I started my studies in 2012 and all was going smoothly in my career and with my education until 2015, when I discovered that I had a tumour.
This turned out to be non-cancerous, but it was very big and required a seven-hour operation to remove it. The surgeon (who was a big rugby fan) described it as being the size of a size three rugby balls!
I recovered from the operation quickly and I was able to carry on with my studies. However, I soon began getting severe inflammation in all my joints. This progressively got worse over Christmas 2015 and into 2016 and I ended up needing three more operations in early 2016. Although this was supposed to help me, it actually made the problems with my joints accelerate and by April/May 2016 I was in incredible pain in more or less every joint of my body.
I was eventually diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in the summer of 2016; this is a degenerative autoimmune system disease, where the immune system becomes defective and attacks the joints until they become fused and deformed. The treatment I am receiving has slowed the degeneration; however, there isn’t a cure and it will continue to get worse. Before my treatment started in the summer of 2016 the disease had progressed to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed, get dressed by myself or do most basic tasks without my wife helping me.
Even now that I’m receiving the treatment I can’t walk further than a few hundred yards at most without a lot of pain and I have permanent and irreparable damage to some joints including my hip, where I need a replacement. However, I am too young at 32 to have that just yet; I need to squeeze out as much as I can from the one I have. I take a number of drugs daily and have weekly injections to treat the condition and manage the pain.
It has been a really tough 18 months, but I am proud that I was able to finish my degree (aided by my Student Adviser’s support and advice). I am also really proud to say that off the back of my degree, I was able to secure a position with Royal Mail, which has given me a good pay rise and step up in the career ladder. I am currently really struggling to stay in employment but I had ambitions before this disease, which is why I took the course, and I am hoping the doctors can improve things further so I can see them out. I take great comfort in the fact I will always have this degree to fall back on in the future.