Rheumatoid arthritis? I couldn't believe it. I was only 29
A mum's smile and upbeat conversation mask the daily struggle she faces to overcome agonising pain as she looks after two children and go to work. Melanie Johnstone has had two knee replacement operations and is waiting for a new hip, but she knows her battle with pain is set to carry on.
Her life changed overnight 13 years ago when rheumatoid arthritis became part of her life.
Melanie, from Hugglescote, said: "I went to bed one night and was fine. The next morning I woke with excruciating pain in my left knee. It was burning and throbbing.
"When it didn't get better within a couple of weeks I went to my GP. The doctor was pretty sure it was rheumatoid arthritis. I couldn't really believe it. I was only 29."
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Melanie's life had changed for ever. She was given a range of medications – some worked, some did not.
Within a year, the disease had spread to her right knee and she was finding it hard to work.
Melanie, now 42, said: "I couldn't believe how quickly it took hold and really deformed me quite quickly.
"I am quite strong-minded and I think I coped by shutting out much of what was happening.
"I am quite proud of the fact that I have managed to keep my job all this time. It gives you a reason to get up.
"I think it's probably best not to analyse too much.
"My youngest son was only a year and my oldest was four when all this started and there are things I have not been able to do with the children but I think I have just tried to adapt."
Three years ago, Melanie came under the care of Dr Arumugam Moorthy, a consultant rheumatoloigst at Leicester Royal Infirmary.
She said: "Within three months I had had both knees replaced and am waiting for a hip replacement.
"I did think I would be cured and would be able to run and kneel and do all things I couldn't before. Sadly, that wasn't the case. I have been on crutches every since.
"The joints on my knees were so bad they had to be replaced but it seems that having the disease fixed in one place it will always find somewhere else to go."
Melanie is in constant and agonising pain and every morning is a struggle to get up.
She said: "I have medication to get me through the day and when I get home, but I am a bit useless with things like ironing.
"I never really talk about my condition to people but I do think it has affected my mental health. I do suffer from anxiety and I know I use a lot of energy pretending that I'm okay and it does take its toll on you.
"But I do also remind myself that there is always someone worse off than me."
Melanie now has drug treatment administered by drip at the infirmary to try and manage the rheumatoid arthritis.
She said: "There are so many new treatments, if I was diagnosed now it might be very different."