Mind & Body

Surviving and Thriving With Rheumatoid Arthritis

TIMEMarch 18, 2014

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that currently has no cure, but there are more options for managing symptoms and achieving a state of remission than when I was diagnosed in 1988.

The summer of 1988 was certainly one to remember! I woke one Saturday morning and could hardly put any weight on my elbows and knees. Getting out of bed was difficult, and walking was a painful challenge.

Within two weeks, I was experiencing a full-blown RA flare-up but at that point didn’t know it. My knees and ankles had disappeared, and the swelling was so severe I resembled the Pillsbury doughboy!

I went to see a local doctor who thought it looked like RA, and he referred me to the Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC. There my six-month nightmare began. I cannot describe the pain. I prefer to lock it in a little box in the back of my mind.

The specialists I was seeing at the Arthritis Clinic were wonderful individuals, very concerned for their patients, but they were offering only drug options and basic physical therapy to reduce the symptoms.

At the time my resources were very limited. I had only been in the United States a short while and had not discovered alternative (integrated) medicine. So I did what my doctors advised.

The most frightening part of the diagnosis was the list of things I would not be able to do in the foreseeable future or possibly ever again. They included wearing high heels, dancing, and even working full time.

In the worst-case scenario, I might end up in wheel chair—permanently. Plus, the drugs had some pretty serious side effects, and in order to suppress my symptoms, I would have to take these drugs for extended periods of time throughout my life—not exactly what I wanted to hear.

About three months into the process, going to the hospital three days a week, I came to the conclusion there had to be another way. While the cortisone was bringing the pain level down from a 10 to a barely manageable 7, I was only existing, not living.

I remember that the staff used smiley faces and frowning faces to pinpoint the pain level. There should have been a screaming face!

I was experiencing inflammation in virtually all my joints, ankles, knees, fingers, wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Shuffling around in shoes two sizes larger than normal and moving at the pace of a 90-year-old when I was only 38, I was utterly miserable, depressed, and hopeless.

At that time, the idea that diet and nutrition could play a role in managing RA was not even on the radar screen, and you couldn’t go online and do your own research like you can today. However, I caught a lucky break. I had just started a marketing and advertising company in New York and had the great fortune to meet a man who ran a botanical ingredient company.

At our first business meeting, as I made my way, very slowly into their conference room, he noticed my discomfort and asked what was wrong. I told him, and for the next two hours, he dispensed his herbal knowledge. For the first time since my diagnosis, I felt a glimmer of hope. Everything he said made perfect sense.

With a combination of herbal extracts that included devil’s claw and cat’s claw, dietary supplements like evening primrose oil and royal jelly, and dietary changes that included cutting out dairy and red meat, I was able to reduce the inflammation. In six months I had the pain under control, was off all drugs, and was in remission.

Since then, there have been great strides in treatment options. But I choose not to take drugs on a long-term basis. I adjust my diet and supplement regimen as I need to. I know my body and take notice of the warning signs—fatigue is the big one.

When I’m over-worked and over-stressed, fatigue kicks in, and I ignore it at my peril! I have managed RA for almost 25 years. I wear high heels, I dance, and I work more hours than anyone in my company. I credit this to one man, Frank D’Amelio Sr., a positive attitude, and the natural-product industry.

Eco18 is a collective of creative-writing individuals from different backgrounds with a common goal—to live a healthier, more natural lifestyle. Their combined expertise, humor, and opinions explore green and sustainable in a practical, fun way. www.eco18.com

Photo of Evening Primrose from Shutterstock.com