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My Silver Lining by Mary Vella

Published 13 Oct 2021

Mary Vella

When she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at the age of 48, Mary Vella did not see it as the end of her journey. On the contrary, she eventually learnt to embrace it so she could follow new pathways.

I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) at the age of 48 years. I started to experience slight pain in my joints, especially in my hands and feet at first but, within a month, my joints became stiff all over my body. The simplest tasks, such as standing up, walking and dressing, became unbearable and arduous because of my pain and lack of energy. Blood tests were carried out and came back positive. Certainly this was a big blow and very disappointing news for me. Until that time I was a very active woman with a family of five and an ongoing business, compromising of a hair and beauty salon, physical fitness and pharmacy.  

My consultant explained that this is a chronic condition; however, with the advancement of modern medicine one could lead as normal a life as possible. This gave me much courage and hope for the future. I was treated with anti-inflammatory and corticosteroid drugs. My life turned upside down and the greatest challenge I had to face was to rely on others. I was a very independent person and most of all I did not want to be a burden on my family and friends. Life was no longer the same but rather a continuous battle. I had to adapt to and learn to live with this different lifestyle overnight.

Over time, with much determination I was able to resume some of my normal activities – however it was not the same. I worked very hard to regain my health. I had to give up my business; however, since I am not an idle person, I decided to embark on an evening course – a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies at the University of Malta. On Fridays I also attended Augustinian Studies for Professionals where I won a scholarship for Rome. This made me happy and being able to continue studying and meeting new people fulfilled my life. 

In my third year at University, my condition relapsed and was very bad, my feet became very swollen and painful and I had to use crutches.  My treatment was for the second time changed to an injectable therapy which worked wonders for me. I continued to carry on with my life and commitments. I went to Rome for my scholarship, an experience I will never forget. I also graduated for my degree in Bachelor of Arts in Religious studies and eventually my Master’s degree in Theology.

It was at that time, the year 2007 that I was approached to set up the Arthritis and Rheumatism Association of Malta. I became the President and to this very day I have never stopped working on a voluntary basis to increase awareness of how RA patients can take care of themselves to live better, and lead as healthy and normal a life as possible. My advice to anyone living with any type of arthritis is not to view the condition as the end of their journey but rather to embrace it and let it take them to find other passages in their life. 

It is through hope that I stand today as an example that every black cloud has a silver lining.