AS a 19-year-old student, Eleanor Farr never expected to be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
When she developed pain in her shoulder, she initially assumed she’d just pulled a muscle.
But blood tests showed it was the illness, which many think is an “old person’s disease”, when in fact it can strike at any age.
“I don’t think I really knew what to make of it,” she said.
“If I had known then what I know now, I would’ve probably been more upset.”
What the Leeds University student didn’t know was that the autoimmune condition, which means her body attacks healthy tissue, would affect her life more severely than she ever realised.
Soon after her diagnosis in January 2014, the agonising pain which she now felt in her feet and knees also spread to her neck, making it very difficult to sleep.
“It got out of control and very aggressive really quickly,” she said.
“I was in tears every night and couldn’t sleep because of the pain.
“It really felt like my joints were in a vice.”
Eleanor, who studies graphic design, tried various drugs and treatments which either didn’t work or led to serious side effects which needed hospital treatment.
She ended up being given a chemotherapy drug, which has helped enormously.
“Since then my life has completely changed and my health is now close to perfect,” she said.
“I couldn’t even walk, last year.
“I was disabled before, my mum had to dress me – that was no quality of life for a 20-year-old.”
She says she was very lucky to be treated at Chapel Allerton Hospital in Leeds, a centre of excellence in rheumatology, and therefore could access these life-changing drugs.
“I didn’t want to live as I was. I don’t know how my future would have been without these drugs,” she added.
Now in her final year at university after a year out, Eleanor – who lives in Hyde Park – is keen to speak out and raise awareness.
“The majority of the population don’t understand what arthritis really is and I have even met many medical students who didn’t think you could get arthritis at my age,” she said.
She has already fundraised for Arthritis Research UK and is aiming to let more people know of the condition and its effects, as well as help others affected.
“I would like people to read my article and know that they are not alone,” Eleanor added.
“When I was diagnosed I felt like the only person in the world who was suffering. I want to be able to help others who are suffering and educate those who aren’t,”
* A mum from Selby is taking on two huge challenges, inspired by her daughter.
Val Lewis will run the Major Series North assault course later this month and climb Ben Nevis in June to raise money for the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society.
She said: “My daughter Saskia was diagnosed at the age of 16 in January 2015 with rheumatoid arthritis. Those words were not something that any parent wants to hear and our lives were turned upside down.” Donate at www.justgiving.com/Val-Lewis2016.