Facing Forward is a series that shares the lives of people living with arthritis and other invisible illnesses. The goal of the series is to see how we are similar and how we are different – and to remind us to keep moving forward because we aren’t alone!
This special edition of Facing Forward shares the stories of the individuals involved in the Arthritis Foundation’s 15th Annual California Coast Classic – a 525 mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
Hometown: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Diagnosis: Rheumatoid Arthritis
Age at Diagnosis: 40
Why is it important to you to participate in the California Coast Classic?
After being down and out for a year, I was in search of an adventure. Something to rejuvenate me and randomly, a stranger mentioned the CCC to me. As soon as I realized it was in support of the Arthritis Foundation, I knew it was meant to be. This event allows me to be active, travel, have a great adventure, and support a cause that is close to my heart.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced since your diagnosis?
The diagnosis was a shock. I was living life believing I was invincible. I’m the most active member of my family and suddenly I couldn’t be active any longer. It just wasn’t fair. I remember going for a swim and only being able to do 75m. I couldn’t even get myself in and out of the pool without assistance. The three biggest challenges were being very limited in the level of activity, dealing with the nausea and other side effects from the medication, and then dealing with the subsequent depression.
How has your diagnosis made it more difficult for you to stay active?
I’m in remission now and once again very active. But during the time my RA was active I would say it was a combination of being in constant pain, gaining weight, and becoming depressed that made it difficult to be more active. The doctors all say that exercise helps with arthritis, but when you’re in pain the last thing you want to do is be active. It was not fun.
What are some of your favorite tips and tricks for staying active with arthritis?
Swimming was about all I could do when I was in pain. The hot tub and sauna was always a relief afterwards. Walking fast was another way to get active without too much more discomfort.
How do you manage to keep facing forward every day?
Being in remission, each day is significantly easier than when I was in pain. However, I believe I achieved remission with an excellent medical team, conventional medicine, and because I was already relatively healthy and active before being diagnosed. I recognize that at any point, I could have a flare up. What’s important to me is to keep my body in tip top shape and maintain my fitness level. In the event of a relapse, I want to be as strong as possible to fight the disease again.
If you could go back to diagnosis day and tell your past self one thing, what would it be?
I would tell myself to be kind and gentle to myself. I was too hard on myself, not recognizing the severity of the disease that I was dealing with. I gave myself no forgiveness for being unable to do things the way I used to. I needed to give myself grace when I was having a worse day than the others or when fatigue took over. Because this is an invisible disease, we always worry about what people will think of us.