Childhood Arthritis Awareness Month: “We don’t look sick, but we are”.

March 1, 2017

Like many twelve year olds, Rylund  enjoys playing hockey, going on hikes, biking, swimming and hanging out with his friends and siblings. 

However, there are some days when he struggles with these activities. Days when his ankle, knee, wrist or jaw hurt too much to take part as a result of juvenile arthritis. 

“Not a lot of people know about juvenile arthritis. Many people think arthritis is an old person disease,” Rylund, one of 277,200 Atlantic Canadians under the age of 65 living with arthritis, describes. “My friends have a hard time with it because they don’t understand. They don’t say much and it’s difficult to explain because some days it is hard to do things, and other days it’s not.” 

At two years old, Rylund’s mother noticed he was limping and had a swollen ankle. As is often the case for children with juvenile arthritis, the first few trips to the hospital left doctors stumped. Rylund stayed in the hospital, had his leg casted and two months later was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.

Arthritis, often referred to as an “invisible disease”, causes physical discomfort that cannot be seen but is almost always felt by those living with its chronic pain. Since his diagnosis, arthritis has played a role in most aspects of Rylund’s life. While doctors have been supportive and understanding, finding the right medication has been a challenge. 

“Some of my medication affects my liver. Others lower my immune system, so I get sick more quickly than other people do. I have a phobia of needles that I go to a psychologist for. This makes it so I have trouble with bloodwork and treatments. I also get nosebleeds that are hard to stop because of the medicine I take.” 

Even trips to the orthodontist have to keep arthritis in mind. Rylund currently wears plastic, removable braces that correct his teeth and combat the damage caused by arthritis in his jaw. The plastic decreases the cuts and scrapes metal braces often cause, lowering the chances of infection to which Rylund is highly susceptible. 

As many as 24,000, or 3 in every 1,000, Canadian children and teens are living with childhood arthritis. The Arthritis Society works to handback childhood by supporting research, programs and other initiatives specifically targeted to address the challenges facing kids and families affected by childhood arthritis. While this important work happens all year round, March is Childhood Arthritis Awareness Month, a month dedicated to making the pain facing kids like Rylund visible. 

“I wish people would understand that we don’t look sick but we are. We need to listen to doctors and take medicine, get blood work done, and have eye exams. These help us to stay as healthy as we can be.”