Andrea’s Style: Bringing Awareness to Childhood Arthritis

“Given my past, I really enjoy being a part of this community.”

I had the delight of meeting Andrea 6 years ago when I was a participant at Camp Capilano, an educational retreat for children and youth who are living with rheumatic diseases such as Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) and Lupus (SLE). A bright and energetic camp counselor, Andrea always went out of her way to make each camper feel included to engage in camp activities at their own pace, from swimming to trivia games.

Andrea has lived with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) since she was 2 years old.

“I have had it all my life. It was pretty static throughout my childhood, but in Grade 12, my arthritis flared up in my knees and my hip. Suddenly, I couldn’t walk up stairs, let alone participate in Physical Education classes. Through lifestyle changes and medications, I got control over it in the first years of university. Things are more stable now.”

Today, Andrea dedicates her limited spare time to volunteering with different organizations that raise awareness, generate funds, and support research for childhood arthritis. Most recently, she has joined the board of Cassie and Friends, a non-profit organization that was started by two parents who have a child with arthritis.

“The organization has grown a lot and raised thousands of dollars towards programs that focus on supporting children and families whose lives have been touched by arthritis in some way,” Andrea explained.

Cassie and Friends runs two key programs:

  • Kids on the Block: a puppeteer show and program based in the Fraser Valley that teaches elementary school students about arthritis if someone in their class is impacted by the disease.
  • Family Day: an all-day event filled with workshops, communication tools, and support opportunities for parents of children living with rheumatic diseases.

In addition to being an avid volunteer and mentor to youth living with arthritis, Andrea enjoys fashion. Her love for bold patterns, bright colours, and textured layers contribute to her trendy sense of style.

“Fashion has always been an important part of my life,” Andrea said, smiling.

“I like to feel comfortable in my clothes and have lots of options to choose from. My clothes express how I feel. On good days, I wear jeans, a t-shirt, and a bright cardigan sweater, whereas on days I’m tired, I will wear yoga pants and supportive shoes. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve shifted my style from what I feel I’m supposed to wear to what makes me feel comfortable. Most of the time, I like to wear different styles of Lululemon pants. I’ve noticed that when I look better, I feel better, so I try to put some effort in. I like to accessorize with sentimental jewellery pieces, like my charm bracelet and printed scarves.”

Andrea further shared that, when her arthritis is active in her hip and knee joints, she looks for loosely fitting clothes that are comfortable. Initially, she would wear sweatpants and big sweaters, but she has since found more favourable options.

“I do like wearing cozy sweaters, but since my skin is sensitive, I prefer softer fabrics that aren’t itchy. I feel a lot better when I’m wearing something I’m comfortable in.”

Quick Questions with Andrea

What is something that people may be surprised to learn about you?

Despite my loud voice, I’m not very open about having arthritis. I participate in a lot of volunteer work and other activities that are outside of my circle of friends, but a lot of people in my network don’t even know about my arthritis or know much about the disease. I used to think that my relationships would negatively change if I told people about it, but as I get older I am learning that is really not the case. My close friends treat me the same. As I’m growing up, I’m becoming more open with it. I’m careful about who I tell about it, but knowing that it’s something I have had for most of my life and will continue to navigate reminds me to start sharing more.

When have you surprised yourself with something you accomplished?

During my third year of university, my arthritis was better, and I found my stride academically. My Bachelor’s degree was in Political Science, but I took a course called Women and Politics. I ended up loving the class, and I got an A+ in it! Not only was the teacher great and someone that I maintain a relationship with, but I was introduced to a new area of study that really interested me.

What advice would you offer to someone who is also living with arthritis or a similar health challenge?

Even to this day, I have moments where I ask myself, “Why me?”, and I feel frustrated. What is important to remember is to keep these moments as moments – and not entire days and weeks. Emotionally, it can take such a toll that it can be upsetting and exhausting. So, I try to learn from my experiences and to take steps towards accepting my arthritis. To me, knowledge is power. I’ve taken responsibility for my health – from arranging doctor’s appointments to coordinating my insurance. Also, having a supportive community is key. It’s really helpful to have connections with other people who have a similar condition and truly understand what you’re going through.

A warm thank-you to Andrea for sharing her story and style with us!