Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Living with RA: 2nd Diagnosis

*** This post is part of my Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis series.

The hill before me looked insurmountable.  The gradual slope and half-mile walk from the subway station to the hotel should have been easy for my 25 year old body.  But exhaustion, fatigue, and pain threatened to overwhelm me.

Joel and I were returning to our hotel after spending the day exploring the Jurong Bird Park in Singapore.  We had enjoyed seeing vibrantly colored Toucans and other gorgeous birds in a lush, tropical zoo-like environment.

And we had walked.  And walked.  And walked.  And walked.

As we climbed the gentle hill to our hotel at the end of the day, my internal dialogue went like this:
"Come on, you can do it."  "But I'm so tired!" "Just a little further."  "If I could just sit down."  "You can sit in the hotel.  If you sit now you'll just have to get up and walk some more."  "I can't do this."  "Just take one more step."  "One more step." "You can do one more step."  "One more step." "One more step."  "One more step."

And so I "one more stepped" my way up the hill and to our hotel room.  I have never been so completely exhausted in all my life.  At the time, I blamed jet lag and the previous week spent snorkeling, hiking and sightseeing in Malaysia.

But a year later we would return to Malaysia for another week long vacation and my energy level would be vastly different.

What changed between the two trips?  My second arthritis diagnosis and a new medication.

Around the time of our first vacation to Malaysia and Singapore (I can't remember if it was before or after our trip), I visited a rheumatologist.

Upon entering the exam room, the doctor introduced herself and quickly examined my hands and wrists.  Then she explained that she had seen me walking down the hallway, saw the nodules on my wrists and my inflamed joints and knew then that I had Rheumatoid arthritis.

A thorough exam and blood work confirmed her diagnosis of Rheumatoid arthritis.  She went on to explain that it isn't curable but the symptoms sometimes lessen on their own (called remission) and/or can be helped with medication.  She said the cause for the disease is unknown but that some people (usually fair skinned Caucasian women) seem to have an increased susceptibility to the disease, though it is NOT genetic.

She also explained that a new medication had just been approved for treatment in newly diagnosed patients with moderate to severe RA.  And I fit the category!   So she started me on this new medication, Enbrel.

That was in June 2000.  Nine years later I'm still taking Enbrel.  I won't claim all the pain and fatigue are gone, because they aren't.  But they are manageable and small hills no longer look insurmountable to me.

Instead, they look like challenges.  Challenges that I know I can conquer one step at a time.

Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor nor do I pretend to be one on TV.  This post is intended to tell my experiences NOT to serve as medical advice.  If your symptoms sound similar, please consult a physician.

Disclaimer: I have not been asked by a pharmaceutical company or any related organizations to write these posts. I have not been compensated for these posts in anyway (including money, medication, or medical treatments). 

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