It’s amazing when you meet people in life that have had experiences so similar to yours and so inspiring to many. Rebecca Fleming is our crush this week. As a thriver with rheumatoid arthritis, she shares her story with us to honor autoimmune disease awareness month and help students have faith with invisible illness. Rebecca is an amazing women and volunteer, dedicating her life to charitable pursuits. Rebecca served on the board of the Junior League of Los Angeles three times and is involved in several other charities, such as MADD. I know those who have been ill can relate to this amazing spirt who deals with daily autoimmune pain, yet still lives a life so profoundly dedicated to others. We are proud to feature Rebecca as our crush!
When were you first diagnosed? I was 11 years old.
Can you tell me a bit about diagnosis? It took about six months and visits to various doctors before I was accurately diagnosed. Considering it was 1979 and the “dark ages of arthritis”, it was actually a pretty quick diagnosis. Nonetheless, there were bumps in the road. I remember one doctor saying I might have bone cancer and my mother crying in his office.
What was your treatment? Six tablets of Bufferin a day! I was scared because I’d never had to swallow a pill before; I’d always taken children’s chewable aspirin. A voice inside told me I had a long journey ahead, so I just swallowed the pill. It was the first of many obstacles I would overcome thanks to RA.
How did this impact your schooling? I missed a lot of school in 7th and 8th grades, months at a time. I did school work from home and attended class whenever I could. I always enjoyed the social interaction at school and preferred classroom-style learning, so being at home, the isolation was difficult and depressing.
What/who offered you the most profound support? Books and music. Again, in the dark ages of autoimmune arthritis, there were no support groups, no online message boards, no counselors to help children suffering from this disease. No one knew what to do for me, so when life became difficult, I escaped into books and music. That’s still what comforts me most.
How were you able to finish your degree? Determination. I was tough, ambitious, and determined. I worked part-time, went to college, and received my degree. It took a few extra years, but I did it!
What are your tips to living a healthy and fulfilled life? Do not let the illness define you. Do not live for the disease. Have interests and friends that have nothing to do with your illness. By no means should you neglect your health, just don’t allow it to become the entire focus of your existence.
How does your autoimmunity play into your volunteerism? It’s because of my autoimmune disease that I have compassion and want to give back. I know what it is like to struggle, to have incredible hardships, and to need help. I can’t live in this world and not do something to help others because I know what it’s like to feel alone and need support.
If someone received a similar diagnosis in any stage of schooling, do you have any advice for them? Go easy on yourself. Don’t take on too much at once and never be afraid to ask for help. And if you’re in college, there’s no rush. There is no law that says you must finish in four years. Finishing is what’s important; don’t worry how long it may take!
Do you have a top three/five/whatever advice for remission/managing your illness? 1. Educate yourself. 2. Advocate for yourself. 3. Empower yourself.