In May 2011, I graduated from Binghamton University with a Bachelor’s Degree in math and bioengineering. It was a bittersweet moment met with anticipation and pride. I knew I would deeply miss my time in college, but I was ready for “the real world”. Two days later I boarded a plane to Italy without knowing a soul, and began my two-month European adventure. I traveled to many countries to explore new cultures and met and befriended people from all corners of earth. It was a time I knew I would treasure—a time of discovery, adventure, and daily gelato! When I returned home, I had but one short month until my first day of work. It was an exciting time – my life was changing drastically on a monthly basis. I eventually moved closer to Manhattan to avoid the LIRR commute and settled in Astoria, Queens. Living on my own again was another adjustment, but I was pleased by my independence and comforted knowing my family was only a phone call or short train ride away. At the time I did not realize the importance of this small distance.
The following summer I joined a co-ed softball team at my company. It was refreshing to be out on the field in the evenings after long days spent in my cubicle. All my life I’d been very active – from field hockey, to basketball, to softball, and more. I missed being part of a sports team.
Not long after the season began, I felt a strange pain in my left wrist each time I swung the bat. The pain persisted for a few weeks, growing stronger each time. Soon enough, severe pain shot up my whole arm and I could no longer hold back the tears. I’ve injured my wrist, I thought. But I was confused by the whole situation. How could I feel such pain from swinging a bat—an action I’d done for years? I was concerned. I made an appointment to see a hand orthopedist. The x-rays showed no fracture, and the doctor did not believe it was a sprain. He suggested physical therapy and wrote a prescription for a wrist brace. A couple weeks later, minor pain developed in my right wrist. I called the hand orthopedist again and he suggested I see a rheumatologist.
At age 23, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (R.A). Learning you have R.A. is scary at any age, but I was terrified. I lived a healthy lifestyle. I exercised, ate well, and went to the doctor for regular checkups. No one in my family had R.A. and the causes of R.A. are unknown.
Quickly, R.A. enervated me. I started taking methotrexate and prednisone. The medicine and R.A. constantly exhausted me. I took two weeks off from work to rest and warm up to the medicine. I funneled the small amount of energy I had into feeling better. After a few months of treatment and no improvement, I started seeing Dr. Jessica Gordon at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) with the help of a recommendation from a family friend. At our first meeting, she was kind, understanding, and deeply committed to helping me feel like my best self again. She started an aggressive treatment of Humira and after about three to six months I felt so much better. The pain in both wrists subsided substantially. Dr. Gordon not only treated me—she taught me about R.A. and encouraged me to control aspects of my life that I could, such as exercise, making healthy choices, and surrounding myself with love and kindness. She taught me the importance of finding ways to relieve the seemingly unending and uncontrollable stress in my life, usually from work. Together, these factors play a major role in treating R.A.
I’ve learned to consciously modify my activities based on how I’m feeling. Instead of running, I head to Pilates class to perform ‘teasers’ or the pool to swim laps. I’ve learned to spread out errands over several days so I don’t exhaust myself. I’ve learned to work from home on days I am too tired. Most of all, I’ve learned how to take time for myself and listen to my body when it asks for rest. I’ve learned, and am learning to accept my new physical limits. I’ve been lucky enough to find understanding mentors at work who willingly offer support, advice, and encouragement. They helped me receive my first promotion this past summer.
Over the past two and a half years, progress is evident: I decreased my medications gradually and have slowly introduced what I once cut back on into my life. I am not always thinking about my R.A. anymore. There has also been setbacks: I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, another condition that is common with R.A. Its symptoms also include pain, but musculoskeletal pain, accompanied by fatigue and sleep issues instead of joint pain. I am fortunate that Dr. Gordon’s treatment plan has been working.
Every day can be a challenge, but I have faith that I will reach a higher level of comfort over time. I have been fortunate to have felt really good for about a year now, and consider this remission. Without the dedication and support of my rheumatologist, Dr. Gordon, and my family and close friends, this would not have been possible. I hope that everyone who has R.A. can find the same peace that I have found, especially those who are young. That being said, I’d like to say thank you so much for helping me get back to enjoying life!