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Last chance for the RA with RA

As soon as I realized my love of scientific research ‪and my knack for statistics, I became eager to join a research lab on campus. I filled out two applications, got two interviews, and two offers! Then, I accepted a research assistant (R.A.) position in my dream lab! The Cognitive Neuroscience lab. 

At first I was nervous and wondered if my love of research would get satiated once I got a taste of what it was really like, but surprisingly, it didn’t! I’ve always been a dreamer and being in the lab- getting a tiny peak at what research was like up close- just amplified my dreams of answering my own research questions. And it encouraged me to pursue a minor and Master’s in biostatistics.

Then my dreams were shattered when just the other day the PhD student whose experiment I’m running ‬sought to fire me because of my RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis).

I’ve never been late to the lab in my life. I’ve attended nearly every weekly lab meeting, even after infusion appointments with out-of-town speeches/conferences being the one exception.

But just the other day, the day after my infusion, I became fatigued and accidentally overslept PAST my 12:00pm lab appointment. Since I got hired I’ve never once been late to the lab, even arriving on time at 8:45am after an hour of rush-hour traffic and a night of painsomnia. Oh, and I hardly ever sleep past noon—even on days I fall asleep at 7 or 8am. But for some reason, this day was different and I slept through my alarm and into the early hours of the afternoon. As soon as I awoke and realized the time, I immediately called my participant, apologized profusely, and promised to grant her credit for my mistake. My lab manager soon noticed my absence and (thankfully) being aware of my Arthritis, asked if I was feeling okay. I told her what had happened, apologized my heart out, and swore up-and-down it’d never happen again. Then, I threw on some clothes and raced over to run my next appointment. I thought it was over then. It wasn’t. My lab manager then approached me with the news that Ali (the PhD student) had instructed her to fire me for my first tardy. She then proceeded to apologize for disclosing to Ali that I had RA.

It had taken me months to feel comfortable enough to reveal my diagnosis and I had specifically asked for her to keep it to herself. But in this situation, she felt it necessary to do so to save my job and in fact told Ali, “It’s not like she didn’t want to be here. She wasn’t feeling well.” To which he replied, “Fine, but this is her last chance.”

Revealing my diagnosis had earned me a first and last chance to keep my job. All this time I had worried about losing my love of scientific research, I hadn’t even acknowledged the possibility of research not loving me.

WALK TO CURE ARTHRITIS #TEAMACHE

Walk to Cure Arthritis | 5K Walk Event | The Young Face of Arthritis #TeamACHE

It still astounds me when someone tells me they didn’t know that young adults and even kids could get Arthritis.

As most of you know by now, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis in 1996 when I was just 5 years old. Now, I’m 26 years old, in college, married to the love of my life, and currently disabled because of my RA. Still, I’m determined not to let my disease stop me from achieving my dreams and hopes for the future. It may sound silly, but my biggest goal for a long time has been to get healthy enough to get a job! Some days I can do things almost like a normal person, but consistency is a really big obstacle for me. In 2012, I got laid off (from a job I loved! Management at Restoration Hardware) right after Enbrel stopped working for me. Since then, I’ve really struggled to find a treatment that works consistently well, has manageable side effects, and works for any length of time whatsoever. I’ve also been diagnosed with a few more diseases and syndromes while looking for my “miracle drug” including (but not limited to.. lol) Gastroparesis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, chronic pain syndrome, and Cushing’s Syndrome. The last one is the most recent, actually being diagnosed last Monday…more on that later. *eye roll*

Although most people long for retirement, for me, working is something I miss dearly. I always say, mind is perfect, but my body can’t keep up and that is insanely frustrating. A CURE could help me accomplish this dream to be healthy, stable, and employed! 🙂

Arthritis is the #1 cause for DISABILITY in America today and contributes to approximately $80 billion in medical expenses and $47 billion in lost wages. The total cost to society in the United States is around 1.2% of the 2003 U.S. GDP. Donating today not only helps those of us suffering with Arthritis, but society as a whole. Millions of Americans trapped in their malfunctioning bodies could be contributing in cutting-edge fields such as mathematics, healthcare, science, technology, and business–if only we had better treatments or a CURE!
The money raised in this walk will be donated solely to research. PLEASE consider helping young folks like me hope for a cure!

*I joined the Arthritis Foundation’s Walk to Cure Arthritis to help the more than 50 million Americans and 300,000 children with arthritis live better today and to keep the Arthritis Foundation’s promise of finding a cure for tomorrow. Your support provides people with arthritis life changing resources and information to manage their disease and improves access to the critical medications they need to live full, healthy lives. The impact of your donation doesn’t stop today, it also helps fund cutting-edge research to identify better treatments and a cure. Written by the Arthritis Foundation

JOIN MY TEAM OR SPONSOR MY WALK @THE YOUNG FACE OF ARTHRITIS #TEAMACHE A.C.H.E stands for Arthritis Can Hit Everyone

What RA Pain Does To Me: A Practical Story About Just Yesterday

So it been a crazy month with as you all know, worsening back & hip pain. 
It’s so crazy, that just yesterday I was in pure agony. 

It’s almost remarkable how pure the pain was. So intense was I panicking, whimpering. 
I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. The tears wouldn’t come so I just dry sobbed, my face contorting in ugly ways. I just wanted my husband so badly, by my side. He always makes everything better. Knowing exactly when to laugh and when to cry as well. 
Right now I could use his gentle pat and reassurance that I would make it through, I would survive this, and the pain wouldn’t actually kill me.
But he wasn’t here, he was at work and it was up to me to make myself feel better. 
So I did everything I knew to do. I got up and painfully shuffled over to the pantry where my trusty cane was hidden -the perfect spot in the center of our tiny place, right next to my swiffer. 
Two perfect representatives of my disability. A cane to help me walk and a mop that I don’t have to ring out, scrub with, bend over, or carry a bucket. I can just spritz, push, and then throw away the dirt. 
 
But anyways, back to the story. 

So, looking into the closet, I grab it and two ice packs out of the freezer, tucking them into my hip and back and I let the cold do its job. Freeze the pain. Even with the cover and blanket, my skin still turns bright red with the pressure with which I beg for them to work. And it did, for as long as it was cold. But our Miami warmth doesn’t let anything stay cold for too long and the ice packs melt away way too soon. 
Heat now, right? Yes, I was remembering. My first aid lessons for any trauma or inflammation. RICE. Was that right? Cold, then heat? Should work. Will it? I don’t know if this trick applies to people with a faulty immune system. Whatever… 
I try it anyway and add in a 20mg tablet of prednisone for good measure – remembering my dear husband’s advice from the night before. When the pain first reared its ugly head. 
   “Here, boo. Take this. Did you forget your infusion is next week?”
   “Oh yeah… That’s right. Great!” I rolled my eyes, “perfect timing for me to be working on this speech.” 
The flashback is so clear in my head. It’s funny how I remember his words of wisdom whenever I’m alone and don’t know what to do. It’s even funnier that he remembers all the advice I forget to give myself! I’m the one who’s had RA for 20 years, he’s only even known about RA for 7. 
I guess he’s really is becoming my new “cane” or “crutch” or whatever you want to call it. 

Eh who cares, I think to myself with a smug smile, I can’t do it all–be in pain and remember what to do about it!
Then, more solemnly, I think, I need him. No one should do this on their own.
And I jot the thought down. Adding it to the running list of ideas I have to help my RA community. 
“Ways to strategically and manipulatively encourage patients to find someone, anyone -doesn’t have to be a spouse, could be a distant family member, a cousin, a friend, a colleague- anyone to confide in.” RA is so isolating -I know that personally. It’s so hard to make friends when I’m constantly struggling to keep up with people even 3x my age. Not to mention, the worry that any outing means they can’t relax and enjoy because they’re having to recalibrate their speed down to my level. 
But anyways, back to the story.

So I pop in my prednisone, silently praying for it to work and I turn on Netflix to one of my favorite shows, The Vampire Diaries. 
Utilizing one of my other techniques in managing pain and flares. Healthy distraction. 
Plus, this show always puts a smile on my face. I’m not taking about RA, I’m not thinking about RA, I’m enjoying escaping into the world of vampirism where regular human beings can be transformed into the supernatural. They can run fast, they can heal instantly, they can live forever, and they don’t have to consider the future. 
“How awesome would that be,” I think to myself with not so many words, “I wish vampires were real. I would want to be one, just so I could be cured of my RA.” 

Oh great, here I am thinking about RA again. But next thing I know, the episode is over and the ending reminds me to not leave the cold on for too long and put my ice packs back in the freezer for later. How responsible I’m being! I’m so proud of myself. 
So I decide to go back to my secret project and work some more. 
Standing this time, trying to move around. That’s supposed to help right? Nevertheless, a few minutes later the pain peaks, but I push through anyway, reminding myself I’m supposed to move around. Laying down watching The Vampire Diaries won’t help forever. So I continue my work, focusing on my “rheumy” friends I care so much about. 
Over an hour goes by and I feel like I’m going to collapse. My knees now are hugely swollen and I struggle just to crawl into bed. 
“I just need a little break. No more moving.”  
So I lay down and put my favorite cutting board on my lap, using it like a desk to hold my papers. Not long after though, the pain intensifies and I start really getting scared. 
So I took a half of a pain pill and waited. 
The pain got worse.
I have to pee but -oh God, no- I can’t get up. It hurts too much. 
Bargaining with my subconscious, I decide to go restroom and grab my ice packs from the freezer on the way back to bed. 
I knew I would need them later, I thought to myself, figuratively patting myself on the back for thinking so far ahead. 

I apply my ice packs with their covers and press them deep into my hips, forcing them to work. 
I sigh and wait, but nothing happens. Nothing except more pain. 
Oh my goodness this cannot be happening. What if I this doesn’t go away? What if I can never get up? What if I have to pee again? I felt myself starting to panic. 
So I pop in my mouth another 20mg of prednisone. I’m at 60mg now in less than 24 hours. 
This has to start working soon, doesn’t it? Does this drug even work like that? I don’t know if I’m doing this right. I add another a half of a Percocet, just because I felt myself getting really scared of the pain. 
It hurts so much not even my “healthy distraction” is working. God, it hurts. I find myself literally crying from the deep hurt and I remember why I need pain in my life. It’s so humbling. Never could I ever get big-headed about all my ideas. The pain reminds me that I’m really nothing more than the product of the mercy of a redeeming God and caring friends and family. 
The pain reminds me that without them, I would be nothing more than a heaping mess. 

Its at that time I decide I should see another episode of The Vampire Diaries and put on my hot pack. The pain peaks higher and higher and I start getting even more terrified. 
How is this happening to me? Shouldn’t my pills and my packs stop it? Lessen it? It feels like fire and a sharp knife sawing away my legs, right at the hip. It’s a sharp, deep pain and so overwhelming. I couldn’t sigh or relax muscles, even if I wanted to. I’m so tense with hurt, fear, and anxiety that my breath comes and goes in shallow and quick bursts. Pain. It feels like my body is literally trying to push it off of me. Like a thick heavy blanket. But I feel it deep in my bones. And then I remember that it is deep and in my bones. I remember how severe bone pain is rated on the pain scale and it comforts me, knowing I’m fighting one of the worst pains the human body can physically go though, on a daily basis. 
It reminds me how tough I am. 

But nevertheless, I pop in another half of a pain pill, because the truth is I’m starving and the only way I can make myself a PB&J is if I get up, which I don’t think I can. 
This time I struggle harder to pull myself out of bed and I wince loudly with each micro movement. 
I instantly wish I had my walker. It was so much easier to deal with hip pain then, having the ability to take my body’s weight off of my hips and onto my arms when my hips couldn’t take anymore. I struggle to walk the 12 paces to my kitchen when I get halfway there I suddenly and seriously consider turning back to bed instead. This is too hard. It hurts to much. I need to sit, lay down, anything. I don’t want to be away from my ice pack or my hot pack. 
But I get there and toast my bread -the seconds seemingly ticking away hours- and grab the peanut butter and jelly, hoping this small prep will get me back to bed faster. It’s gotten so much worse in the last couple hours and I wonder why the prednisone isn’t helping. 

It’s then I remember Dr. Weitz’ words from just the day before. 
“If prednisone helps, it’s inflammation causing the pain. If it doesn’t, it’s joint damage.” 
And I practically drop my peanut butter filled knife onto the floor. 
Now I’m really scared. 

Something I think most of us fail to mention is how scary pain can be.
The fear that the pain is causing joint destruction
that soon you’ll be immobile, permanently disabled…. is petrifying.  
My intention with this post is to raise more awareness about the fear of pain and disability
in the hopes of combating that fear, together.

Fear of the unknown is something we all face, but I know sticking together 
will make the journey that much easier. 😉

My Christmas Miracle

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or 
‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
…your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, 
and all these things will be given to you as well.”  –Matthew 6:31-33

For me, it’s so easy to read these words and believe it, but so hard to really live it. 
Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been really struggling these past couple years with getting my medication, Orencia
After all I’ve been through, 19 years of RA, 5 failed treatments, being forced to quit my job, quit school, and having to apply for disability, constantly fighting…
I finally got my “miracle drug“. 
I had heard for so long from friends and other patients how much their “miracle drug” was helping them. Women who had previously been unable to carry their grandchildren were now gardening and sewing. My favorite “miracle drug” story came from a woman named Maria who had been practically homebound was now traveling the WORLD on Remicade
She travels to Costa Rica, Japan, London, Canada, and comes home just to get her infusion. Their stories have inspired me to keep going, keep trying, keep fighting… Even after 5 failed treatments, I was still determined to try anything and everything, until all my options were exhausted.
I would tell myself, “I’m lucky that RA is a disease people are interested in researching. There are new drugs coming out every day! Even if this next one doesn’t work, I still have a chance of finding something that will.”
So, the second that Orencia started working for me, I was elated. For so many years up to that point I had endured the pain, the stiffness, the swelling, with absolutely no relief. I finally knew the name of my “miracle drug”. O R E N C I A. 
                                                                        I guess the commercials weren’t lying
After 6 months on the treatment, I suddenly was able to walk. Without a wheelchair, without a walker, without a cane. It was like being thrown into a new world! I was surprised of all I could do and was so grateful that I had been blessed with a medication that gave me a new lease on life!
  
I even testified to the INCREDIBLE results Orencia had on my body in Woohoo!! I’m feeling better!, I’m TOO Fast, TOO Furious, and Getting Back on Track with Vectra DA. 
…Then, when I got a strange $500 bill in the mail from the pharmacy, Accredo, I wrote about that struggle in Exposing my Truth

The reality of Arthritis hit me like a ton of bricks. Paying for this “miracle drug” and maintaining it. Every 3 1/2 weeks the medication would wear off, my RA would start waking up, the antibodies in my blood attacking my joints. It was obvious that I had to stick with the 28 day deadline in order to get the full effect of my miracle drug. 
But when the price tag started inflating, it became harder and harder to keep up.
    Especially months where the infusions overlapped, making the bill over $300 that month.
Over the next few months I fought and fought over the price they had originally promised me -$70 per infusion- and even filling an appeal. 
After an obscene amount of phone calls to numerous co-pay assistance foundations, my insurance, and the pharmacy, Accredo, my patience started wearing thin. I started asking around, anyone and everyone I met for direction/advice. 
I got some great tips that really helped me, especially from my friend, Betsey. 
She’s a total genius. 
And I started making headway with the representatives on the other line. They started escalating my issue and I was constantly calling back, spending entire afternoons on the phone every week! 
Then, 10 days ago, they called me
They wouldn’t be able to ship my Orencia, my “miracle drug”, without a payment of over $300. 
I knew I didn’t have it.
Call me naive, but honestly, in my heart of hearts, I thought they’d let it slide… because it was Christmas.
I had been 2 months off the medication because of the $$ and due to 3 infections. My joints were on F I R E.
This was during finals and I was barely making it. I was struggling just to drive.
SO, I did what I thought Andres would do, I told them to charge it to my card and we would just figure it out some way. Do some odd jobs, whatever. Anything to pay for this one time, this last time. My last infusion. 
Tears immediately started pouring out of me. I was just so frustrated and honestly, pissed off. At that point, I had been on the phone for 55 minutes being asked to “please hold for a little longer” to only be told they needed this kind of money, today
So I let them hear it. I told them my entire story. Everything. From beginning to end. The diagnosis 19 years ago. The failed treatments. Quitting my life. The cane. The walker. The wheelchair. The rapid deterioration. The gastroparesis. The “miracle drug”. My slow improvement. My schooling. My blog. My speeches.
Everything.
I ended with, “Look at everything I can do now! How can you take that away from me!”
It was more of a shout than a question. 
“You can try calling co-pay assistance foundations,” they responded.
I bellowed, “I’ve told you guys this a thousand times!! I’ve called each and every one every other month for the past two years!” 
                        …before whispering, “No one will let me in. There’s no room.” 
I was resigned. Gasping for air. Straight bawling. There was no hiding my disappointment. 
                        It was then, that I strayed from my usual post of believing God had a purpose in giving me this disease. I -for the first time in my life- half-choked, half-screamed at God, “Why did you give me Rheumatoid Arthritis!?”
I was done. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with God. And I told him that too!
Over the next few days I did absolutely nothing. I was still pretty angry. I had tried absolutely everything in my power to help myself. I put in the legwork and it didn’t pay off. Even with my appointment day looming, I didn’t have the heart to call and cancel -to admit defeat. It was then I got a phone call. 
It was Accredo, the pharmacy -and most likely the representative I had verbally abused. I wanted nothing to do with them. I didn’t answer. “Forget them,” I thought.
Then, a few hours later, they called again. I finally answered. The representative asked me a bunch of irrelevant questions. Did I want to be enrolled in Patient Care Program? Did I want to speak to a pharmacist? Blah blah blah. 
I immediately asked if it was free. 
He said yes.
So I just agreed and asked if that was all, less than politely implying I wanted to end the call. 
He said, “Yes. Ok you should be getting your card in the mail shortly.” 
Irritatedly I said, “What card?” 
He responded, “Your co-pay assistance card.” 
“……..b-but…” I suddenly developed a stammer. 
                                        I guess God had traded in my RA for a speech impediment.
“I-I-I don’t under-er-stand”.
Patiently he replied, “You have been enrolled in a co-pay assistance program giving you up to $10,000 a year to help pay for your Orencia.”
“No!” I cried, “Are you kidding me?!” 
He laughed. 
I laughed too. 
Then, I cried. I told him I felt like I won the lotto. I cried more. I couldn’t believe it. Me? I’m nobody. I’m no one special. I told him everything I had been through. That this was my “miracle drug” and how Orencia had given me back the ability to walk. I thanked him 100 times, but somehow it didn’t seem like enough. 
Then he said, “This. Right here, is why I do this. Just to be able to help one person, like you.” 
We ended the call and I fell onto my swollen knees. I didn’t care how much it hurt. God would protect me. He had protected me. He did this. He influenced someone at Accredo to help me. Because He thinks I’m special. He loves me. And He wants me to rely on Him.
After all, He sent His son into this world. A human, a baby, who like me, there had been no room for. His son lived a perfect life (unlike me) only to die so that I could know Him.
“Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 
He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.”  -Deuteronomy 6:31-33
“You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise 
the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you.” -Joel 2:26

T.G.I.T: Thank God It’s Thanksgiving!

So tomorrow is Thanksgiving! 
But before you assume this is a #blessed #thankful I have Arthritis list 
because I’m an “RA Blogger,” please just stop right there. 
I mean, let’s be real here! Although I have accepted having to live my life with Arthritis and I’m grateful with how it’s shaped me… NO I will not be thankful for my Arthritis. Pssh!

Instead, I will do my own little version of 3 Thanksgiving RA hacks to get you through the holiday. 🙂
And before you think my hacks mundane, I will remind you unbelievers that it is important to learn from your mistakes.
……Particularly my mistakes that I’ve successfully made in just the last 24 hours of this                                                                                                                                       Thanksgiving…. 
1. Rest. Or better yet, take the day before Thanksgiving (today) off.
I’m so done with AMs…
So… Because I’m your standard overachiever, I went to sleep early last night (midnight) and set my alarm for this morning to 6:45am. It was the perfect time to be able to make myself breakfast and get in some much needed research for my upcoming speech before heading out at 9 to drop off my husband at work by 9:45am. Then I would come back home and finish allll my research and type up my outline by 12 to get ready and be out the door by 1 to get to class by 1:25. After class, I would go and “practice present” my speech till 6 and be right on time to pick up my dear husband at work at 7pm. We would then go home and have a nice low-key dinner in preparation for tomorrow’s high-key, fun-filled cook-a-thon.
Now, here’s where the plan went awry. By 5:45am I was awake and feeling some significant shoulder pain, but feeling completely self-satisfied that I woke up extra early. I proudly headed to the kitchen to make myself a nice breakfast which I quickly devoured. Now my gastroparesis got ahead of me and by 7 I had vomited at least 6 times. Still committed to bouncing back like the good overachiever I am I decided to rest for a little while and just read. Soon, my stomach ache turned into severe knee and shoulder pain with a severe headache to boot.     Ha! What was I thinking….?

2. Use those rubber-tipped tongs to get things out of reach. Or a husband or a friend or if all else fails, a light-weight miniature step stool. Anything, but nothing. 
See if you can spot the cookbook… -_-

This one actually happened last night, but I think it still counts. SO because I’m actually cooking for Thanksgiving, I needed my trusty cookbook. I normally keep it on the third shelf in my kitchen (because it just looks so decorative there! <–here’s the mistake

Well, right when I needed it most I was- of course- in the mood to cut corners so I bravely rose on my tippiest tip toes, lifted up my dominant right arm and carefully attempted to sneak it off the third shelf. Being 5’1” and more arrogant than agile, I scraped the bottom of the book with my finger tips when reaching just past the breaking point of my known-to-be-messed-up shoulder gave out on me just in time for my favorite cookbook to cartwheel off that retched third shelf and land a corner right on my head. Ouch. 
Now that I think about it…this probably contributed a little to my next morning headache and my late night-early morning shoulder pain which I eagerly treated with EXTRA heat.     ….Mistake??

3. Borrow some of your friends’ lightweight pots.
There’s my little stolen pot! Sorry mom! 😀
Now, for all of you cooking aficionados looking down your noses at me, hold your horses!
In my defense I do LOVE LOVE LOVE my treasured All-Clad pots and pans that my dear husband bought me 4 years ago at 60% off (deal of the century!). But this Thanksgiving, I’ve decided my precious All-Clad is not my friend. My trusty, even-temperatured, quick-heating, stainless steel pots would have to be left behind this Thanksgiving. Anticipating this problem in advance like I usually do (lies) I politely barged into my mom’s house a half mile away and rummaged her cabinets. There I found the perfect little light weight pot to test out my 1 and a half hour rice recipe. And so cute too! 
Ok so this wasn’t actually a mistake on my part. I had actually done something right for once! And right on time for my cook-a-thon tomorrow. 🙂
Now, If you’re questioning whether you should do this- or will- remember this:
 Thanksgiving food is easier to eat when you have your spoons. 😉
Not my turkey! Wish it was though…hehe

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody! 😀