Joanna’s story – determination shines brightly

My name is Jo, I am 32 years old.

I was born in Essex and led a relatively normal life, with its own challenges – school, moving house and was unfortunately bullied which led me to have developed bulimia. When I was 16, I became tired and was struggling with my GCSEs – I didn’t know that my own body was attacking me – shortly before my seventeenth birthday I was diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic. My life was thrown 180 and my plans were in jeopardy as I was going to look into being a paramedic.


Fast forward several years and further challenges, 2010 to be precise. I started having the dreaded complication of diabetic retinopathy – laser therapy and regular checks ensured that I was to begin to lose my peripheral vision. In the same year, my father was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer and began his unfortunate decline and the stress of this made the diabetic retinopathy worse.


In 2011, my father passed away at home and as a family we were devastated. I’m not going to ramble about my grief but in the same year several things happened – after Dad passed away I then lost my best friend, my relationship broke down and then I started having vitreous haemorrhages (bleeding in the back of the eye) and the treatment I was having was not working and I began to have complications from the laser therapy – loss of night vision and further peripheral loss. That began my registration as a partially sighted person.

During this time, I was given little support from social services and the NHS but I am thankful for my family. Things then developed quickly and I had to learn to use a long cane and consider my career prospects – I was looking at going to university and studying Forensic Science. I then contacted the Department of Work and Pensions about retraining – I had heard of the Royal National College in Hereford and went through the assessments to see if they could help, after a successful weekend I was accepted and due to start in September.


Bang, another setback – my right eye became unsalvageable a few months before I was due to go to college and was referred to Moorfields to try and recover some vision, unfortunately this was unsuccessful and I was to postpone college for several months.

I made it to the college, met new friends and realised that as a blind person I can thrive as well as u did previously – things were challenging through the years after college as I moved to Somerset and tried to settle a new life. I worked hard to prove to myself that I may be severely sight impaired but I am able to do what I want. In 2014, my eyesight got worse and my left eye began to have a few issues that may change quickly – I prepared myself for the worst and thought I may have to make some changes. thankfully Ulay my guide dog came into my life; I needed her as a mobility aid and as a friend.


Cutting a long story short, I was in an awful relationship and it was making me mentally and physically drained. I then moved yet again, but moved to Suffolk with my sister – I am thankful but things weren’t easy as I had to push for help to move into my own property.


I created a bucket list of things I want to do before I lost my sight, some are trivial such as be an extra on tv, have a professional photo but some include travelling to all the continents of the world and take part in a transatlantic sailing expedition.


Its 2017, I’ve been here in Lowestoft for a year now. Ulay and I are doing well and I am in a loving relationship and am happy. I know I’m going to lose my sight soon – I had a scare this weekend that has made me more determined to do what I want.

In May 2017, I travelled to Houston in Texas on my own without my trusted guide dog. I done all the booking of activities myself and saw everything I wanted and it made me realise that I am strong and resilient – I cannot wait to complete more of my bucket list.

I want to say to anyone reading this and have recognised anything here. Please reach out for help and don’t hesitate to follow your dreams, I believe we can all play a part in society and show that disability isn’t something to be shameful od. I am going through challenges still but it is thanks to my family that I have been able to cope with sight loss.


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