About eight years ago, I started feeling intermittent pain in different joints throughout my body. One day, it would hurt in my shoulder; the next day, it would hurt in my ankle; the next, it was my wrists. And on it went.
Along with the joint pain, I began to feel foggy all the time. I had a fever and was always fatigued. I felt like I had the flu, but it wasn’t going away. I wanted to get to the root of these weird new symptoms I was experiencing, so I decided to see my family doctor. I’ve been seeing him for more than 20 years, and he’s really a diagnostician at heart.
After I explained my symptoms, my doctor said he thought he knew what it was, but he wanted to take some blood to be 100 percent sure. So he took my blood, I went home, and I waited for a call.
When I heard from my doctor the next day, he told me he had the blood test results, and something wasn’t right in my body: “For a guy your age, height, and weight, your RA factor should be something like 17. However, yours is 357,” he said.
With that, he referred me to a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with sero-positive rheumatoid arthritis (RA) about a month later.
It was a shock, and I would say that there was a cycle of grief. Then I got mad and decided that I wanted to find a way to fight this disease.
Living with RA has changed my life in many ways. For one, I’ve had to learn to say no — and to not feel guilty because of it.
For example, some people can feel tired but continue pushing forward anyway. But not me. I’ve learned that when I’m out of energy, I’m really out of energy. I just don’t have anything left to give, period. As a father, this type of weakness is humiliating, but you have to ask yourself: Is it better to keep going and get sicker, or should I stop and make sure that I’ll be OK when I’m really needed?
It has been difficult at times; once, even though I love doing things with my boys, I had to arrange for my friend to take them camping because I just couldn’t make the trip.
It’s often a challenge to explain to people what RA does to my body because there is so much ignorance and misunderstanding surrounding the condition. When I explain my RA to others, I get a lot of different responses. In some cases, people want to learn more, or they offer to help where they can. Others don’t understand what a virulent disease this is, and some just think I’m making it all up. A lot of people try to offer some “miracle” cure they’ve heard about on the internet, and some even get hostile when I refuse to try these remedies or when they hear that I take pain medicine. You never know how people are going to react.
While living with RA is difficult, it makes my accomplishments all the more special because I have done it all with RA. For example, I was recently awarded North American Manager of the Year at my company. But I’m most proud of raising my kids alongside my wife of 27 years.
When you have a chronic condition like RA, it’s important to have a strong support system. My wife and family are mine. They always encourage me, and they always support me when I need to ask for help.
My family has helped me learn an important lesson that I would pass along to others with chronic conditions: Don’t feel guilty if you just can’t do something or if you need to ask for and use assistance. One of the hardest things I have ever had to do was use a wheelchair. At first, it felt incredibly humiliating. But it’s what my body needed. These days, I rely on a cane to help me get around, and my wife has always encouraged me to use it.
Another lesson I’ve learned is how important it is to find a doctor that you feel really comfortable communicating with — that means information goes in both directions, and you work as a team. Currently, I’m on my third rheumatologist. I really like her, and we’re building that relationship. Luckily, I have a family doctor I trust who has been my main contact throughout my years with RA.
I’ve learned to make the best of each day living with RA. I’ve gotten involved in RA research, and I’ve written about what it’s like to live with my condition to help others. Despite the challenges, living with RA has strengthened my faith, and it has changed my perspective on life.