How it feels to be diagnosed with arthritis at 13

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Natasha Trehan still shivers when she thinks back to her year in Grade 8 – when she started experiencing painful symptoms of arthritis and didn’t know what was going on.

« I couldn’t do things I liked, like pick up a tennis racket or play the piano, » recalled the 19-year-old, who suddenly felt throbbing pain in her wrists and arms.

For months she thought she had sprained her hands, and when the pain reached her feet and ankles, she knew something was seriously wrong.

It wasn’t until a classmate finally urged her to see a doctor that Trehan started down the road to her eventual diagnosis.

Trehan, like 6,000 Canadians under the age of 15, lives with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, or JIA, an incurable inflammatory disease that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints.

For Trehan, who lives with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, support comes from many places. « From my best friends, healthcare professionals, research groups, and now this new community I’m forming through Take a Pain Check. » (Nicole Bedford)

Diagnosed at age 13

Brianne Chou, the classmate who urged Trehan to see a doctor for her pain, said her friend could no longer hold a pencil. Chou had to take notes for her in class.

« I think it’s so important that we move away from the idea that only older people have arthritis because that’s the most common misconception, » Chou said.

By the time Trehan was diagnosed with arthritis, an MRI revealed that she already had significant damage to her joints, and she began a long road of medication and therapy to manage her pain.

« Being in my early teens and navigating an already confusing time in my life, I felt so alone and didn’t know anyone who could understand what I was going through, » Trehan said.

« I didn’t believe there were other people living with my disease. »

Trehan, right, says friends like Brianne Chou, left, helped her through her illness, most recently heading to Ottawa for one last road trip before parting ways for college. (Submitted by Raul Vivekanandan)

Managing homework and chronic illnesses

Her diagnosis meant that Trehan’s high school experience was not what she expected. Instead of practicing tennis, her after-school hours were filled with visits to the doctor and meetings with the school to talk about accommodation.

Trehan said she often felt judged and rejected by teachers for not looking sick enough to need more time and support, instead relying on friends who tried but sometimes struggled. understand his illness.

“There was a bit of a learning curve for all of us because we are so unaware of juvenile idiopathic arthritis,” said Rahul Vivekanandan, who sat with Trehan for hours as she received infusions. therapies in the hospital to relieve his pain.

Trehan first met Naomi Abrahams in the summer of 2022. The couple were diagnosed with arthritis as teenagers and contribute to Choice Research Labs in Ottawa, which focuses on chronic disease management. (Nicole Bedford/Ash Abraham/CBC)

How to “Do Pain Control”

In March 2021, Trehan was finishing her senior year of high school during the COVID-19 pandemic when she decided to start a podcast and online platform for young people with rheumatic and chronic illnesses.

« I wanted to make sure that other young people would never have the experience I had and feel alone. »

She recorded the first episode from her bedroom. She hoped it would strike a chord with other people who know what it’s like to navigate the life of a young person with a chronic invisible illness, and in particular the challenge of looking good one day and then struggle with simple things like lifting a suitcase the next day. .

« When you have arthritis, sometimes you’ll have to cancel plans or do a rain check due to a flare-up, » explained Trehan, who named his platform « Take a Pain Check. »

Within months, Trehan interviewed young people with arthritis from around the world and began creating a network of young people with rheumatoid diseases – like Naomi Abrahams, a second-year doctoral student at the University of Ottawa, who said much of the content resonated with his own experience.

« I was kind of pushed into adult care, » said Abrahams, who was diagnosed at 18 and lives with chronic pain throughout her body.

« I can have days with little or no pain, and on those days I can almost forget about my arthritis. But when the pain is there, it can dictate how my day goes. »

Abrahams said she was amazed to find so many other young adults like her on Trehan’s platform.

Chou, left, Trehan, middle, and Rahul Vivekanandan, right, all contribute to the Trehan Platform, an initiative that works to advocate for people with chronic conditions. (Ash Abraham/CBC)

New school, new community

Last fall, Trehan moved to Ottawa to pursue a degree in biomedical sciences at the University of Ottawa, where she plans to continue her podcast and build a network of support, whether through health or friendships that give him the courage to continue.

« My best friends supported me every step of the way. On the days when I was in pain or just wanted to give up, they encouraged me to believe in myself, » Trehan said.

« The support I’ve received from them and the chronic disease community has given me the confidence to stand up for my rights and become a voice for others. »

Nicole Bedford is an Ottawa-based filmmaker and media artist. She worked with CBC Ottawa Creator Network producers to bring Natasha Trehan’s story to life. (Nicole Bedford)


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