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The Phrase That Has Haunted Me Since I Was Diagnosed With Rheumatoid Arthritis

“You’re so young to have this.”

That phrase has haunted me since I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) at the age of 18 years old. Over the course of my 12-year ordeal dealing with the ups and downs of RA, I’ve been told this by almost every doctor, physician assistant, nurse, family member, friend, and even strangers.

In the beginning, I was numb to it, mainly because I was still really deep in the “denial” phase of accepting the fact that I had an illness with no cure. I never knew how to reply to this statement or if a reply was even warranted. I either just stared back blankly, like a deer caught in headlights or just murmured the word, “Yeah.”

Before I was diagnosed, I was a healthy teenager who grew up playing sports. I wasn’t fully aware of how autoimmune diseases truly affected people, until I experienced it myself.

That all changed four years later, when in college for my undergrad, I got offered an internship as a public relations intern for the Arthritis Foundation in Chicago, Illinois. During my experience there, I was able to learn how it was to work for a nonprofit.

One thing that was a major turning point and learning curve for me was going to Springfield, Illinois to advocate. I met many people my age who were diagnosed with RA and other arthritis-related conditions as babies or young children. Hearing their experiences scared me, as that was my firsthand look into what my life could or would be like in the future. The unknown was scary, as it is with anything we aren’t familiar with. However, there was a level of comfort knowing that I wasn’t alone in the fight. Especially that I wasn’t the only young person fighting, and that gave me a push to not give up hope.

I wouldn’t say I wasn’t prepared at that time, but my worldview and condition wasn’t affecting me as much as it has these past few years. I’ve learned that when people say things that chronically ill people hear all the time, the best response is to just educate. There is a need for awareness, and those who experience this personally or indirectly can be a huge driving force to help make change.

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.


  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your story Effie. I don’t know if you have seen this article from one of our contributors on the things not to say to someone with RA, but “you are too young to have arthritis” is number one:

    Glad to hear how you have learned to handle the condition and the situation around you. My wife, Kelly Mack (a contributor here) was diagnosed with JRA at two, so you can just imagine how many times she has heard she is too young. Thought you might like this article she did on self-efficacy – believing she could accomplish what she put her mind and effort to:

    Thanks for being part of the community and wishing you the best. Richard ( Team)

  • Kelly Dabel moderator
    2 years ago

    Effie, Thank you so much for sharing! I know your words will be encouraging to others in our community going through similar experiences. Love your attitude and perspective to raise awareness. You are making a difference and leading the change. We appreciate you being part of our community. Kelly, Team member

  • DesertStormTrooper
    2 years ago

    Amen! Thanks for sharing your story!

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