Besides homework and high school drama, teens cope with chronic health conditions

Chronic pain affects junior’s schoolwork

Junior Andrea Marquez spends three to four days a week at the doctor’s to deal with chronic pain. Added to her full plate of schoolwork, she manages serious wrist, elbow and shoulder issues.
“I can only write maybe a paragraph—two at most—before my hands start shaking,” Marquez said. “‘The tremor acts up. Pain starts shooting up my arms. I have to go to the health office to get some pain medication or ice.”
Doctors initially thought it was a physical injury from volleyball that basic rest would fix. They were wrong and are still trying to figure out a diagnosis.
“I’ve been resting for a year-and-a-half, and nothing has gotten better,” Marquez said. “If anything, it’s gotten worse.”
Every week she does acupuncture and other physical therapy for her arms. Before bed, she takes pain medication, and she also regularly takes vitamin pills.
Her chronic pain has changed several areas of her life.
“Volleyball was a big part of my life, so not being able to play anymore got to me a lot. I’m still dealing with depression at times because of it,” Marquez said. “I was going to play varsity this year, and it was really difficult for me to see my old teammates be like, ‘Oh, our season is going great,’ and then ask, ‘Why aren’t you playing this year?’”
These problems led her to apply for a 504, an accommodation plan to give individualized help to those with disabilities.
According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 31 percent of teens have at least one health problem that limits daily activities. It may not always be evident, but a large number of students at Sequoia have health conditions similar to those of Marquez. Their battles often go unnoticed, but that doesn’t take anything away from the immensity of their struggles and their tremendous ability to be resilient.
Although she has to cope with a handicap every day, she refuses to let it prevent her from excelling in her pursuits, including the IB Diploma.
“My hands are injured, not my brain. I can do the work that I need to do, it just might take me a little longer,” Marquez said. “And I’m doing it with the same love and care. I’m not letting it get to the point of ‘Oh God, I can’t do anything that I want to do’ because I’m stronger than that, and I’ll [continue to] push myself.”
She also has help from others. Teachers give her extensions; her friends offer emotional and physical support.
“Sometimes it’s to the point where I can’t comb my own hair. I’ll get to school with my hair a mess, and my friend will braid it for me because she knows that I can’t,” Marquez said. “It’s frustrating because it’s a lot of the stuff that I’d usually be able to do by myself.”
Another challenging part of her health is dealing with the people who ask her about it.
“It gets annoying after a while, but it’s not something I’m going to hide. If people ask about it, I’ll answer,” Marquez said. “They can kind of take it for granted. It’s harder for me to do things that other people can do normally, so I wish people had more empathy.”
Marquez also speaks to those who face health problems.
“I want to say to people like me—there are people that have it way worse—[don’t] let it take control of your life,” Marquez said. “I know it’s difficult to deal with, but you can still be yourself and try your best with what you have.”

Migraines force student to limit extracurriculars

Junior Victoria Huber deals with chronic pain in the form of migraines, a hereditary illness on her mom’s side.
She had her first migraine at the age of two but didn’t get diagnosed until age six or seven.
“I had to see a neurologist and get MRIs, [which] was scary because of not knowing,” Huber said. “It could have been a brain tumor or something as benign as chronic migraines.”
‘Benign’ as they are, migraines are not minor.
“I’ll get sharp pains down my neck and up through my head. I get clammy and sweaty, and I lose hearing and eyesight because the pain is so severe. [Sometimes] I pass out,” Huber said. “If [the trigger] is something like stress, it’s prolonged for at least 48 hours. It affects [my] entire body, and there’s nothing that I can really do except wait it out. I’m so powerless when I have them.”
Because they come and go, treatment is focused on prevention. The triggers range from tomatoes to chocolate and dairy on an empty stomach to anxiety and a lack of sleep.
“[Planning] was definitely something I had to learn. It was difficult to know what the triggers were,” Huber said. “Just now I’m mastering it, but there are obviously some things I can’t control, like anxiety.”
Huber’s chronic pain has limited her extracurriculars.
“I used to be into musical theatre, but every time I’d perform, I’d get really nervous,” Huber said. “[Once] I went to sing, and had to run offstage because of a migraine. I don’t do musical theatre anymore.”
Huber has cut out other stressors. She spent two months explaining her need for a flexible schedule until she was granted a 504 plan.
Dealing with her illness has also shaped her priorities.
“Obviously, I hate [migraines], and they’re a burden to have, but I think all the habits I’ve developed are good for relieving stress and for my health,” Huber said. “It’s all going to help me in the long run, but it’s kind of scary—the fear of, if I do this one thing, this terrible thing is going to knock me out for two days.”
Coping has become routine, though she may never get used to some things.
“I have to take so many precautionary measures in my life; it’s really annoying,” Huber said. “I’m jealous of other people’s ability to do things freely.”
Like any high schooler, she worries about the future.
“I’m really afraid of what I’m going to do in college,” Huber said. “I’m not going to have home-cooked food. So many things are going to be changing for me. Just now I’ve figured out what I can and can’t do in the environment that I’m in, [so] being in a new environment’s going to be terrifying.”
Despite her challenges, she is able to do what she loves. Musical theatre may not be for her, but she’s joined choir, which she began in sixth grade.
“[Singing] is a huge stress reliever. I like to talk, and singing is another way of talking,” Huber said. “I talk to stay relaxed. Singing is another version of that.”