Navigating College With Sickle Cell

Dunstan Nicol-Wilson avatar

by Dunstan Nicol-Wilson |

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September always reminds me of preparing for a new school year. It’s been a while since I’ve had to do that, so I have long since fallen out of the habit. However, I have not forgotten the feeling of new stationary or shopping for things to take to college.

One of the most exciting yet frightening experiences for me was attending college for the first time. It wasn’t just the fear of the unknown, it was the fear of not knowing how I could manage both college and sickle cell disease.

Up until college, if I had a crisis, I could rely on my family for support. College was unexplored territory, and in hindsight, there are things I could have done to better prepare for the transition. I would recommend the following tips to someone with sickle cell going to college for the first time.

Consider location

Based on my experience in the U.K., sickle cell awareness isn’t evenly distributed among healthcare services. People in big cities tend to be more knowledgeable due to more diverse populations, whereas people in other areas have very limited knowledge about how to care for a sickle cell patient. One thing I had to consider when going to college was: If I were to have a crisis, would the hospital near my college know how to treat me? Taking this into account made me think about my college’s location, and what I could do to ensure the local hospital was prepared if I presented with a crisis.

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Create a crisis protocol

This leads to creating a plan for when a crisis happens. It’s essential to be prepared when navigating college life. I had a system of medications that I would start if a crisis began at home. I would also follow my five-step process and hope the crisis didn’t escalate to hospitalization. It’s also important to make sure you have easy access to your medication, because you can’t always predict when a crisis will occur. Make sure to tell someone when you are having a crisis, as suffering in silence can be detrimental to your well-being.

Build a support network

Making friends at college can be nerve-wracking initially. I remember thinking, “Will I make friends? Will I be accepted into certain groups?” On top of that, I had to think about whom I could trust my sickle cell secret to, since I wasn’t keen to openly talk about it at the time. Once I made friends I could trust, they helped me manage my condition.

When I suffered crises, my friends would help out by taking notes for me in the classes I missed or simply making sure I was OK. This was essential to navigating college and negating the isolating feeling that sometimes comes with sickle cell. It’s also important to research what support is available at your college. Some schools have dedicated support for people with chronic conditions. Do your best to be open with at least one person about what you go through. Not everyone will understand, but it’s important that people are aware when you can’t manage something.

Understand your triggers

College is probably one of the few environments that can activate all of your triggers. My main triggers are stress, exhaustion, and indigestion, and I’m pretty sure I hit all of these throughout my college life. It’s a difficult environment to avoid them in! Stress, for example, could come from deadlines or quarrels with your roommate. The unpredictability of it all can be overwhelming. However, developing methods to counteract potential triggers is key to your well-being. For example, you could improve your time management skills regarding essay deadlines, or ensure you rest enough after a party.

Have fun

Most importantly, you should aim to have a fun college experience. Above, I have listed a couple precautions to take, but ultimately, college should be enjoyed. My approach to life with sickle cell is to be aware of my limits while aiming not to be limited in any way. If you can relate, make the most of your college experience, and go be amazing!

Let me know if you have any additional college tips in the comments below.


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.


Beatrice Minx avatar

Beatrice Minx

Thanks so much for all these education on disease. Always trying to be strong for my daughter. Because she needs me. It is really helping me. Thank you. Keep it up.

Dunstan Nicol-Wilson avatar

Dunstan Nicol-Wilson

Hi Beatrice, thanks so much for the comment. Keep being strong for your daughter, as patients with sickle cell we need it! You are awesome :)

A Smith-Johnson avatar

A Smith-Johnson

Thank you for sharing!


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