Voirrey Cheesman is Director of Solution Consulting leading a team of technical presales consultants at Worldpay from FIS. She experienced symptoms of axial SpA for over 8 years before receiving a diagnosis. As a fit, career driven young woman, Voirrey’s life was turned upside down by her condition. Life as she knew it came to an end and she was consumed by a sense of grief. But, with the right medication and support, Voirrey is in the process of piecing everything back together and is embracing her life with a new sense of perspective.
“I was born in Ascot and moved to the Isle of Man in 2002, aged 13. I’d always really struggled with school and when I got my first job in a bank, aged 18, it didn’t feel like anything special. It took a few years for me to realise there were things I was good at. I moved from department to department, I got a few promotions but eventually hit a ceiling because the Isle of Man is so small.
In 2014, I moved to London to start completely fresh. As an army child, moving around was second nature to me and I threw myself at the opportunity.
In 2016, I started my career with Worldpay. It felt like I’d found my people. It was a place that understood me, I felt like I could be myself. My skills were utilised, and I felt valued. I’m now a manager and love coaching new talent. I have a passion for people and my job means a lot to me.
For years it felt like nothing could break my stride. By this point, I had everything I’d ever wanted. The job, my wonderful fiancé, a dog and a house – I was living my dream. But in February 2021, when I was 31 years old, everything changed. I was hit by a wave of extreme pain while out on a walk. It was so bad I had to be helped back to the car.
Unfortunately, this pain wasn’t new to me. It had been quietly building in the background for years.
It had started in my early 20s when I wasn’t looking after myself very well. It was infrequent to begin with, but things really ramped up when I was aged 25. In my mid-late 20s I started to develop sciatica which would come and go. Nothing was sudden or overnight, it just built up gradually over the years.
Despite the intermittent discomfort, I was very active. At my fittest, I was playing netball on a regular basis, weight training, I had a personal trainer and was taking part in Spartan events, but this all stopped in 2017 when I fell down some stairs while on a night out. After that accident, the intensity of the pain increased.
In early 2019, the discomfort was getting unbearable. I couldn’t focus on anything, it was all-consuming. I went to osteopaths, chiropractors, musculoskeletal (MSK) specialists, pain specialists and was constantly fighting for rest bite. I always thought it was a mechanical problem and that someone would know how to fix it. The osteopath would do massages, which would relieve it but not for long.
Eventually, I saw a spinal specialist who did a steroid injection and, at the time, we truly believed it had worked. The pain stopped for about 15 months. But in February 2021, I realised that the solution had been short term.
I decided to approach private healthcare providers which I had access to through work. In May 2021, I saw an MSK specialist who took one look at me and suggested I see a rheumatologist. Almost immediately, I was diagnosed with axial spondyloarthritis.
My diagnosis put to bed so many unexplained symptoms I’d been having over the years – uveitis, bowel problems and more, I couldn’t believe that one diagnosis could catch everything.
In many ways, it was a relief. I’d started to worry I was being a hypochondriac. But over time the full impact sunk in. I had to go through a process of realisation to come to terms with what life will look like now and I’ve had to adapt to what my body could and couldn’t do now. The relief dwindled, and fear set in. I had to grieve the life I felt I’d lost.
My life, which had felt on certain trajectory, now seemed to be unknown. I didn’t necessarily feel like it had been taken away from me, but my diagnosis cast doubt over a lot of the choices I thought I’d have. I started to realise that I’d spent a lot of time focussing on what I wanted for my future life and not living in the moment enough.
A few months after receiving my diagnosis I realised there was no way I’d be able to continue working. I felt like I was letting everyone down. I’d been promoted in April and was having to step away just four months later. It was heart-breaking. I didn’t know how long I’d need off work and wondered how I’d ever return.
Everything suffered; my personal life, my relationship. My patience was at an all-time low and mentally, I was in a very bad place.
I started grief tending and cognitive behavioural therapy. Bit by bit, I started to piece things back together. I’ve been so fortunate to have such a supportive employer. Worldpay were fantastic at accommodating me and we figured out a plan for my return to work. They’ve been incredible, I couldn’t have asked more of them.
I returned to work in January 2022, building up hours gradually. I’m now on biologics, which are making a huge difference. My body is coping and we’re going in the right direction. I feel complete relief. I’m planning my hen-do and I finally feel like I’ve got options. The world is opening up for me. If today is as good as it gets, I’m ok with that. I know how to listen to my body more and know what I can do and when I need to rest.
I’m making my way back to the person I once was but with a fresh sense of perspective on what is important in life.”