an active, full childhood despite juvenile arthritis.
Believe it or not, this disease started as a negative for my family and me. But thanks to the encouragement from the wonderful staff at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare and my own willpower, I have now turned my diagnosis into a positive! I have learned to live with this disease, and fight it too! I am living proof that anyone can overcome JRA. I even played hockey and lacrosse for Lakeville South High School.
One of the biggest things that helped me overcome JRA is pageants. I recently entered Miss Teen Minnesota International because I wanted a weekend to be myself, get glammed up, have fun, meet new people, but most importantly spread the word that “Kids get arthritis too!” Little did I know I would now have a whole year of being able to raise awareness!
As Miss Teen Minnesota, I am honored to speak at schools, events, fundraisers, and even with children and their families. Sharing my story and informing others about this disease is one of my favorite things to do—and I encourage other children living with arthritis to do the same. Join the Juvenile Arthritis Walk, make a team, talk about it, raise money to find a cure, and spread the word.