One Strong Woman's Approach to Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis

by Chaunté Smith

Since the time I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I made it my mission to find out everything I could about the disease so I could find the best possible care and treatment.  Now, I'm so excited to be working with HealthyWomen to help educate other women, like me, who are living with RA.  I’ve joined a new HealthyWomen effort to share my story with other women and to help empower them to take a whole body approach to managing RA – eating right, staying active, finding the right medication and other healthy habits.  Find out more about this whole body approach by checking out these videos, part of the new program called Managing RA: The Strong Women's Approach.

I learned the hard way that if you don’t take care of yourself, you won't be able to take care of those you love.  Now, I'm sharing my story to make sure other women living with RA put themselves first when it comes to their health.

My life was incredibly busy when I began experiencing the symptoms of RA.  I was working full-time and my husband and I were focused on taking care of our new baby girl.  So when I started feeling pain and swelling in my hands, I ignored it.  Then came the pain in my knees, which hurt so much on some days that I could barely walk. That's when I went to see a rheumatologist and was diagnosed with RA.  It took me awhile to figure out the right balance to managing RA. Like so many of us, for a long time I just pushed through the pain.  But it was after the birth of our second daughter that my symptoms dramatically progressed to the point that I could no longer ignore them.  I found myself unable to button my shirt or even turn a light switch.  It was heartbreaking when I couldn't pick up my daughter, change her diaper or many of the other things moms do to care for their babies. 

Since that time, I've learned a lot about the disease and how to manage it.  I sought out a great doctor with whom I talk openly and honestly about how I’m feeling, which is  really important to managing the symptoms of RA.  I also recognized that I need to make my health a priority and allow myself to rely on the support of my husband, daughters and loved ones.  Now, I've gotten RA under control.  By taking my medication and staying active through practicing Pilates, biking and jogging, I am able to resume my busy days. Whether it is working full time, arranging play dates for my daughters or taking family vacations to Disney World, I have not let RA stop me from being the person and mom I want to be.   

If I could give other women living with RA one piece of advice, it would be to not ignore your symptoms and to take care of yourself right away.  No two cases of RA are alike – so be open with your doctor to find a medication and exercise program that are right for you.  It means a lot to me to share my story with other women who may be going through the same experiences.  It's important for us to learn about RA, connect with each other and ask for support when we need it.  Be on the lookout for more from HealthyWomen and me!

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