March is Childhood Arthritis Month, and The Arthritis Society, BC & Yukon Division, is working to create awareness and to educate about this complex disease.
Juvenile arthritis can have lifelong consequences, and is one of the more common disorders resulting in chronic disability in children and teens in Canada. Andrea McGowan was diagnosed with arthritis at age two.
McGowan attended Camp Capilano, a summer educational retreat run by The Arthritis Society, as a camper for five years, and met other kids just like herself.
“Growing up I found that none of my friends could really understand what I was going through,” she said. “It wasn’t until Camp Capilano that I found other kids my age and young adults who had experienced what I was going through first-hand.”
In children, childhood arthritis can cause irregular growth problems that cause discomfort, increased risk of vision loss, inflammation, pain, stiffness and swelling that can come as flare-ups without warning. There is no cure for arthritis.
Now as an adult, McGowan uses her own life experience to give back to support others.
“I was elated to be invited back as a counsellor when I was 17,” she said. “Returning to camp as a counsellor has been the most rewarding experience to date in my life.
“We have made memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.”
This year marks the 33rd year The Arthritis Society is hosting this educational summer camp.
Kids with arthritis can have a hard time finding acceptance and understanding because of the prevalent myth that arthritis is “just an old person’s disease.”
Most people don’t realize that kids get arthritis too, and that it can happen to anyone at any time. There are more than 100 different kinds of arthritis, some of which can be life-threatening.
“Being able to see how much the camp helps kids to cope with and understand their disease is so rewarding,” said McGowan, who has recently applied to law school. “My decision to apply mainly stemmed from the advocacy I experienced at camp.
“Without this camp, a lot of kids, including myself, would not be as comfortable or as educated about their disease.”
For more information, visit www.arthritis.ca.