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Student With Fibromyalgia
by Katie Rollinson

Photo Courtesy MK Starr

MK Starr and her fiancee, Michael Proulx

Although she was in extreme pain, she did not want to give up on school, no matter what. She enrolled part-time at Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Conn.

"I had to see whether or not I could go back to North Carolina," she said.

Middlesex's hilly campus was extremely hard to navigate, but with the help of a cane, she slowly began to regain strength in her legs. Her recovery seemed to be on track until one afternoon in class, when she began suffering shooting pains in her abdomen.

"I left class and went to the ladies' room, where the pains became so intense that I fell on the floor, crying and screaming" she said.

She was rushed to the hospital for further testing, but doctors could not determine a specific cause.

MK knew now that she could not return to North Carolina. She needed to stay close to home, where she could be treated immediately in the event of a medical emergency.

Fibromyalgia began to affect her life more than ever. She had to make changes to her everyday routine, as the pain varied from day to day.

"How I manage and cope with the pain is hard to explain," she says. "When I'm having a really bad flare it's tough to decide whether I should go to work or class, or whether I should just stay home and rest."

MK persevered, continuing to take courses at Middlesex until she earned her first associate's degree, in general studies, in 2004. In 2006, she earned two more associate's degrees, one in environmental science and one in liberal arts with a science concentration. That same year she received a certificate in environmental health and safety from Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Conn.

Armed with a diverse educational background, MK was ready to pursue her bachelor's degree. She was accepted at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island and the University of Connecticut. She chose to attend UConn when she heard about the new STRONG-CT program.

STRONG-CT is an academic support program, funded by the National Science Foundation, designed specifically for students majoring in areas of science and technology. Peer support is the foundation of the program, a notion that appealed to MK. She applied to join as soon as she enrolled at UConn.

"My first semester at UConn was the worst experience of my life," she said. "It was very hard to adjust to life at UConn because no one tells transfer students anything."