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For Our Young Advocate, It's College or BUST!

Diagnosed with JRA at age 13, high school senior Taylor prepares for college.

I've found it's not always easy to have arthritis, but it has made me a better person. I'm Taylor and I'm thrilled to write for CreakyJoints and to share some of my perspective.

Having arthritis has made my college decision process a little different than other high school students. I have to consider the weather (Arizona sounds pretty good, right?), the medical facilities around the school, and, of course, the academic excellence.

I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) when I was 13 years old while living in Tokyo, Japan. Not knowing what was wrong with me and flying back to the United States every four months definitely took its toll. One saving grace (besides more frequent flyer miles) was that the airlines, if asked nicely, would occasionally bump me into a first class seat when I said I was flying for medical reasons.

But my diagnosis didn't come until after eight months of undergoing hand braces, cyst aspirations, different hand surgeries, and the diagnoses rollercoaster.

In the summer of 2005, I moved to Nashville, TN to start high school. It was my freshman year and I was already known as the weird "new kid." I felt compelled to keep my disease a secret. After only about four months into the new school year, I was tired of saying, "I sprained my ankle." So I decided to profess my secret when I was running for student government, announcing in front of the whole school that I had arthritis.

That was the start of my journey.

In November 2005, I was tired of being alone and feeling helpless about my condition. I started KARDed -- Kids Aware of Rheumatoid Diseases and educated. The program's goal is to increase public awareness that kids get arthritis, too -- and to raise funds for the Arthritis Foundation (AF).

To date, KARDed has raised over $55,000 for the AF through different fundraisers in the Nashville area, simultaneously educating thousands.

I am now finishing up my senior year of high school (HOORAY!) and am in the process of choosing my college. My applications are in and the SAT/ACT college entrance exams are done. I am now in a dreaded waiting period.

Having arthritis has made my college decision process a little different than other high school students. I have to consider the weather (Arizona sounds pretty good, right?), the medical facilities around the school, and, of course, the academic excellence. I still have until April 1st before I get all of the decision letters -- keep your fingers crossed for me!

Through this column I will keep everyone updated on the challenges, successes, highs and lows of having arthritis through a different perspective:  a senior high school student and soon-to-be college freshman. =)

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