On January 21st I turned 25 years old. It was my first birthday without my grandmother. Every year she would give me a handwritten birthday card on her floral print stationery, with her neat handwriting always signing, “with love, Grandma Minnie”. Her cards meant the world to me because I knew how much effort it took for my grandmother to hold a pen.
In 1961, at the age of 32, Minnie was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). For as long as I remember, her hands and fingers were twisted from the ulnar deviation that is so typical of RA. That never stopped her from patiently writing out pages and pages of addition and subtraction questions for me when I was a little girl. Trained as a teacher, she shared her knowledge long after she stopped working.
Minnie passed away on August 1, 2014 at the age of 85. She was the center of our close-knit family and her absence is felt every day. At her funeral, we suggested donations to The Arthritis Society in lieu of flowers. After her passing, my mother Lorna and I tossed around the idea of taking a trip together to Peru to see Machu Picchu. I did some research and it just seemed like a big endeavor to organize so it sat on the backburner.
Then, on my birthday, my mother forwarded me an email she’d received that day from The Arthritis Society promoting a Charity Challenge trek to Machu Picchu. It was even scheduled around the same time we had talked about going. We had the same thoughts: a fundraiser for arthritis? To Machu Picchu? And it’s my birthday? This wasn’t just a coincidence – this was Minnie’s divine intervention. We were going.
My grandmother isn’t the only person my mother and I are doing this trek for. My mom’s sister, Glenda, was diagnosed with RA at age 24. She continues to live with the effects to this day. My best friend Danielle is, like me, a critical care nurse: we became friends through work shortly after I started nursing in 2012. She logs 12-hour shifts of hard physical work, and you’d never know that she too has RA – diagnosed when she was barely one year old.
Besides having RA, these three women have something else in common: I have never heard them complain. Not through hip replacements gone septic, rheumatoid nodule removals, tendons severing and reattaching, cataract removals, getting 12 IVs inserted in a single afternoon – never. Their strength and perseverance have inspired my mother and me to trek to Machu Picchu in support of the Arthritis Society so that a cure will be found.
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Massey Drive, Newfoundland