Growing up, I remember watching my dad massage my mom’s neck and shoulders. He’d apply ointment to her joints, as she would explain to me she had arthritis. Fast forward to today, and I too am in my 40s; I recently learned after an MRI that I have arthritis in my cervical spine.
When you think of arthritis, we normally envision an elderly person struggling to walk, with a cane in hand. You hear more stories of younger adults developing arthritis. But did you know that arthritis also affects children and teenagers too?
Arthritis is one of the more common disorders resulting in chronic disability in children and teens in Canada. While we think that arthritis is an “older person’s” disease, juvenile arthritis can affect young people, with potentially devastating effects on developing bodies.
March is Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month, and I had the opportunity to chat with Nicole Barry whose 10-year-old son lives with a form of juvenile arthritis – juvenile ankylosing spondylitis which affects the spine.
Nicole’s son, Conor, first began to complain of pain in his left foot. Nicole thought he may have outgrown his running shoes, so she bought him a few new pairs. A few weeks later, Conor’s gym teacher called Barry, and told her she noticed he was limping, and favouring his right foot.
After several doctor visits and x-rays, medical professionals attributed the foot pain to growing pains. But the issue persisted.
About a month later, Conor was admitted to the hospital after blood work came back irregular. After a week’s stay and several tests, doctors thankfully ruled out bone cancer. But his diagnosis turned out to be arthritis.
“When I was told he likely had arthritis I thought phew! No biggie. Take some anti-inflammatory pills and stretch out your hands, like my Grandpa does. I wasn’t aware of the different types of arthritis and how it can impact your internal organs,” Barry admitted.
Barry has switched careers to reduce stress on the family, and to be available for medical appointments, sometimes as many as three times a week to check on worrisome symptoms.
“Life has indeed changed for us. Managing the appointments, medicines, insurance forms, and his symptoms is a lofty task – one of course I am happy to do,” Barry said.
“I worry about his length of life and that his type of arthritis is degenerative, so I worry about his mobility as he ages. But, he is incredibly resilient and strong and I know he will strive in whatever does in life, Barry says.
Despite his worrying condition, Barry remains optimistic.
“Conor is so mature, so kind and empathetic, so intelligent. I am so proud of him and how he manages and thrives in spite of this disease.”
For more information and resources, please visit the Arthritis Society website.
Disclosure: This post is proudly sponsored by AbbVie Canada. As always, the opinions expressed herein are my own.