The Arthritis Newsletter

Fall 2012

Bring Hope to Others: La Passeggiata

Written by: Nadia Prestley


My mother, Antonietta, arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia at Pier 21 on September 14, 1951 from Northern Italy.  She would give birth to my brother two weeks after she arrived; she was 21 years old and about to start a new life away from all that was familiar to her.  From Halifax, she boarded a train to British Columbia.  Traveling by train on poor seating across Canada was difficult enough, but her pregnancy made it nearly impossible.

She survived the journey, and after 4 years she had settled into her new life, learning to speak English, adopting new customs, and also successfully integrating certain Italian customs into her Canadian lifestyle. One custom that has remained a way of life for her is “La Passeggiata” (a gentle stroll), and she continues to enjoy these strolls to this day.  For many Italians, La Passeggiata is an integral part of everyday life. Along with its physical benefits, it is also a social bonding experience.  As Antonietta and her best friend, Natalia, would stroll along the streets each evening, other women would join them.  There were also the brief stops to share the latest news with friends they would pass along the way.


Life presented a new challenge for my mother when she was 26 years old.  She began experiencing extreme fatigue, painful joints, sore muscles, anemia, and trouble thinking clearly; she also developed skin rashes where her skin was exposed to the sun.  With two children to care for and a demanding household routine, she relied on aspirin to make it through the day, and she protected her skin from the sun.


After her third child was born, the pain became unbearable and she was hospitalized twice for severe pain.  Although the doctors had diagnosed her with arthritis, they were bewildered by the other “unusual” symptoms she was experiencing.  Various drug therapies were tried and failed, and life changed to accommodate her obstacles.  But one thing never changed … La Passeggiata.  In fact, she would say that it was good for her muscles and that if she didn’t go for her walks, her pain would worsen.


One day during a routine visit to her doctor, she realized that the doctor was intently examining her face.  He told her she had a butterfly-shaped rash across her cheeks and nose, a symptom of Lupus. Although not everyone with Lupus will develop this butterfly-shaped rash, she did, and it was this rash that sparked the diagnosis. In fact, her doctor told her that Lupus was difficult to diagnose and is often referred to as the disease with a thousand faces. A rheumatologist later confirmed the diagnosis — finally, her disease had a name.  Although a diagnosis of Lupus is not positive, she felt relieved that the doctors were treating her Lupus and not some “mystery” disease.  As a consequence, she became more committed to her treatment regime and to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.


My mother is now 82 years old.  She says she has not done much in her life, but her friends and family know better.  She raised her children with respect, she fostered a love of learning, and she provided a loving home, which included the most delicious meals.  But above all, she taught us that we have the power to overcome some of our biggest challenges, and that it is sometimes the simple things in life that can bring us much joy … simple things such as “La Passeggiata”.

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