How old where you when you found out you had sickle cell? I’m sure I was too young to understand but I was able to understand that I had sickle cell by the time I was 4 or 5.
Hmmm, you must have a great memory because I can’t remember back that far…lol. How did your childhood and your parents influence you in your choice of career? My parents weren’t in my life that much. I was in the foster care system until I was about 8 and felt horrible about it but my childhood, and being poor and ill, influenced me to want to help anyone and everyone who faces not just physical hardship but financial, emotional, social and medical hardship. My aunt, who adopted me, told me that I would be good at whatever it is I want to do. She told me to not place limits on myself!
You were in the foster care system as a kid? That must have been very difficult! Your aunt sounds like a life-saver. What do you do? What kind of experience and schooling does one need to get your job? I have a Masters in Social Work. My current position is Medicaid Service Coordinator and Assistant Job Coach/Coordinator. I find and connect individuals who have Developmental Disabilities with services they need to help empower them and live full lives. I also make home visits to the individuals on my case load. In my first 2 years of college, I took required courses to get into the BSW (Bachelors in Social Work) program as a junior. Once you are in the program you must have 1-2 internships in order to graduate. Once I graduated, I went into an Advance Standing MSW program (due to good grades) which allows you to get your MSW in 1 year rather than 2. You must do an internship in this program as well! I am studying now to get my Social Work License and once I have it, I will be transitioning to Mental Health Therapy.
How were you able to cope with school and sickle cell? Great question. Supports, lots of positive supportive people! In grade school my aunt was my biggest support. My long time best friend, Wahid, was there for me since we were in 3rd grade. I met another friend in high school, Sara, who is still a great friend. In college, man that was hard but I built support there too. The Disability Support Office played a big roll on my success! As well as the Stony Brook University Hospital. My roommate was a good support and many of my college friends such as Laura, Samira, Louren, Oyinka and my boyfriend Antoine were always there for me! I must not forget about my great teachers, professors and my pets! Pets are wonderful!
It sounds like you made the best use of your support system in college, which really helped you out. Describe a typical day on your job. LOL wow typical is not the word! On a day where I have not scheduled any visits, I complete applications for services, call numerous agencies to see if they have openings or have the agency place an application on the waiting list if need be. I do my own filing, which can be a horror at times. Notes, “my people” write lots of notes! I may need to mediate between the Medicaid office and the agency providing a service. I update needed forms and schedule client evaluations, assessments, and sometimes, Dr. visits. I advocate on behalf of my individuals for services. And I might have to make a couple unexpected visits! (PS:there is much more but I will end here!) On visiting days, I see my consumers and write notes. Many times I may need to travel 45 mins to 1 hour in order to see a consumer!
Wow, your job sounds really interesting. I love that you went into a ‘helping industry’ and I know that you are indeed helping many with your efforts. How do you manage SCD and still maintain a thriving career? I try to workout as much as my body permits, I stay away from junk food as often as possible, I pray, I play with my pets. I also have the ability to work from home if I need to do so. Most importantly, I see my doctors on a regular basis to discuss my health
Have you noticed a difference in how your coworkers treat you once they know you have SCD? Not at all. Before they knew, they would always tell me to make sure I take the time out to take care of myself. After they knew it was the same thing. They treat me like everyone else but i can tell they are mindful of my health. They notice when I am in pain and ask if I need help or need rest. I notice that they do this with everyone which is refreshing. I’m not the odd ball out! Plus, I work in an agency that employs many people with varying disabilities! I LOVE MY PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT!
Ms. Sheree, you are so lucky! Your coworkers sound amazing:) What advice would you give to someone wanting to join your profession that has sickle cell? Listen to the signs your body is giving you! If you feel like you have to slow down…slow down! Show that you are capable of doing your job! Do not use your disease as a crutch or reason to not do your best at work! If you wish to disclose your health information to your supervisor, do it at a time and manner in which you are ready. You do not have to disclose this information in an interview or your first day at work. In fact, you don’t have to disclose it at all! And always make time to see your health professionals.
Has sickle cell limited any areas of your life? I have no limitations because I pace myself!
I love that response! When you do reach obstacles in your life, what helps you through it? Prayer, advice from my aunt and my beloved pets! My pets serve as therapy.
Do you have regular pain (more than 2x a week)? How do you cope with this when you are working? Yes, I oftendrink tea which relaxes me. My herbalist made a special tea for me to help with pain. I will work from home if I need to or use benefit time on a needed basis.
What medications do you take when you are in pain and what is your daily medication regimen? For pain, I take Oxycontin and Dilaudid. Daily I take mg Folic acid, a broad spectrum daily vitamin and Iron pills daily for a week when I have my period. Unfortunately, I am allergic to hydroxyurea!
How has sickle cell affected your personal life? For example, are you in a relationship, do you have kids, etc. In the past I won’t let a boyfriend get too close because of my health. Now, I have a great boyfriend who is constantly there for me. He notices when I am in pain and reminds me to slow down. He comes to the hospital every single day when I am admitted. And he is the 1st boyfriend who actually wants to have children with me!
Awwww, your beau sounds like he can ‘handle’ this condition. I wish you every happiness:) Looking at the 14 year old version of yourself, what would you tell him or her if you could…? I would tell her that she is doing a great job with herself and live life to the fullest in a healthy way!
As a final word to end, is there anything else that you would want to tell other sickle cell warriors? Keep being a warrior. Don’t let anyone tell youyou can’t. Go at your own pace and prove them wrong! Always have a support system around you for you are great!
Thank you Ms. Sheree for doing this interview. You are truly an inspiration, and your positivity and determination will continue to see you to greater and greater heights.