My favorite movie is “Rocky”, and I gasp every time I watch him run up the stairs of the Philadelphia Art Museum. Tears spring to my eyes when Rocky raises his hands over his head in victory. Running up those stairs is a defining moment in his life. I never thought getting up a flight of stairs would be a monumental event in my own life. It was.
Stairs were easy. I have 14 stairs in my house and I climbed up and down them daily for years. However, on November 16, 2010 when I started to walk up my stairs, instead of moving upwards, I crumbled to the floor. My feet and ankles were burning as if fire ran through my veins. My feet refused to support me so I crawled up on my hands and knees.
The following day I found myself in a Rheumatologist’s waiting room listing my address and social security number as well as my health history and current medications on forms, while also fumbling in my wallet for my insurance and flexible spending cards. As I surveyed the waiting room, I noticed that I was the youngest person there by about 30 or 40 years. I also noticed a walker and a wheelchair. Surely I was in the wrong place!
Then, a doctor with friendly eyes and a firm handshake introduced himself and began to question and examine me. He felt my feet and ankles, elbows, wrists, and fingers and he asked me to move and stretch in various ways. He also asked me to make fists with my hands. I couldn’t. Next, he told me about a confounding autoimmune disease called Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), and he said my symptoms were presenting as if I had this disease. The words, “disease” and “autoimmune” and “arthritis” swirled through my head.
My heart sank a few days later when I heard my doctor’s friendly voice on the phone. He called to confirm my diagnoses. I did have RA, and I had no idea how these 2 simple letters would forever impact my life.
I was an active, healthy wife and mom of 2 gorgeous girls when I received my diagnoses. Up until that point, I defined myself by being a full-time mom, running a household and caring for my husband and daughters. I walked my kids to and from school each day and I stood for hours at soccer practices, games and swim meets. How would I be defined now that I had a disease that made me limp slowly and hardly able to stand?
Being diagnosed with a disease is a traumatic experience under any circumstance. The fear, anxiety and worry that I felt were magnified because my identity was so closely tied to what I did for a living; it was who I was. I was a walker and a hiker and an active, fit, happy wife and mom. Who would I be with a disease? Who would I be if I was wheelchair bound or had joint deformities? The list of “who would I be” questions grew but the answers didn’t follow.
I was tired. Tired of my children and friends and strangers asking me why I was limping. Tired of explaining the word “arthritis” to my children. Tired of my husband asking how my feet felt while rubbing and icing them.
It has been 22 months since I couldn’t climb up my stairs. I have taken a variety of medicinal cocktails over these past months, including pills, injections and infusions. I have had blood drawn, tests run and results shared. I have gained weight and lost hope as I learned my disease could only be managed, not cured. RA is a tricky disease to treat because its symptoms vary among each patient. It is a cruel disease, as all autoimmune diseases are, because my body mistakes healthy cells for foreign pathogens.
However, I am fortunate. Bi- monthly infusions of Remicade, coupled with anti-inflammatories have eased my pain tremendously. It has been hard to accept my body for what it used to be, what it is today, and what its limitations are. But I am thankful for this forced path of acceptance. Every time I walk my dog, or hike the mountains or stand at a soccer game or swim meet I am grateful. Every time I bring a load of laundry upstairs I thank God. In fact, next time I make it up those stairs, I just might raise my arms in victory.
About the Author
Heather Seiden is a freelance writer in Denver, Colorado. She adores her husband, her daughters and her dog and she is passionate about helping others realize and maximize their potential in life.
This blog post was originally published by AutoimmuneMom.com, written by Heather Seiden, and first published on Sep 2, 2012.