Catherine - 16 Years Old

My name is Catherine, and I am 16 years old. I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis right before my freshman year of high school. (I also got a diagnosis of thyroid disease, ischiofemoral impingement, and polycystic ovarian syndrome around the same time.) This was a lot to deal with after 15 years of a perfectly healthy childhood.

I had been having problems with my major joints and tendons since the sixth grade. I was diagnosed with tendonitis in my legs, shoulders, and elbows along with severs disease in my heels. This was explained to be a disease that caused the growth plates in my heels not to fuse. Even after 4 years in and out of physical therapy and laser treatments I still had no pain relief. Towards the end of eighth grade I began to complain of lower back pain and problems with my hips. I hadn't even competed in the mile test for gym class in two years. When I finally got my diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis, I was so relieved to finally have an answer, but that relief was short-lived. I realized what the next few years of my life would include difficult treatments and a multitude of tests.

I have been on every single anti-inflammatory medication that you can think of. They've even tried steroids. Nothing has helped to relieve my pain. Sometimes this makes me feel like an alien that has no reaction to medication. Around this time last year my doctor decided to start me on Enbrel injections. They were weekly shots that I had to receive at home. I was scared out of my mind. I hate needles and was scared of the pain. While the Enbrel hasn't helped my pain, it has slowed the progression of my disease and the imminent bone growths and fusion in my spine. So for now, this is a win. It is still really tough, but I remain optimistic because my rheumatologist said that I have the potential to outgrow my disease.

All of this has been incredibly difficult on my mind. It is a lot to experience at such a young age when most of my friends don't have a care in the world. Arthritis on top of my many other health problems sometimes feels like too much for me to handle, but it is great support groups like S.W.I.F.T. that help me cope. I am excited to continue cheerleading and being part of the swim team for my school in the fall. I know that ankylosing spondylitis cannot stop me from enjoying life as an average teenager.

~ Catherine