In my 45th year, I learned about life -- through my 12-year-old daughter’s pain.
She was normal, happy, smart, beautiful and full of life until the day in February 2006 when she complained that her back hurt.
For two weeks, I thought it was normal adolescent complaining. After all, she had been lugging her middle-school backpack for almost five months. When I finally took her to her pediatrician, the doctor took back X-rays to make sure, then suggested I get her a new backpack.
About two weeks later, we were back again. This time, the doctor decided to run blood tests. The blood work came back normal except in one area, but the doctor was not too concerned and suggested we come back in a few weeks.
From February to April, I watched my sweet daughter deteriorate. She cried each morning before school. She cried when I took her shopping. She began to walk haltingly; she could not climb the stairs to our house.
Eventually, she could barely walk. It was spring break week and all she could do was lie on the couch. She could no longer dress herself, get out of bed by herself, lift her arms, use the bathroom by herself or do anything any normal 12-year-old could.
Finally, two months after her first back pains, she was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder called dermatomytosis. Her body had fought off a virus and then attacked its own muscles. It is so rare that most pediatricians will never see it in their practices. Yes, we were relieved it was not lupus, cancer or anything life-threatening. But tell this to a 12-year-old.
She had been through a painful trauma that was only just the beginning. The next trauma would teach her and me about life. It began in the form of a little white pill that would save her but change her. It was prednisone, a steroid. She was put on it the day she was diagnosed, and within a week she was walking better.
At the same time, she began to suffer the horrible side effects that no child should have to experience. My happy daughter became depressed, suffered from dark mood swings, grew dark hair, had sweaty palms and gained 20 pounds in a month.
Through it all, she barely missed a day in her gifted magnet middle school. Some of the students were very mean, asking her if she “ate balloons for lunch.” Each day, she faced middle school with a courage I could not have mustered.
I would pick her up from school and watched her hobble to my car. I would sit and look at the other young girls, who looked normal and trim, angry at God for doing this to my sweet, beautiful daughter. I missed her laughter, her smile, her company at the mall.
Despite all this pain, she managed to get straight A’s because she said it was the only thing she could do.
Slowly, my daughter began to get better. The steroids were reduced, the pain disappeared, her muscles began to function. She no longer needed help to get out of bed. I no longer had to put on her socks, shoes and clothes for her.
She learned how to cope with the insensitivity of other adolescents and became a more compassionate and stronger person. She intends to become a physician so that she can help others.
At 12 years old, she faced pain, trauma, depression, a major change in appearance and the meanness of others. What she got in return was compassion, beauty, intelligence, strength and a lesson about life.