In the United States alone, it is estimated that 1.3 million Americans live with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Worldwide, 1% of the population has been diagnosed with this terrible disease. People diagnosed with RA or any other chronic disease are regular people, and also travel. I am one of them.
Here is my story:
Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
After suffering with joint pain for more than 2 years, on my 41st birthday, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Being diagnosed was a bittersweet moment. I finally knew what was wrong with me and it was not all in my head, as sometimes I thought. I was also overwhelmed because I had no idea what RA was, or what the doctor meant by an autoimmune disease.
It’s not Arthritis
A typical misconception is that RA is a disease of the elderly. The few people I shared my diagnosis with, made the comment, “but you are too young to have arthritis”. Although RA is arthritis and affects the bones and joints, it is not caused by overuse, or by age. Actually, there are thousands of children suffering with RA. It is not a disease of the elderly.
So, what is RA?
It is a disease that starts in your immune system. How? Well, unfortunately it is unknown. Not enough research has been done to know the causes of the disease. But, what we do know, is that RA is an autoimmune disease. This basically means that your own body, or immune system, instead of protecting you, as it is supposed to, goes awry, and starts attacking your own body. The attacks cause inflammation in the lining of the joints, called the synovium. The attacks results in severe inflammation of the joints. The inflammation is accompanied by severe pain, redness, swollen and painful joints all over the body. In addition to fatigue, brain fog, stiffness, etc.
But that is not all…
RA does not only affects your joints and causes severe pain, eventually it can start affecting the organs of your body, such as your heart, lungs, skin, etc.
How do people get diagnosed?
Diagnosis of RA usually takes a while to happen. It took over 2 years for me to get proper diagnosis. I started suffering severe pain in my joints, mostly in my hands and shoulders, eventually the pain moved to my knees. The pain was so severe, at times I was unable to walk, drive, or do basic things. I couldn’t to wash my hair, get dressed or strap my bra.
Support system is essential during periods of severe pain or “flares”, patients with RA need a lot of assistance and having good support is a blessing. During periods of severe flares, I am blessed to have my husband and my daughter helping me. This disease makes you feel so vulnerable. At times you may even feel useless, but having someone understanding, helping you during those difficult times, is a blessing. I am also blessed to have a wonderful family. My amazing mother, siblings, and many friends, whom have become my praying warriors, are always encouraging me and most importantly, keeping me in their prayers.
Treatment for RA
Currently there is no cure for RA. Treatment for RA helps control inflammation, relieve pain, reduce disability, and slow down damage to the joints. Some of the medicine prescribed to patients suffering with RA include, anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), Disease- modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which help slow down RA’s damage to the joints, and Biologics, which are genetic engineered proteins to block part of the immune system, these help slow down the progression of RA damage in the joints. Having said that, all the above-mentioned treatments are very expensive. Some treatments may carry a monthly expense of up to $25,000 US dollars. It is extremely expensive, and many patients are unable to afford the treatments. Most RA patients take a combination of three to seven drugs to help cope with the pain, joint deformity, and side effects caused by the disease.
Currently, I am on remission from RA, it has been 7 months I have not had severe pain. My pain has been manageable and has not interrupted any of my travel plans. I have been able to do things without assistance, the little things I always took for granted, but now realize are the most important. I attribute this remission to all the prayers and the mercy of God in my life. My faith sustains me. All the prayers give me the faith I need to believe God is my healer. I am also blessed because the medication I am taking is helping slow down the progression of joint damage.
There are thousands of people living with RA around the world. RA is a very difficult disease. Please keep those suffering with RA in your thoughts and prayers. Many aren’t able to do basic things without assistance. There are thousands losing their jobs due to this disease. No employment means no medical insurance. There are divorces, suicides, and suicide attempts, many feel discouraged and without hope.
And what does this has to do with travel?
Well, those of us living with RA are also regular people, and have families, have dreams and aspirations, have bucket lists! It is extremely difficult for many with RA to travel, but I want to encourage those that can, to do it. Go see the world. Go experience and make memories.
In my blog, I will share my experiences traveling with RA. I will also include tips on traveling with this terrible disease. Remember, if you have been diagnosed with RA, you are in my prayers, I think about you each day, I pray that God gives you the strength you need to take one day at a time. God bless you!