At first glance, 18-year-old student Jade Turner may not appear typical of beneficiaries usually in attendance on a programme of support at our Jubilee House centre in Cumbria. However, a year and a half ago, she was given a diagnosis that would change her life and, as the adult daughter of a career firefighter, and therefore an eligible beneficiary, The Fire Fighters Charity was on hand to help.
Not long after her 17th birthday, Jade was told she had scoliosis, a chronic condition that affects the curvature of the spine. She was left having to manage the pain that the condition left her in, as well as the insecurities that came with it.
“Being 18, I am surrounded with images of ‘perfect’ bodies, who I am constantly comparing myself to,” says Jade. “I get a lot of insecurities and anxieties, on top of the pain. My condition is something I have to learn to deal with. Surgery isn’t an option at the moment, so instead of medication, I wanted to find other ways to cope.”
“I want other young girls to realise that there’s no ‘normal’ body shape; we are all perfect in our own individual ways and it’s that individuality that makes you you.”
Jade’s dad, Andy, who is a wholetime firefighter at Welwyn Garden City, had previously been supported by the Charity for post-surgery recovery 12 years ago, so knew she would be in safe hands.
“Once we discovered her condition, we thought it would be an ideal place to help her psychologically as well as physically,” he says. “It’s daunting to find out at that age that you have this condition and learn how it will affect your life, and she’s been feeling understandably vulnerable.”
Having approached the Charity, Jade was referred to our centre in Cumbria to see what we could do to help: “We waited until she turned 18, so she could go on her own, but I stayed in Penrith village so I could see her every evening if she needed me,” says Andy. “But she said right away how comfortable she felt in the environment.”
During her stay, Jade was shown ways to deal with the pain and relaxation methods, as well as given coping mechanisms for the anxiety and insecurities she had been experiencing.
“Everyone was lovely and helpful, wanting you to achieve more,” she says. “It was nice having someone to talk to, and to be given ways to cope psychologically as well as physically. The pain varies from day to day, but for me it’s normal, so I try not to dwell on it too much.”
For Andy, seeing the positive difference Jade’s stay in Penrith has made to her happiness has helped ease some of the worries he feels as a parent of a child living with long-term pain.
“We know she’ll need to have surgery in the next few years, as her spine is moving at a rate of about one per cent a year, but in the meantime, this has given her ways to cope,” he says. “I’ve always been aware of the Charity, and made sure I took part in car washes and fundraising etc. I knew that one day, if I didn’t benefit from their services again, someone else in my family might do.”
Jade also wants to inspire other young people about how body image can affect mental health, especially in teenage girls.
“I think it’s definitely a subject that is too often disregarded,” she says. “We are constantly flooded with pictures of how we should look, and unfortunately my generation is filled with insecurities that reflect how we perceive ourselves. I am definitely learning to love myself more and accept my uniqueness. I want other young girls to realise that there’s no ‘normal’ body shape; we are all perfect in our own individual ways and it’s that individuality that makes you you.”