Hi!  My name is Heather Neumann and I'm an 18 year old freshman at the University of Texas at Austin. When I was nine, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and given all sorts of different  medications. I learned that if I didn't go into a remission, my life wouldn't be too swell. 

Well, I was pretty upset about it all! I played piano, loved all sports , was good at art and was being told that I might not be able to do these things when I got older.  That's when I decided to take take charge of my life. I took things one day at a time and pushed myself to give 110% at everything. 

I continued to take piano until I went to high school, even though it was not always possible to practice when my hands got really bad.  And I played every sport offered at my school, however tough it was on my body.  Every time someone said "You can't do that, you're sick"  I strived not only to do it, but to do it better than anyone else. 

It was very hard and it often hurt, but I learned that my spirit was stronger than my body. My spirit encouraged me to continue my activities and my studies, while my weak immune system cautioned me not to overdo. 

It was frustrating for me when my mind wanted to do more than  my body would let it.  Sometimes  my hands would swell and I couldn't wear my class ring. I was  embarrassed. Sometimes I had to ask my boyfriend to carry my books because my shoulder hurt or because my knees decided not to work half-way down the hall. I was often weak. 

Through the bad times, though, my family and my wonderful friends stood by me. They never made me feel guilty for asking for help, though most of the time I didn't even have to ask--they noticed when  I was hurting and would  bring me lunch. And they'd offer to take notes for me when my fingers wouldn't write. So with their help, I did well in school!

If you're dealing with a disease on a daily basis, know that though you feel weak, you have much strength. Others may seem able to do more, but you are coping with so much that they can't even imagine.  By not taking good health for granted and appreciating the things you are able to do, your spirit will get that much stronger. 

I am still keeping myself busy in college.  I still have JRA and I still take two million pills. There are still days when I can't get out of bed, but I accomplish so much in the meantime.  I am playing Varsity Field Hockey, I am the service chair for my sorority, a member of student government, an editor for the literary arts journal and an honor's student. 

On days when it feels like I can't cope, I remind myself that there is nothing I cannot do if I put my mind to it! Thanks for visiting!  Heather

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Joan Fleitas, Ed.D., R.N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY 
Bronx, New York 10468

Last updated: November 14, 2004