Rachel Hadel was diagnosed with polyarticular juvenile arthritis (JA) in March 2011 at age 14. “When I was diagnosed I didn’t know what I was getting into, it was very overwhelming,” says Rachel. The feelings of being overwhelmed and not knowing anyone else with JA inspired Rachel to become involved with the Arthritis Foundation. Her involvement eventually led her to a role as a counselor at Camp Joint Adventures, a JA camp in the Kansas City area.
Rachel had JA symptoms for over a year before she was formally diagnosed. She was very active in high school, she played softball, did gymnastics and cheerleading. The first year after her diagnosis, Rachel gave up some activities while she and her doctors tried to find medications that worked. Now, going into her junior year of college at Washburn University in Topeka, Rachel lives at school, remains active, and is training for her first half marathon in the spring. She is pursuing a nursing degree. The impact that her medical providers have had on her has inspired her to become a nurse to help others.
A year after her diagnosis, Rachel reached out to the Arthritis Foundation to meet others with JA. She participated in two local events, Art for Arthritis, and the Jingle Bell Run, and has been involved ever since. “When I’m with my peers, those people don’t quite understand what it’s like to have a chronic illness,” says Rachel. “It was nice to turn to people who understand what it’s like to have arthritis. When I was first diagnosed, that’s what I really needed.”
2016 was the first year that Rachel served as a camp counselor at Camp Joint Adventures. Rachel wanted to become a counselor because she had not experienced JA camp when she was still in high school. “I wanted that camp experience and wanted to show kids that because you have arthritis, you don’t have to limit yourself. You can still accomplish everything you want to do.” Rachel served as an amazing role model and cheerleader as a counselor in the 14 – 15-year-old cabin.
Rachel’s favorite moment at camp was seeing all the campers talking about their arthritis and being able to connect with one another. Everyone knows what each other has been through, and that’s important because they have peers who don’t always understand. She describes camp as a week to forget about every day pain and have fun; campers dance, swim, play and are able to forget about arthritis.
“When the girls in my cabin were talking to each other, they didn’t have to explain a long medical history or what they were feeling,” says Rachel. “They were simply able to support one another, even without use of words sometimes.” Her first year as a camp counselor, Rachel found JA camp to be an opportunity for kids of all ages with a rheumatic disease to play together, compete and be respectful of each other’s limitations.
Rachel would give others who are growing up with arthritis advice that she takes herself: Arthritis doesn’t define me. While Rachel does know when to give her body a break, she doesn’t let it stop her from doing the things she loves.