One of my secrets so far in life is to make stepping stones out of stumbling blocks. It’s how you decide to work with what you’ve got. While you cannot determine every circumstance in life, you can determine your choice of attitude.
In my recent article, ‘Stepping stones’, published in issue three of The Researcher, I shared my journey from being diagnosed with childhood-onset arthritis at the age of three, through to starting my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences, finding my way in research as a patient research ambassador, to the current day, as a healthcare PhD student. The magazine, published by NHS Research & Development North West, is titled ‘Maintaining Momentum’. It includes articles from a variety of health researchers across the country, where real life stories and experiences are shared.
In recent years, I’ve met a number of ‘patients’ who have decided to pursue a research career. However, it saddens me to learn that some of these extremely talented individuals feel unable to talk about, or even disclose their health condition(s) to their academic institutions, in fear of being judged by others. At the end of the day, we’re only human. Each of us, at some point in our lives, will be a patient, a carer a friend or a relative of someone living with a health condition. Using these experiences to inform research, in my opinion, only adds to the quality and rigour of your research. Nobody should feel unable to speak openly about who they are.
Reflecting on my journey
Writing this article stimulated many memories from my past – both amazing, heartwarming memories and painful, difficult ones which I would rather forget. However, it amazed me, and still does to this day, how situations and single decisions that I have taken in the past have influenced the path that I have taken in life, and how they have shaped me into the person I am today. Yes, the diagnosis of several long-term, chronic health conditions in childhood negatively impacted different aspects of my life – but at the same time, these conditions forced me to take responsibility at an early age. The experiences also taught me to be more empathetic to others, having known what it feels like to be weak and vulnerable. The curiosity to understand and explain my conditions nurtured my interest and enthusiasm for science, which led onto my decision to study biomedical sciences at university. In parallel to this, one of the rheumatology consultants connected me to the national clinical studies group in 2012, which was the start of my work as a patient research ambassador and advocate. After meeting different individuals, my name was passed onto Veronica Swallow, a researcher at The University of Manchester who was looking for a patient representative. This working relationship saw me work closely with Veronica and her team, where I published my first conference poster and peer-reviewed journal publication as a co-author. Little did I know that a few years later, Veronica would also become my PhD supervisor! Looking back, it feels as though every decision was ‘meant to be’.
If I hadn’t have been diagnosed with arthritis or invited to one meeting as a patient representative, my life would be very different today. Life isn’t always easy, but it helps if you remember that obstacles in your way are there to test you. In doing so, they will help you to grow. It is by overcoming such obstacles that you develop confidence, new skills and the ability to handle whatever life throws at you in the future. It never gets easier – you just get stronger.
“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” Dale Carnegie