Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Image of confident woman walking from right to left with a ghost version trying to hold her back

Golden Years, Re-Written

I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at age 20.

At the time, I had an “A” plan. I was going to finish my undergraduate degree. I would clock more internship hours and exactly a year later, return for veterinary school. After that, I would relocate to Britain, India or New Zealand (hey, I need options!). I was going to work with endangered species through a conservation group. I was going to work until I couldn’t anymore which was hopefully, never.

I had it down. I was ready for my adult life to start.

My body had other plans.

Around 19, I noticed odd symptoms. I was extremely fatigued and painful. I should have known there was something else going on but at the time, I thought I was just frustrated and unhappy. I had a tough time my second year of college. I was learning the same things I did in high school and I didn’t really enjoy it anymore. I thought the previous symptoms were a manifestation of my boredom.

Career and rheumatoid arthritis

Let me just quickly say that I want to go to vet school. I re-started my job as a technician and I loved every second of it. I want to work with animals, I want to diagnose them, and I want to make them feel better. I want to work with the pet parents and help them understand and make tough decisions. I want it all.

But, I can’t. At least, not now. I struggle to work full time. How can I go to vet school? Aside from the obvious full day plus more, we have to manage our own animals and learn surgical procedures. How am I supposed to do those when I don’t have the strength or dexterity to open a jar?

Rheumatoid Disease changed my life and I became depressed. I HAD EVERYTHING PLANNED OUT. Whether that is a good or bad thing I don’t know but I knew my goals and how to get them. Not anymore. I didn’t know who I was.

What happens now?

The idea of doing what I loved until I ended up a pile of ashes vanished. What would happen to me in my later years, anyways? If my body acted out at 20 years, in what state would I be at 65? 75? 90?

Enjoying a fun, carefree retirement, sipping cocktails poolside (not actually what I envision, just painting a picture here) seemed completely unattainable. How was I going to get to this dream state if I couldn’t pull a 9 to 5er?

It took some soul-searching and re-writing but I swapped my goals. I’ve actually spent my 20s enjoying my life, exploring my hobbies, saving my money and working as I can. Ever since I was 11 and decided on “veterinarian” I held a crystal ball. I knew my future. When I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Disease my poor swollen joints dropped that very precarious china and my life shattered in front of my eyes.

If you’ve ever tried to patch something up from a million pieces you know either it’s impossible or it is never quite the same as before.

If vet school is even an option, I don’t know. If it is, I won’t be going when I am 23 years old but in my late 30s or 40s! There is nothing wrong with that. It’s just different. It’s life.

I had to change mine so I did. I don’t know what my later years hold. I may be disabled, maybe I won’t be but all I know right now is that I should enjoy my life while my condition is under control and I have every opportunity open to me.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • katwie
    12 months ago

    Well said! I too have had to re-route life after a diagnosis at 25. At the time being a full-time nursing student, planing a wedding, and working two jobs I just assumed it was normal to be fatigued. Boy was I wrong, and what a roller coaster ride it’s been since diagnosis! What are some of the biggest challenges you find you struggle with, and how do you overcome? Just curious, always interested to hear from others with a similar story of my own…

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    12 months ago

    Hey @katwie!

    When I returned home after school I tried working three jobs. There was no way my body could handle it!

    Honestly, my biggest challenge is fatigue. I find I have to rest a lot and it eats away at my day! I often feel like I can’t get anything done.

    Otherwise, strength is also a huge issue for me. I have to be quite fit and strong to work with animals (often they are larger than me) and the RA pain and swelling have zapped me of my former strength.

    May I ask? Did you finish your nursing degree?

    Thanks for commenting on my article!

  • katwie
    12 months ago

    Thank you,

    Partially, I have a nursing degree but had to stop while I was in my bachelors program. Haven’t yet returned back to school because as you’ve also mentioned there’s so much unknown with RA I don’t even know if I’d be able to work long enough in order to pay off all the student debt I would acquire 🙁

  • Pwilcox
    12 months ago

    Monica, never give up your dreams. I hope you are working with a good Rheumatologist. I am much older than you and was diagnosed in 2015 at age 63 after debilitating pain came on suddenly after radiation for breast cancer. A 40-year career with the same company, (never been sick, never took a sick day, not one), 21 normal mammograms, then wham! Early detection breast cancer. It should have been a good scenario. All I needed was a lumpectomy and 10 radiation treatments. Long story short: The sudden onset pain after radiation was a mystery to 12 medical professionals. I was forced into early retirement. I let an orthopedic Dr. do total shoulder replacement on my left shoulder because he told me that is where my pain was coming from. My pain got worse after surgery. Finally, after 18 months, a light bulb when off in my family doctor’s head after I told him I could not bear the pain any longer and wanted to die. He tested me for RA. My inflammation numbers were off the chart. He kept apologizing. I have no family history of breast cancer or RA. I did not fit anyone’s profile of ‘RA’. Doctors do not routinely test patients for RA and I did not know enough to ask because I had never used the word in a sentence, did not know anyone that had it, did not even know what it was.

    Finally, in the fall of 2015 my Dr. referred me to a Rheumatologist in Charlotte, NC. He told me I should have never had shoulder replacement. Weirdly, this orthopedic Dr. had scheduled me for total replacement on my right shoulder. My new Rheumatologist told me to cancel that surgery immediately. After a year of hit and miss, I began Remicade infusions in April, 2016. I go every 8 weeks for an IV. These biologics have made a big difference in my life. My RA is mostly under control and my husband and I are traveling, hiking, walking, enjoying life and making future travel plans.

    There are many treatments on the market today, and I pray you find the right one for you. Maybe you can’t be a Veterinarian, and just maybe you can. Perhaps there is another plan for you that you can’t see right now, another career path that will bring you fulfillment and happiness. There is life an RA diagnosis. Seize every day and celebrate it. I am cheering for you and praying for you.

  • katwie
    12 months ago

    Very well said! I too was diagnosed in 2015, but at the age of 25. Started on methotrexate, failed Humira and it was a fight tooth and nail with insurance companies to finally receive remicade…I have to go every 4 weeks currently but I honestly believe it’s added to my quality of life immensely. I work full-time as a hospice nurse and sometimes it’s a struggle to make through the week but as you’ve stated a supportive rheumatologist and strong support system make a difference!

  • Indigo2
    12 months ago

    Monica, we never know how things will be & to adjust with grace is all we can do. Blessings & always keep hope close to heart.

  • kat-elton
    1 year ago

    Hi Monica, First I want to say as a kid with JRA I had dreams of being a wild animal vet with my big strong younger brother as my assistant…As you can imagine, that didn’t work out, especially since my brother had no interest in being my side-kick! Anyway, I like your style, and your plans. Keep on having wild dreams and enjoying all life has to offer, and thanks again for this article

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    12 months ago

    Hey Kat! Thanks!! Oh gosh, I would love to be a wild animal vet but I guess I could settle for a small animal one.

    When I told my dad I still wanted to be a wild animal vet his first question was “how are you going to get your medications?” Which is a totally valid answer.

    I’ll cross that bridge when I get there, for now, I am happy just working towards vet school in Fort Collins!

    Thanks!! ~Monica

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    1 year ago

    That is a great outlook. But still do not give up your dream of vet school. Anything worth dreaming about is worth doing.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    12 months ago

    Thanks Rick! Everyone thinks I’m a little crazy for continuing to work towards vet school but why can’t I still do it? It may look a bit different, or take me longer to get there but I’m sure it’s possible!

  • Daniel Malito moderator
    1 year ago

    @mysengupta. Monica, if I could tell you how many times RA messed up my grand plans, well, I’d have a lot of stories to tell. We plans and RA laughs, even career wise I’ve had to start over more than once. We just have to do as best we can when we can, what more is there? Good post. Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    12 months ago

    Thanks, Daniel!!

    Right now, that’s all I can do, I guess. It still upsets me but I think the more I get used to my RA and how I have to live my life the easier and more open I am to change!

  • Poll