I was diagnosed in March 2011, at 47 years old. I had been having these terrible symptoms, so I knew something was wrong. I would wake up in the morning and my hands were just excruciating. It was so painful that I couldn't even bear to have anything brush up against them, and it disrupted my day-to-day life. After several days of waking up like that, I went to the doctor, and they ran some tests to find out what was wrong.
My doctor called me with the test results and said, “You have rheumatoid arthritis.” It was something I had never anticipated, even though my grandmother had it. The news was definitely a game-changer in my life. I had no idea what to expect going forward.
After my diagnosis, it took about a month and a half to find a rheumatologist and get on medication for the symptoms I was experiencing. As a person who didn't really like to take medication, I was a reluctant to take the drugs that they typically prescribe. I definitely suffered a bit before I got to the point where I would actually give in and start taking some of the medications. I guess you could call it denial.
But after a while, I realized that I felt sicker when I took the medication than I did without it, so I tried a different approach and changed my diet. I realized that the proteins in the meat I was eating were causing the inflammation in my body. When I cut out the meat in my diet, it made a big difference in how I was feeling. I’m also working on cutting out dairy.
To help with the pain, I also do physical therapy whenever I need it, and I get regular massages. I'm starting to get back to where I can actually do more things around the house again.
I was a very active person before my diagnosis. I was even a cheerleader and in the band in high school. But when I got RA, I had to change how I looked at life and what I did.
At the time of my diagnosis, I was working a job with a four-hour roundtrip commute. My doctor recommended I stop the commute because it was just too much for me. I had to find a job closer to home because I couldn’t sit for two hours each way in a car and then be able to function all day at work. It was just too painful.
One of the biggest things I have had to give up to RA is how much I ride my motorcycle — a Can Am Spyder. I got my motorcycle license in 2008, and it had always been something I wanted to do. But with my RA symptoms, I could no longer just go out whenever I wanted to ride on my bike. I still do ride occasionally, but not as much as I wish I could. There’s nothing like riding in the springtime, when the skies are clear and the weather is perfect.
I’ve had to learn to adjust to my body’s new needs. For example, we once had a birthday party for my mom, a cookout, and I was really involved in getting everything set up. I felt great at the time, but then I woke up the next day and couldn't walk. With RA, I might have to modify what I do, and I might not be able to do it as fast as I used to, but that’s OK. I just look for ways to continue with my life.
I watched my grandmother live with RA for so long, and it always bothered me to see what she had to go through. One thing I always admired was that she never complained about her RA. I don't believe in complaining because I don't see what good it does. Complaining to somebody about how you feel isn’t going to change anything. You just have to find ways to move on and be happy, and that's what I do. I like focusing on helping other people, especially when they might be going through a hard time. I’ve learned that I get more satisfaction from helping others than I do from worrying about my RA.
For example, I’ve always had a passion for helping the elderly. Since my RA diagnosis, I’ve joined a sorority, Zeta Phi Beta, and I participate with their elderly care committee. We’ll do events, like a dinner for caregivers at a local church, to recognize them and show they are appreciated in what they do.
I have so much respect for our senior citizens, especially because my grandmother was everything to me. Any time I was feeling bad or had a question about something, I could talk to her about it. Even if she didn't have the answer, she was always there to listen. So I learned to see elderly people as people deserving of our utmost respect.
I've always been a kind of quiet person, but when it comes to doing things that help people, I'm all in.
One thing that RA has shown me is how much my husband loves me. He is so supportive — there's nothing I will ask him to do that he won't do, even if it’s in the middle of the night. If I need a drink of water or somebody to rub my back or my knees, he will do it. I'm very appreciative of him, and fortunate to have a mate that's going to be there for me for, good and bad. We also have a miniature poodle, and he'll come and get up on the bed and lie there beside me when I’m having bad days. He’s my little comfort when I’m not feeling well.
Several other members of my family have RA, too. I don't like to talk about my private life often, but when I do have bad days, I call my cousin who has it. I might call her and say, "Have you experienced this?” She gives me what I need during those bad days, and it helps me not get too worked up and know that everything's going to be OK.
I also have two sons who are adults now. At times, I think it’s been hard for them to understand how the RA has changed what I can do. I hope and pray that my children don't get this disease, because it does change your life. At the same time, it doesn’t stop me from smiling and laughing about things in life and staying positive.