Celebrating Another Birthday With Gratitude
Today is my birthday.
When I was born, the life expectancy of sickle cell patients in the U.K. was 10 years old. It was worse in Nigeria, at 5 years old, which is why my family and I remained here in the U.K. My dad had come to London to study for a master’s degree, and he had every intention of returning to Nigeria with my mum and their two children at the time.
I wasn’t diagnosed with sickle cell disease at birth, but rather at about 2 or 3 years old. One day I just stopped walking. My dad had to carry me in his arms to the nearest hospital. That’s when my parents were given the news no parent wants to hear: “Your child has a lifelong illness for which there is no cure, and it could potentially impact their life span.”
With this diagnosis in mind, my parents decided to stay in the U.K., hoping I’d have a longer life span than if we had returned to Nigeria.
Fast-forward several years, and today I’m 32.
I’m so grateful for the years I’ve been blessed with, notwithstanding all the heath hiccups and pain I’ve endured.
I’m grateful for the sacrifices my parents made to stay in a country where no other family members lived, to give me a chance at life. I’m thankful for the countless days they took off work to nurse me when I was ill, which I’m sure affected the trajectory of their careers. I’m grateful they never listened to others who ignorantly told them not to invest in me due to my illness, when in fact, if managed well, the quality of life of a sickle patient can be maintained.
I’m grateful for my siblings, whose life experiences were limited as a result of my diagnosis. We never went on holidays as children because my parents were worried about me falling ill overseas. I’m grateful that my siblings have been understanding, and that no resentment has built up during all of these years, despite the inconvenience my illness may have caused them.
I’m grateful for all of the friends I’ve had over the years who’ve helped to make my life the movie that it is despite me having sickle cell.
I’m vehemently opposed to using one’s career or job title as the basis of identity, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include how grateful I am to have a career, a good salary, an understanding employer, and the excellent reputation I have at my workplace, despite my excessive sick leave — 438 sick days in the past four years!
The average life expectancy of sickle cell patients in Nigeria is extremely low, at 21 according to one study. In the U.S., it’s in the mid-40s. Here in the U.K., it’s about 60. This is better than in the 1980s when I was born, but each of these are still much lower than the life expectancy of the general public.
I try my best not to dwell on the statistics too much. I wish I had older adults with sickle cell in my life. I think this could potentially make it easier for me to block out the statistics and just live. I have seen articles about elderly adults living with sickle cell, which is very encouraging for someone like me. It lets me know that it is possible to live a full and long life despite the condition.
My hope is that decades into the future, children with sickle will be able to look to me in my old age and know that they, too, can live a long, happy, and fulfilling life. I hope I will have the privilege of growing old and becoming a wife, mother, grandmother, aunty, great aunt, and prodigy.
If you’d like to help me celebrate my birthday, please consider:
- Donating blood, as many sickle cell patients require ongoing blood transfusions.
- Getting a hemoglobin test, which will indicate whether you carry the sickle cell gene and allow you to plan your family accordingly.
- Making a monetary donation to a sickle cell charity in your area, such as the Sickle Cell Society here in the U.K.
Note: Sickle Cell Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.