Living With Severe Rheumatoid Arthritis

Avatar photo
Written by TeamIdentity

Disabilities, whether they be mental, physical, or even emotional, can hinder ones chances at achieving certain things in life. For Shirley, her early diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis caused her a delay in her education. But with perseverance and a love for God and her faith, she was able to achieve more than she may have ever dreamed possible.

By Shirley

I contracted severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at 11 months old after receiving a tuberculin (TB) skin test. I spent my early years in constant pain; some days, I was like a statue, unable to move or sit. My mother Juliet Cheng took me to China six times to seek treatment within my first 11 years of life, thus saving my life many times as a result.

Owing to years of hospitalization between America and China, I received no education until age 11. Back then, I only knew my ABCs and very little English; my book knowledge was non-existent, so I started schooling in a special education class in elementary school. However, I mastered grade level in all areas after only about 180 days of attendance, and immediately entered regular sixth grade in middle school.

I received many academic, art, and literary awards, including Student of the Year in sixth grade, Student of the Month in seventh grade, and an excellence award for achieving the highest grade of 97 for Earth science in the entire eighth grade class.

I was a top honor student, making the Principal’s List several times in high school (95 average and above). I was a contributor to my high school newspaper as an artist. I also ran for student body vice president (not class government, but for the entire school) as a freshman, and received a standing ovation for my platform speech as a candidate.

I lost my eyesight at age 17, but that did not stop me from loving the life I live. I had to stop attending school and received home-tutoring. I completed my schoolwork using only cassette tapes and recorders.

I was able to balance and calculate long chemistry equations in my head without Braille (I can’t use Braille because of my severe JRA). Still, I couldn’t accumulate enough credits to graduate, though my GPA is 3.9 (97, without any Advanced Placement factors), so I earned my GED diploma instead. I took the entire GED test, including mathematical calculations and problem solving, graphs, and an essay, in my head without Braille; still, I scored an exceptional 3280 on the exam, earning me a special recognition award. I was a student speaker at my GED graduation ceremony and received a standing ovation for my speech.

A Writer

I became an author at age 20, completing three books within one year. Now at age 28, I’m an award-winning author with 27 book awards. I’ve written nine books and contributed to 25, as well as being an editor of one. I’m also a Gospel proclaimer, Bible teacher, motivational speaker, and poet.

I’ve earned my doctorate in Divinity in 2010 as a summa cum laude graduate, and am constantly continuing to expand my knowledge in the word of God by studying the Bible and teaching what I’ve learned to those who are eager to take in God’s word as refreshing water.

Because of my arthritis, I can type with only my two index fingers–but I can produce about 65 words per minute. I’ve completed every step of book production, from formatting my manuscripts to designing and maintaining my websites.

Shirley answers our Identity Five Questions:

What have you accepted within yourself and/or within your life? Is there anything you are working on accepting?

I’ve accepted everything that I should accept about myself and my life. My acceptance is not an acceptance of resignation, however. Although I have lost my eyesight and the ability to walk, I’m never scornful; instead, I’m grateful for having owned these gifts before. Moreover, through the loss of my physical sight, I’ve gained a new spiritual vision the moment God helped me realize my purpose of existence by leading me to spreading the Gospel of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. If I hadn’t lost my eyesight, I would have gone to college to become a scientist, and not bring to others spiritual food that far surpasses any worldly achievements or influences.

What do you appreciate about yourself or your life?

I appreciate the fact that I am alive, that my Heavenly Father has blessed me with the precious gift of life so I can enjoy so much that life has to offer, and above all, the fact that I have the opportunity to intimately know my Creator and Life-Giver and to serve Him by spreading His eternal Word, which is “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes; for the Jew first, and also for the Greek. For in it is revealed God’s righteousness from faith to faith.” (Romans 1:16, 17, WEB)

What have you achieved, or what are you working to achieve personally, physically, or mentally?

My biggest goal, mission, and passion I aim to achieve is to proclaim Yahweh God’s Good News of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ and help people attain and maintain a sacred relationship with God and His Son. Proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ will remain my lifelong passion and mission that is led by my Heavenly Father, so where I will be and what I shall achieve for God’s Kingdom depends on where Yahweh directs me.

What is your not-so-perfect way? We are all unique with quirks and imperfections, so why not flaunt them and embrace them!

I’m as stubborn as a mule. I’ve learned to take advantage of it by directing it to good use, such as to stubbornly pursue my goals. As a result, the many challenges and obstacles in my life have learned to take “no” for an answer!

How would you complete this sentence, “I Love My…” This has to be about you, physically or mentally.


I love my God-given willpower and positivity. These elements, along with a deep faith in God, have enabled me to move forward spiritually even though my physical body won’t budge. They are what help me waltz to the music of life without having my blindness cause me to trip over my own feet.

To find out more about Shirley, please visit her websites at or

About the author

Avatar photo


Our mission is to empower women to "Get All A’s in their Game of Life" by discovering their powers and transforming through Self-Acceptance, Appreciation, and Personal Achievement—through all of our content and collaborations.

Leave a Comment