We were nearing the end of a biology lesson. In an attempt to excite the class for the next lesson, my teacher put up a slide that read, “Why people with sickle cell die young.”
I froze. I knew that the topic would come up eventually, but I did not expect my teacher to take that approach. But I also knew he meant no harm. I mean, what were the chances that the only black girl in the sixth form (12th grade) had sickle cell?
My teacher must have seen the blank expression on my face because he did some digging to find out if I had sickle cell. Once he had confirmed his suspicions, he called me over to ask how I was, how I thought he should approach the lesson, and if I minded letting my classmates know that I had the condition. I told him that he should continue with the lesson the way he had planned it and that I didn’t want to tell my classmates.
When the lesson finally came, I could tell that my teacher had significantly watered down the facts. He added a disclaimer to every symptom of sickle cell and changed his stance from patients with sickle cell dying young to, “With today’s modern medicine, sickle cell patients can have a typical life span.” That is true to some degree, but it’s not the case for everyone with sickle cell.
When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I spent some time researching sickle cell, including its symptoms, and what the diagnosis meant for me. Many websites said that people with sickle cell often have a shorter life expectancy, which didn’t mean anything to me at such a young age. I focused on the symptoms I had at the time, such as pain, jaundice, and fatigue.
I knew the facts, but the reality of it didn’t hit me until that biology lesson.
After the lesson, I learned through further research that the average life expectancy for people with sickle cell is around 40 to 60 years old. When I saw this number, my heart dropped. I questioned all the plans I had for my life. All I could think was, “Will I have enough time?”
There are people with sickle cell living well past the average life expectancy. The oldest person currently living with sickle cell, Asiata Onikoyi-Laguda, is 94. I understand that this is rare, but I know that to get to that point, I must do what I can to encourage and maintain good health. I plan to follow healthy habits such as drinking enough water, eating a balanced diet, and taking my medication. I am praying like Asiata to beat the odds.
My knowledge of that fact has encouraged me to live with more purpose. I have set many goals that I intend to accomplish. I won’t allow sickle cell to limit my potential. My outlook on life has become more focused. I know that with the right level of consistency and endurance, the sky is the limit for me.
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