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In her own words: living with osteoarthritis

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Anne, 73, is a registered nurse with her own home-care services business in Georgia. She was diagnosed with osteoarthritis 42 years ago. She maintains a healthy, active lifestyle, competing in equestrian events, horseback riding in foreign lands, walking, and doing aerobics. This year, she walked more than 26 miles, in 7 hours, 17 minutes, during the Arthritis Foundation’s Joints in Motion marathon in Dublin, Ireland. Here, she shares her inspirational story and enthusiasm for life.

What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?

I was working as an operating room nurse, and my hands began to hurt and swell. My spine started hurting in the lumbar region (lower back). It was very painful. I would stand at the stove cooking with tears rolling down my face. About 10 years later, my knees became bad. They were so swollen; I couldn’t pull my jeans on. The doctor said I wouldn’t be walking in another 10 years. Now I have arthritis in all my joints, but my knees remain the worst. My current doctor was surprised I was going to attempt the marathon on these knees, saying I need to have both replaced.

What was the diagnosis experience like?

I saw an orthopaedic surgeon. He thought it might have been a herniated disk, gave me pain pills, and suggested that I take a break. I had an adverse reaction to the medication and ended up in the hospital. While I was in the cardiac care unit, he ordered X-rays, which showed the arthritis. Over the years, I also have gone to a rheumatologist, who told me to stop working. I was in my late 50s and wasn’t ready to do that. I’m back treating with an orthopaedist now.

What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?

I was scared. I had four children and couldn’t help wondering what would happen if I became a cripple. I went to the Arthritis Foundation to learn more about the disease. Through the years, I have not let it get me down. I take responsibility for my own health, which isn’t always easy. Some days, I’d like to cuddle up in my warm bed rather than getting up and walking. But when I get back, I have such a sense of accomplishment and more energy to do other things. I’m not one to say, “I can’t do something.” I volunteer with the Arthritis Foundation and Alzheimer’s Association, and do a lot of things to take my mind off my pain, such as distracting myself in the garden. I’m determined not to let this disease put me in the rocking chair on the front porch.

How do you manage your disease?

I take a COX-2 nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Over the years, I have been on other NSAIDS. They only work so long before you have to try another one. I also take the supplements glucosamine with chondroitin and MSM. I have used magnets and wraps for my knees and wrists. I keep my joints in motion, watch what I eat, and maintain a healthy weight.

Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to your illness?

I’ve always stayed active. I work all day, come home and exercise. I trained for five months before the marathon. I had been alternating every other day between aerobics and walking two to four miles. But I started walking more. I found that the more I walked the better and less painful my arthritis was. I took up belly dancing and yoga to improve my flexibility. Exercise and dancing release endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. I’m very careful about nutrition. I quit drinking milk and eat more vegetables. I keep my weight down. And I’m feeling better than I have in 15 years.

Did you seek any type of emotional support?

I became involved with the Arthritis Foundation, which gave me a chance to talk about it and influence other people not to sit around. Being active allows you to do things with your life.

Did/does your condition have any impact on your family?

It didn’t affect my family at all. There is no visible evidence I have this disease, and I never have made a big deal out of it.

What advice would you give to anyone living with this disease?

Go to the Arthritis Foundation. Seek information from your doctor. Find out about the benefits of good nutrition, exercise, and keeping your weight down. And take responsibility for your own health.

Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.