Shelby Anderson, OMS III, was 8 years old when she fell ill. A lingering sore throat gave way to excruciating headaches and joint pain so severe she couldn’t walk.
After several months of worsening symptoms and doctor’s appointments, Anderson’s mother, a registered nurse, suggested what turned out to be the correct diagnosis: Lyme disease.
Anderson is currently a student at Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (WesternU/COMP) in Pomona, California. In this edited conversation, she shares her story and discusses her efforts to raise awareness of the disease.
Becoming a DO
Having Lyme disease played a huge role in my choice to study osteopathic medicine. I’ve been a patient my whole life, so I understand how painful and scary it can be. I chose DO school because I feel the connection between mind, body and spirit is really important to getting a person well.
As a physician, you have to really listen to your patients—they’ll tell you what’s wrong with them if you can pick up the clues in what they’re saying. Many Lyme disease patients, including me, have experienced not being believed when they present with symptoms, which is something I really hope to change.
For a long time, I didn’t want to talk about the disease. I was so angry about being ill, and it was already my whole life. But once I entered medical school, I saw an amazing opportunity to reach out to all these enthusiastic future physicians. I shared my story as part of an infectious disease and immunology class I was taking, and the response was overwhelmingly great. My classmates were so genuinely interested and said hearing my story had really impacted them.
I also worked with friends at WesternU/COMP to start the #Lime4Lyme challenge last year, which was inspired by the ALS ice bucket challenge. Participants take a photo or video of themselves eating a lime slice and donate to the Bay Area Lyme Foundation to support research on Lyme disease treatment and diagnostic testing. We’ve gotten a lot of response from the Lyme community, which has been really neat, and we’ve raised over $4,000 so far.
A ‘life-changing’ diagnosis
Lyme really is a life-changing disease. It took a long time for me to come to terms with my situation—it’s not ideal, but it’s doable. I still hurt daily, at times quite badly, and it makes everything in my life a lot more difficult. I’m grateful to have had amazing doctors who treated me extremely kindly and compassionately, and who didn’t give up. I’m still not well; it’s a very difficult disease to be cured from once you get to the stage I’m in, but I hope one day there will be a cure.