My name is Melissa and I have had Systemic Scleroderma since the age of three. Systemic scleroderma is an autoimmune disorder that affects the skin and internal organs. Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system malfunctions and attacks the body’s own tissues and organs. The word “scleroderma” means hard skin in Greek, and the condition is characterized by the buildup of scar tissue (fibrosis) in the skin and other organs. The condition is also called systemic sclerosis because the fibrosis can affect organs other than the skin. Fibrosis is due to the excess production of a tough protein called collagen, which normally strengthens and supports connective tissues throughout the body.
At the time of my Systemic Scleroderma diagnosis, I was the only known childhood case in Canada. My parents were told that I would not live to see my teens. Yet, here I am today – a 36 year-old pharmacy student with no signs of slowing down. The longer I live, the more challenges I have had to face with respect to my illness, but I have an amazing team of doctors behind me and an inspiring goal ahead of me.
I think we have a great many lessons to learn from the thousands of children who live with illness each and every day.
My long-term plan is to become a Pharmacy Doctor and work in Pediatrics. I am able to use my illness as an opportunity to educate medical students and pharmacy students, as I believe patients our best educators.I choose not to focus on the painful, challenging aspects of my illness but instead the great gifts that it has given me throughout my life; perspective, knowledge, inspiration, appreciation and most of all HOPE.