By Marie-Claude Beaulieu, member of Arthritis Research Canada’s Quebec-Based Patient Advisory Board, PIRA

Rheumatoid arthritis affects people of all ages. I was diagnosed at age 58, while I was still a practicing physician, athletic and a grandmother to three grandchildren. I had to adapt to this new condition and it wasn’t easy.

Initially, the disease was difficult to control. The limitations of my hands, wrists, shoulders, ankles and feet made most activities more complicated. As a grandmother, I struggled to hold my grandchildren in my arms, to change their diapers, to dress them in their pyjamas, to give them a bath, and to buckle them into their car seats. My personal experience made me think of all the young mothers who live with arthritis and the challenges they must face.

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I had to reduce my activities (swimming, cross-country skiing, cycling, and walking). I adjusted distances and the intensity of my efforts, but I kept moving and stayed active despite my arthritis.

To overcome limitations, I met with an occupational therapist who provided me with orthotics for my hands and gave me several useful tips for energy conservation and managing activities in daily life. A physiotherapist also gave me valuable tips and exercises to do at home. Because of my personal experience, I realized the importance of occupational and physical therapy for all patients diagnosed with arthritis – I saw the benefits in action.

I have been a family doctor for over 35 years. After my rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, I had to stop working temporarily. But I gradually returned to work with adaptations and changes that were difficult to accept. When receiving a diagnosis of arthritis, a grieving process takes place. A daily reorganization of life is required and one must learn to accept these changes. It takes a lot of resilience!

In recent years, our ability to control arthritis has improved. Rheumatologists can offer patients several effective treatments to slow down the progression of the disease and eventually find the winning combination. Support from an interdisciplinary rheumatology team, family and loved ones, as well as co-workers is very important.

Those of us with arthritis need to keep hope, continue to be active, allow ourselves rest periods, eat well and take the medication despite the side effects. It is very encouraging to regain control of the disease and feel better! However, we have to remain vigilant, and be careful of infections since our immune systems are weaker due to the medications. And sometimes, that means postponing our activities. But it’s all worth it!

The frequent consultations, regular check-ups, discouragement over the limitations and the often necessary medication adjustments make us realize the importance of working as a team in which the patient is a partner in his or her care.

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