My name is Martin Belcher I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis at the age of 19 after two years of increasing pain and stiffness each morning, it seemed like after a barrage of x rays, blood tests and numerous GP and consultant appointments I was finally given a diagnosis which to be quite honest looking back now changed my whole life…..
I’m now in my mid forties and far more comfortable with living with my AS and the damage that it has done to my body. I have a totally fused spine and neck and I’ve had total hip replacements on both left and right hips. I don’t get as many flare ups now as I used to in my twenties and thirties but fatigue and tension headaches caused by my fused neck and spine are a big problem for me and seem to be getting worse as I get older.
I went through a “rebellious” stage in my early twenties of burying my head in the sand and trying to forget I had AS as I felt it was robbing my life from me, I know in hindsight this was a stupid decision but in the 1980’s there just wasn’t the support there for AS patients and I felt very alone. I turned my back on the consultant and hospital and coped with my AS alone with the help of over the counter paracetamol products, how I did it I never know. Within five years I was in such a mess I ended up being admitted to hospital for a couple of weeks of intensive treatment and physio to get me moving again. From then on I accepted help from my consultant and was started on Phenylbutazone which seemed to be a magic tablet back then. I was then given Methotrexate which I took for a couple of years and it seemed to help as well but by the age of 29 my health deteriorated fast, I was practically so disabled with pain and stiffness I was contemplating giving up work and I was depressed.
After much deliberating and talking it over with family, my physio and consultant, I made a life changing decision to have my first hip replaced which for a 29 year old is very young but it was probably the best decision of my life as it enabled me to carry on working and to get my independence back. I was so pleased with the results that I went ahead and had my other hip replaced about four years ago and that also was a success.
Nowadays, I am much happier, my two artificial hips take me longer and further than I ever thought possible and enable me to have a good quality of life. My AS seems more “under control” these days apart from a few bouts of Iritis in the last year or two and the occasional flare up. My spine is fused in a stooped posture and I have some scoliosis, it does make life day to day more challenging but I have learnt to live with it. I have learnt to look in a mirror and like myself, something I thought I could never do.
My life with AS has been a struggle and continues to be a challenge but I light to think that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Having a good sense of humour, being a bit stubborn sometimes and having good friends and family around you for support is the key to fighting AS. Over the last ten years my dear partner, Douglas has been there for me and continues to keep me smiling through the bad times and along with my dear Mum & Dad, Joan and John who sadly I lost a few years ago, I dedicate this story to, as without their love and support I’m sure I would have given up the fight and would not be here now. I am very proud of many achievements in my life so far and being a Face of AS and standing up to say I have Ankylosing Spondylitis is one of them!
Martin Belcher, Andover, Hampshire, United Kingdom