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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

My Weight Loss Journey with RA

Anyone who says that exercise is easy, is lying. Especially for those of us living a #chroniclife. 
If you’re on the fence about starting exercise, do it.
It’s a decision that I can guarantee you will never regret. 
 
I know this may sound a bit corny but my New Year’s Resolution this year was to lose some weight.
I’ve written a little bit about my weight gain here, but to be completely honest…I haven’t been completely honest. For obvious reasons. I was/am ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated and I really didn’t want to bring attention to my growing midsection that has nothing at all to do with creating a miniature human. But actually, the main reason is I didn’t think I could lose the weight and it has everything to do with my RA. To recap, in the last 8 years since my RA vengeance, I’ve gone from weighing 98lbs to being in a wheelchair, walker, cane, to walking sans assisted devices, to a whopping 138lbs. (This may not sound like a lot to you, but keep in mind, I’m 5’1” and small framed. Normal weight for my size is 105lbs.) I’ve been on high dose prednisone far too often, done countless cortisone shots, *tried and failed* Enbrel, Remicade, Actemra, Methotrexate, and Arava. Now I’m doing well back on Methotrexate (after over a year break), plus Plaquenil and Orencia. 

 

So, my concerns about losing weight were/still are:
  1. My meds won’t let me lose weight. Many people, including myself, have expressed the opinion that weight gain is a common side effect to any/all treatments. I don’t believe that’s true for everyone, but I definitely believe it’s true for me. After starting treatment, I never ever got back down to 100lbs, but to be completely honest, I don’t care! Weight gain as a side effect still makes being on treatment worth it. I would choose being able to walk over being skinny with joint damage every day of the week, including Sunday! 
  2. My physical limitations won’t let me lose weight. I’ve spent more years on crutches, in a wheelchair, with a walker, or a cane than I have without some sort of aid. This means I have some muscle atrophy in legs. Plus, I still have trouble walking for long periods, can’t do stairs, can’t run, etc. Basically, I’m weak and I’m slow. So how the heck am I supposed to lose weight without being able to speed walk or run??? Oh and I forgot to mention, I flare up pretty bad the week my Orencia is due, so… even if I could exercise once a week, it’d be restricted to a 20 minute slow walk around the block 3 times a month. This doesn’t look good.
  3. My Gastroparesis means I can’t eat any vegetables whatsoever. The deal here is: I love vegetables. I literally crave salad. I used to be a huge veggie/salad eater before I got diagnosed 3 years ago. Now, I can’t even look at a strawberry without having to throw up. I can’t eat the skin of apples, I can’t eat grapes, nuts, or anything fibrous whatsoever. What I mostly eat is pasta, rice, whatever protein like lean chicken or porkchop, and cereal. Basically carbs, carbs, lean meat, and carbs! Oh wait, did I forget to mention, carbs? It’s pretty annoying, but you can see why I’d be concerned about my ability to lose weight. And I do know other RA patients with gastroparesis who were diagnosed as children, like me, who struggle through the same thing.

Now, I’m not completely ungrateful. I obviously know that there are people -a lot of them good friends of mine- that are much worse off either because of dietary restrictions or because they’re confided to a wheelchair.

I know what that’s like. 

 

I remember when we were at our old apartment and I needed help just to get out of bed. I remember trying not to drink water close to bedtime so I wouldn’t have to pee in the middle of the night and have to wake up my husband to ask him to help me get to the bathroom. The nights that I couldn’t help it, I’d quietly and self-consciously ask him to hold my walker (which we called my “boat”) steady while I struggled to shuffle my feet forward the 12 steps to our bathroom. I remember crying when I first discovered my walker couldn’t fit through the door frame of our tiny bathroom. Then, we came up with a plan. I tucked two canes just inside the doorway, so right when I got to the bathroom door, I’d do the ol’ switcharoo. I’d grab my two canes, shuffle the two steps to the toilet, get help coming on and off, and return to my “boat” parked just off the door’s outside molding. Of course, there were many corny jokes going on during these night-time escapades. As soon as I was done, however, I’d feel worn out, like I’d just run a marathon, and my husband would push me in my boat the rest of the way back to bed. 
 
All this is to say that exercise is definitely not easy, not in the slightest. I also know that exercise may not be possible for everyone, but if you think that it is possible for you to do one thing, whether it be raising your legs from a seated position or raise your hands up over your head like a half-jumping jack, do it. 
Even if it can only be once a week, three times a month. 
 
Even after I (secretly) committed myself to the New Years weight loss goal, it still didn’t click right away. Nothing worked until I went to a conference where a doctor told me she believed there was a correlation between weight and disease activity. She told me that it is possible that losing weight might help my RA! You can read about it at here! (We already know that with each excess pound of weight, 4lbs of pressure gets added to the knees. Thank you, Arthritis Foundation! 🙂

It was at that moment I decided it was time for me to help myself.

So, I decided to forget about my weight loss goal. 
I don’t have a scale in my house so it actually wasn’t that hard practically speaking, although emotionally, it was a little more difficult to let go of my New Year’s resolution.
Though I did join weight watchers just so I could keep track of activity and food intake on an app, and I focused on small goals. 
At first, I walked really slow. Then, after about a month, I started walking faster, increasing the time from 20 minutes, to 30 minutes, and now 45. I was barely able to bend down before and now I can do about 20 squats or 5 jump squats. My thighs feel huge to me in an incredibly uplifting and sexy way and my self-esteem has skyrocketed. 

I can run sometimes for almost 2 whole minutes and I really can’t put into words how amazing those two minutes feel. The wind against my face and through my hair feels magical. When I’m not admiring the streak of green trees in my vision, I close my eyes and pretend that I am flying. The sensation of running has become my happy place, even though it is short-lived and my doctor has told me not to run anymore. 
I doesn’t bother me, because I remember that this is not about weight loss goals or exercise goals, its about my health. That is what’s important to me. 

And low and behold, believe it or not, I did lose weight. 
Without a real “diet,” just making healthier choices, I’ve lost 24 pounds. I’m nowhere near my previous 98lbs, but honestly, I’m happy I’m not. 
I think I look cuter this way, and to me, it’s not about the number on the scale or how many times a week I hit the pavement. I do whatever my joints feel up to doing, even if it means laying in bed all day. 
What is important to me is that I try my best at least once a week, and I’m proud of myself for that.

Back to School- MAJOR Decisions

It’s that time again. August, when summer is nearly over and the majority of people are thinking about the start of the new school year. There’s tax-free weekend (when everyone stocks up on $0.01 paper and $0.15 notebooks), course catalogs, college admissions essays, and first days of kindergarten. 

However, this fall, for me, is different because I just found that I will be transferring at the end of this year, 2016, to a new university. I’ll tell you that I was more than a little stunned when I found out (I was freaking out, actually), because unlike other students who are concerned with rushing their studies and finishing as fast as possible in order to join the workforce, I’m battling a chronic illness. So, it’s a little overwhelming to have to make a decision on what I want to do for the rest of my life, when my future is so uncertain.

The fact is: I have a chronic illness I have to work with, so my goals need to be incredibly realistic -if not worse-case scenario oriented.

I’ve already made a lot of sacrifices becaues of my health, the #1 being my education. I’ve had to take a 3 1/2 year break to focus on my health, I’ve changed my major to suit my physical limitations, I applied for disability services, and I decreased my course load. All this in the hopes that someday, I will graduate and join the workforce too. Despite what people may think, like most all disabled folk, I do want to be a contributing member of society. 

The difference between me and even most people with arthritis, is the fact that most people with arthritis get diagnosed in adulthood, after college.  I was diagnosed when I was 5, which -the way I see it- affords me a certain advantage in that I can sort-of plan ahead for a career that doesn’t depend on me being able to walk, carry -virtually- anything, use my hands, or stand for long periods of time. The downside is, college life is harder for me because I have to actually deal with chronic health problems while everyone else my age is in the prime of their life. BUT I like to look at the positive. 🙂

One of my issues, though, has always been finding a career that I’m passionate about and that accommodates my physical limitations. 
I’ve had this quote on the stickie widget
on the dashboard of my mac since I first got it in 2011.
It reminds me that although it may be tough,
this time in my life will define me and
we’ll call it, “the great pivot,” when I didn’t give up
my dreams becuase of the practical implimations of Arthritis.

I remember when I was 16-17, I dreamt of becoming an architect. Just the thought of building something out of nothing, art that people could live and work in, was beautiful to me. Even after my RA came back with a vengeance (after a total remission in my teens), the dream wasn’t lost to me. I worked hard and studied for two years before I realized that it really was just a pipe dream. My hands would hurt and swell up horribly after drawing and by the end, I could barely even hold my favorite Faber-Castell 2B graphite pencil.

It really was during the time that I started my blog and started communicating with other people like me online, that I started realizing a new dream. A dream to help people like me cope with the emotional struggles of having a chronic illness and encourage them to take control of their disease, just as I had to do when I transitioned from the juvenile (in-the-dark) patient, to the independent adult patient. 
It’s just as I’ve said before and I’ll keep saying, chronic illnesses don’t just affect our bodies, but our hearts and minds as well. My ultimate goal is to use my own struggles for the good and benefit of others going through similar experiences, as well as to offer guidance and support.

No matter what RA does to me, I will never stop dreaming.
I will never stop having goals for myself, big or small.
School is my biggest and toughest goal, but I won’t give up
because the one thing RA has taught me is perseverance. 

Enjoy Ella’s Voice at Ella Baker Center.

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

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