10 years ago, I was hooked up to a drip having chemo after being diagnosed with cerebral vasculitis. Three years later I added a rare form of dystonia called dopa-responsive dystonia (DRD) to my medical records. Both are rare diseases and both were only diagnosed after years of GP visits and finally finding a consultant who listened and looked outside the box. Both times I felt relief rather than fear as I had an explanation of what was going on rather than being fobbed off with the line “it’s all in your head”. Perversely it was but not in the way that was meant when those hateful words were uttered. Both times I thought treatment would cure me and I would get my old life back; both times I was wrong.
Cerebral vasculitis affects one in a million people while DRD affects one in two million. With odds like that I would rather have won the lottery. Instead these conditions were like a bomb going off in my life. In one swoop I lost my beloved library career, friendships and my mobility. Gone were the days of long walks in the countryside with my dogs, and browsing in shops alone (I really miss that. The joy of being independent, spontaneous and being ALONE). Instead I see four walls and the duvet far more than I should. Thank goodness for books, the internet which helped find my new friends, and my family.
Rare diseases do not just affect the diagnosed person; it has devastating effects on the whole family and friends. Husbands and children become carers, jobs are lost, education is affected and relationships are destroyed. Support is hard to find but social media becomes a lifeline.
Luckily, when I was diagnosed with vasculitis, Susan and John Mills took over the vasculitis charity, Vasculitis UK. They transformed it from a small charity and basic website offering information to a go to place for patients and doctors worldwide. Not only do they offer individual support they have increased awareness with medics, have conferences and fought for new treatments and research. They are both phenomenal.
The Dystonia Society has supported me on my journey but like many charities in recent years, funding has been cut which has had a big impact on their services. Despite their tireless efforts to raise awareness of dystonia, DRD remains a page on the screen. Warriors of Dystonia has announced an exciting project to help dystonia awareness and support the dystonia charities. More info can be found here.
The best thing anyone can do is help is to raise awareness of these rare conditions and charities that support them. Share tweets and posts. This allows people to find them and fund raise. This is why Rare Disease Day is so important because together the small charities are stronger. Awareness helps improve diagnosis, support and research.
Uncertain times ahead
Rare diseases in UK have an uncertain future. With only a small number of patients with each disease ,specialists are hard to find and keep. We rely on the cooperation of other countries and research. Leaving Europe has already impacted on ongoing and future research, grants and medication availability. What will happen next who knows?
There are always positives
It’s not all gloom. My life has changed but I have a new appreciation for the small things, family and friends. I am grateful for my meds and having the movement they offer. The friends I have are the best- they have seen me at my worst and stuck around. I have time to follow my love for reading and I have rediscovered my old passion – writing. This has brought new friends and new opportunities. Maybe one day it will offer a new career.
Thanks for reading such a long post
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