Merel Morskate

By Merel Morskate, Alberta, Canada, 17, diagnosed at age 7 with oligoarticular JIA

When I look back on my life, one thing always stands out: the fact that when I was 7 I was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, a disease that would take a lot out of me for 10 years and counting. When I was a kid, although I was too young to understand, I knew something in my life was very wrong right from the get go. It is very tough for a young child to experience something that comes out of nowhere. Throughout the years I have learned to deal with my own personal medical journey, but I experienced lots of roadblocks, distress and even good things along the way.

I think one of my main focuses in life – to get the word out about arthritis – is because people truly don’t understand that even children get arthritis. When I was first diagnosed, I knew I was different from all my peers. I wanted to be just like them. But they didn’t understand what I was going through, so they treated me differently, causing me to feel alone and depressed. Even at the beginning of my life living with this disease, nobody understood it.

Click here to watch Merel’s video about what it’s like to live with arthritis.

Throughout my years dealing with my illness, I learned a lot about patience. I started off not being able to find a treatment that worked for me and didn’t have too many side effects. Everything either just didn’t work, or made me feel worse than the arthritis did. After a solid eight years, I eventually began a drug that helped me through a lot of discomfort – and it still works to this day. But to get to this point, I truly have tried almost everything! It’s very hard for a child to experience slow process in getting better, but still end up having a treatment fail. That was my life for eight years. But lots of new drugs came out on the market, and there was constantly something new to try. You can’t ever give up; you just need to find the treatment or medicine that works for you.

I have seen a huge difference throughout the 10 years I’ve been living with this disease. My process, to get where I am now, was slow and painful, but eventually we found something. My brother, Koen, who also has arthritis, was diagnosed about a year ago.  Right away he was treated very aggressively because now-a-days they know patients have better results. My journey compared to my brother was a lot different because there was an age difference, and many years between our diagnoses.

I still think about it every day, but having the health care and support I do makes it a lot easier to deal with. I will continue to work hard in order to get even faster exploration into new treatments and to spread the word that kids can indeed also get arthritis.