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June’s fighting and funny spirit

June’s fighting and funny spirit

Photography of June HendersonJune Henderson’s life is all about never stopping.

Slipping through the cracks in the foster care system during the 1950s didn’t stop her. Neither did not being able to read until she was 18; being held hostage while employed as a social worker or working on the front lines during the COVID pandemic.

So why should arthritis stop her?

June’s fought a lot of fights. Her fight with arthritis started when she was 16 and felt intense pain in her hands. It took 20 years to be properly diagnosed and treated for rheumatoid arthritis.”

Having a positive mindset and an unshakable faith have helped June process and manage her arthritis and the pain it brings. Her sense of humour also keeps her going. “Why didn’t the chicken cross the road? Because it was in a fowl mood,” she jokes.

June grew up as a ward of the state in a foster system that let her slip through the cracks at school and at home. At 18, she tackled her illiteracy by reading the dictionary on her hourly commute to and from work. The family she was living with helped her with her reading.

At age 35, she enrolled in college, earning a diploma in social studies. She then went on to work as a social worker in a men’s prison. One unfortunate day, she was held hostage during a prison riot. She says making jokes and praying for a peaceful outcome got her through it. After the hostage situation, June shifted gears and went to work for the government. Every morning, she would wake up and sit on her hands to help with the swelling and pain. This led her to re-examine her health and finally, she got the right diagnosis for her symptoms.

Once diagnosed, she called the Arthritis Society and asked, “Where do I start?” She promptly enrolled in an eight-week program that taught her about the disease, how to manage it, what treatment options are available, and offered peer support. So impressed with what she got from this program, she started volunteering for the Arthritis Society’s Info Line.

“The Arthritis Society was and is a huge help. It’s so important that people have the right and most up-to-date information about this disease. Arthritis knows no age, race, religion or gender. It can affect anyone.”

At 63, she decided it was time to fulfil a life-long dream – to earn her university degree. She enrolled at Ryerson University in Toronto, working with the admissions centre to get the accommodations she needed; a note taker, extra time for exams and an understanding that she may not be able to attend every class. She’ll be formally graduating with a degree in Arts and Sciences with Honours in October, right around her 70th birthday. Sitting in the audience will be a member of the family who first helped her learn to read 50 years ago.