So You Think You Can Stop Living Because of Arthritis? Think Again!
After spending much of the last three months recovering from more surgeries on my foot due to osteoarthritis, I find that I still tire easily and become frustrated with my lack of energy. I realize that, according to my surgeons, "It just takes time," but I'm not very patient.
A few nights ago, I saw something that changed those feelings a little. I was stretched out in my favorite recliner and happened to turn on the TV to a show that I normally wouldn't have watched - So You Think You Can Dance. The young woman I saw auditioning for the show, Tiffany Geigel, was dressed in a gossamer costume and danced with the ultimate grace of a trained ballerina with her long flowing hair following her movements. Although her arms and legs were of normal proportions, she was born with a serious spinal defect and had very few vertebrate instead of the normal 33. She spoke of the almost daily, unkind stares and rude remarks from the public she gets as she tries to live her life. After she was born, the doctors told her parents to take her home to die. But she had a strong-willed mother who refused to do that. This young woman could have chosen a simpler life of sitting around and being dependent on others while she felt sorry for herself. Instead, she embarked on a challenge. Now 23 years old, she has become a positive person and a graceful ballerina.
For those of us with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other physical challenges, we too, have to make a choice. We can choose to become a victim or do what is necessary to live a fuller life. Like many with arthritis, I've had to go through a variety of joint surgeries (nine below the waist so far) and fully realize that they aren't finished for me. I'm fortunate to have awesome surgeons and to have had a variety of treatments and medications. Next week, I will begin four months of intensive physical therapy to help me learn to walk with the little flexibility I now have from the new joint fusions in my foot. I will also be working toward strengthening the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that are still remaining where my ankle has disintegrated.
I know this won't be fun, but I, too, have a dream. With my surgeon's blessings, I will be returning to Tanzania, East Africa, this Fall to again volunteer to work with the people I met last year. I will use my skills as a nature photographer this time to help friends with a family-based foundation, two other friends with their orphanage, and work as a consultant for a friend with his new company in another village. I will hopefully also be on the Serengeti in time to see at least part of the wildebeest migration -- something I've wanted to see for more than 40 years!
I really have found that, for me, helping others somehow helps me cope better with my own really painful days. I've been on the Arthritis Foundation Board for several years and try to volunteer in most activities when I'm in the U.S. I love to cook and share my breads, cookies, main dishes, and salads with friends who aren't physically well or who just need a surprise. I enjoy public speaking and have done so many times for the Arthritis Foundation as well as for Cross Cultural Solutions (the international volunteer company I work with).
I'm LEARNING to accept some of my limitations due to arthritis and my joint surgeries, but I realize that there are still people I can help, new things to experience, things I really CAN do. I REFUSE to become a victim of arthritis! i refuse to let it completely control my life!