Most people tend to think of arthritis as a condition that only strikes the elderly—but as 10 year-old Myka knows all too well, that’s not the case.
When Myka was three, her ankle started hurting. Her mom Jessica thought Myka must have a mild sprain from playing outside, but within two weeks, the pain became so bad Myka couldn’t put any weight on her legs. “She reverted back to crawling again—that’s when I knew something was really wrong,” Jessica said.
An X-ray showed extreme inflammation and fluid in Myka’s joints, which is a strong indicator of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. But Jessica says she just couldn’t get her head around the diagnosis at first. “When the doctor told me it was arthritis, all I could think was, ‘But she’s only three. This is something your grandparents get, not your child.’”
The perfect match
As Myka started monthly anti-inflammatory infusions to bring her disease under control, JoyRx Mentor Aleks entered the picture—and with that, a beautiful friendship was born. Myka and Aleks clicked from day one, bonding over their shared love of shopping. Aleks fondly recalls the first day they met.
“It was Halloween, and Myka was all dressed up like a unicorn,” she said. “I just fell in in love with her sassy, spunky personality. It’s been so much fun to be a part of her journey.”
It was a match made in heaven for Jessica as well. “It was so nice to have somebody there who could be with Myka if I needed a break or play with her if I didn’t have the energy,” she said. Jessica also appreciates the extra voice of reassurance that Aleks provides. “It’s really helpful for Myka to hear from someone other than me, because kids don’t always listen to their moms,” she laughed.
Getting creative during COVID
When COVID-related restrictions limited Aleks’s ability to be with Myka during her hospital visits, the pair found new ways to keep their friendship going. Following local mask mandates, they’ll often meet for lunch and a bit of shopping, or hit the arcade for some fun and games.
“We’re going to go the arcade again soon, because I want to try playing laser tag with Aleks!” Myka said excitedly.
And even though Aleks can’t be in the hospital room with Myka, she refuses to stay completely away. “I really miss being there during her infusions, so for the next one, I think I’m going to go and just wait outside. Then we can go do something fun afterwards,” Aleks smiled.
A constant source of fun—and friendship
Myka and her mom are regular fixtures at JoyRx Mentorship events, participating in everything from Blazer games and concerts to Bingo nights, which Myka can’t wait to do again in person.
“Bingo nights are the best! Once I came home with so many prizes that I ended up donating some of them to my daycare,” Myka said proudly. She also enjoyed a JoyRx Mentorship outing to visit baby goats on a farm. “One of them climbed up on me,” Myka grinned. “I was laughing so hard—I want to go back and do goat yoga.”
Myka isn’t the only one in the family who found a cherished friend through JoyRx. “I met one of my very best friends at a JoyRx crafting event,” Jessica said. “Her son had cancer, and we became friends instantly. We talk to each other every day now, and if it wasn’t for JoyRx, we never would have met.”
Living without limits
For now, Myka will continue her monthly infusions, which have thankfully put her into medical remission. The hope is she’ll be able to go off her meds someday, but whatever the future holds, she’s determined to live an active life—with plenty of encouragement from mom, of course.
“I can’t imagine being diagnosed with a chronic disease where it hurts to walk, where it hurts to do anything,” Jessica said. “But Myka hasn’t let it stop her or given up on doing what she wants. I never want her to feel like she can’t do something just because she has arthritis.”
She also never wants another family facing a tough medical diagnosis to feel like they’re alone. “I would definitely encourage them to reach out to JoyRx, because it’s an incredible organization that can help in so many ways,” she said.