Dear Diary…I’ll never give in

Imagine working hard to complete your education and then being diagnosed with a painful disease – and being told it can’t be cured.

That’s what happened to me. I’m 22-years old and last year, in the middle of completing my nursing degree, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder.

Jessica Conrod, Memorial University School of Nursing student

Jessica Conrod, Memorial University School of Nursing student

This autoimmune disorder is rheumatoid arthritis – it causes your immune system to mistakenly attack your own body’s tissues. It affects the lining of your joints which causes painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity.

For me, this meant exhaustion, pain and stiffness in over 15 joints, including my neck, hips and ribs.

Prior to my diagnosis, fighting this invisible foe was even more difficult; but it did not keep me from completing my clinical work-term with Eastern Health’s oncology unit at the Health Sciences Centre.

The oncology team with whom I worked was very supportive, and I was able to learn from my practical experience while contributing to their work.

This team of health professionals inspired me to continue to work towards my dream of becoming a nurse, in spite of my health, and to make a difference in people’s lives. The work term-left me better prepared to recognize the needs of potential patients. So far, this has been the best learning experience I’ve had in a clinical setting!

After my experience at Eastern Health, I travelled to Honduras through Global Brigades – a student led organization that works to improve the quality of life in third world countries – to provide health care to those in need.

I was the vice-president of fundraising for the very first Global Brigade with Memorial University, and we brought 30 students to complete two brigades.

A ‘brigade’ is a group of passionate volunteers who mobilize toward positive social change. During my trip to Honduras, myself and the rest of the students completed two brigades.

The first brigade was medical.

Thanks to our fundraising, we raised enough money to pay for medications from Canada to bring down to the community in Honduras. We also hired three doctors, a gynecologist, two dentists and two pharmacologists.

Jessica in Honduras with the Global Brigades in 2014.

Jessica in Honduras with the Global Brigades in 2014.

When they arrived, our group set up a free health clinic for three days. During those three days, we serviced over 600 people in the community.

It was scary at first venturing out and not knowing the impact my illness would make. But fortunately by this point I had been diagnosed, and I was managing pain with prescribed medication. I was feeling 100 times better!

Jessica in Honduras with some of the community’s children in 2014 with the Global Brigades.

Jessica in Honduras with some of the community’s children in 2014 with the Global Brigades.

Our second brigade, which involved public health, began only three days after the first.

We were spilt into three different groups to help three families. We helped to build a latrine, which includes a toilet, shower and a place to store clean water.

It didn’t stop there; we also built an eco-friendly stove that used less wood. The chimney directed the smoke outside of the house to avoid respiratory infections and they also put in a clement floor to keep the house cleaner.

This experience meant a lot to me, not only did I learn a lot, but it is really rewarding to help those less fortunate. Regardless of my setbacks, I am as determined as ever to become a nurse, I’m even planning another trip to Honduras this year!

Jessica in Honduras with the Global Brigades in 2014.

Jessica in Honduras with the Global Brigades in 2014.

My determination is in part thanks to the team of nurses I worked with on the oncology unit at Eastern Health. I can only hope that I will be working with a great team like those I worked with at the Health Sciences Centre. ■

This story was written by Jessica Conrod, MUN School of Nursing Student, in collaboration with Brandi Roberts, a public relations co-operative education student.

7 responses to “Dear Diary…I’ll never give in

  1. Thank you everyone for your support! I am speachless!

    I just wanted to make a small correction that didn’t make it in, that this form of autoimmune disorder is rheumatoid arthritis.

    Thanks again,

  2. Hi Jessica, I too was diagnosed with RA early in my career and understand your pain and struggle! With the right support and medical care you will be fine, take it from me! All the best to you!

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