What’s a Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior?

Why We Have to Fight

We did not ask for this fight. Rheumatoid Arthritis attacked us. However, we cannot give over our lives to this insidious disease without a fight. We must become warriors and advocates for ourselves and a cure. We will fight the actual disease. And we will be our own “celebrity spokespersons” as we fight public misconceptions of RA.

The Fight of Your Life

We say a person fights cancer. Rheumatoid Arthritis is a battle the same way that cancer is battle. The disease is cruel. The treatments for the disease are harsh. It is a battle to the death: Rheumatoid Arthritis is considered incurable and progressive for the life of the patient. RA shortens life span (experts say by about 10 -15 years) by its very nature: a condition of constant and extreme inflammation. Very often Rheumatoid Arthritis can rob one of the ability to work and earn a living. Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States.

A Multi-headed Dragon

You are a WARRIOR. RA warrior iconThe battle with Rheumatoid Arthritis is similar to the one against Type1 Diabetes in one way: it is a war with many fronts. There is the sudden disability, the intense fatigue, the physical pain, the anemia, the multiple medical prescriptions and their side effects to name a few. Later on, there are the fusions and joint replacement surgeries, the constant infections, and the battles regarding health insurance and disability status.

While Rheumatoid Arthritis is seldom listed on a death certificate, the conditions which it produces are. Rheumatoid Arthritis can cause heart disease and lymphoma and many less well-known conditions like vasculitis or inflammation of the lungs’ or heart’s lining. The treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis bring additional risk for developing life-threatening conditions like ulcers, pneumonia, tendon rupture, liver failure, and cancer.

Constant Skirmishes

Going through life with Rheumatoid Arthritis can be much more difficult. Everyday living can be a series of battles: there is the battle with the toothpaste tube and the can opener and there are more grim ones like trying to drive a car or cut your own meat. It can be an actual physical struggle just to perform daily hygiene tasks or household chores.

My funniest battle is with my refrigerator door. (Stay tuned to see this soon in my daughter’s comic about my RA.) My most unpleasant battle is with myself: I have to make myself put 2 shots in my leg every week. I have not even mentioned the battles of morning stiffness or spending one day a week trying not to heave from methotrexate.

Emotional Battles

RA is a real pain. But it also brings a lot of invisible baggage when it moves in. The diagnosis of an incurable disease can bring on depression just like the death of a loved one can. It is like your anticipated future dies. Will you ever do what you never got to do or what you really wanted to do one more time? Things like running on the beach, dancing, ice skating, and traveling seem unattainable now.

Constant pain can lead to hopelessness. Relief seems out of reach. Newly diagnosed Rheumatoid Arthritis patients ask: Will I ever have my life back?

There is also anger. If you’ve looked around even a bit, you’ve seen the numerous R-rated arthritis t-shirts.  And even the G-rated ones show there is a lot of anger out there. The anger is completely justified when you feel like RA just hijacked your future and everybody tells you to “quit whining” about it. Most anger in life is short-lived because you can either get away from the source or just decide to forgive whoever is offending you. However, you cannot just forgive the RA and make it go away. It is relentless.

Fighting the Phantom

There is also the battle against ignorance. I say this as delicately as possible. Rheumatoid Arthritis can be practically invisible, so many do not seem to believe that it exists. Others think of it as a vague achy, lazy feeling.

RA warrior iconRheumatoid Arthritis seems to be unique among the serious medical conditions with which it is ranked (such as angina and diabetes). It is the only one which includes harassment as one of the major battles. The first time I went online to do Rheumatoid Arthritis research, years ago, I read about RA patients being criticized for using handicapped license plates. It’s like the t-shirts say, “You don’t LOOK sick.” Since that day, I have read countless similar stories.

If you have tough skin, you can withstand being misunderstood. However, it is difficult – sometimes impossible – to get the help you actually require when people see your chronic illness as some kind of boogie man which only exists in your imagination. Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior will enjoy slaying this mythical dragon: the imaginary version of RA.

In the Foxhole

Like all other wars, it is best to fight with compatriots. Think of how a team can be gathered together to fight.  There will be many doctors in the life of a Rheumatoid Arthritis patient. They can be on the team. There will be nurses and lab technicians. Physical therapists and pharmacists can be a lot of help.

But, it is also important to identify other people who either understand what Rheumatoid Arthritis is or are willing to learn. They will be invaluable in battle against RA. This can include old friends or new, in person or online. Spiritual support cannot be overestimated. If someone says, “I’m praying for you,” be thankful for that all day! God is the only one who really can feel your pain and He does hear your cry. I come from a military family. You know what they say?  “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

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  1. […] the end message of Dave’s talk, is a movement I need no encouragement to join, as more “warriors” are needed to take their own raw data into their own hands and make themselves heard. Who is more […]

    • I’m confused how this trackback came in 2015 to a post marked as July 2011…
      But it’s a good post & I connect with the author’s intent – 3 of my 5 beautiful children are hearing impaired & it is surprisingly analogous to living with RD.