When you get diagnosed with a chronic illness, you go through various emotions. I literally went through the stages identified by Elizabeth Kugler-Ross “5 Stages of Grief”. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Each stage prior to acceptance was painful. Hell, even acceptance hurt pretty bad. The life I thought I would have disappeared. I had to learn to live with my new life. See I had grown up knowing two women who were significantly impacted by rheumatoid arthritis. My neighbor and my aunt. When my diagnosis came, I panicked. I knew how hard things were for these two women. I feared that life.
Eventually, I learned how much medicine has changed. The drugs I was using was much more aggressive at fighting RA than those I saw battling the disease in the 70’s and 80’s. I slowly learned my life would be different, but it would still be good. Some days are very difficult, others not so much. Initially, I felt utterly alone in my struggle. In 2009, I came across other patients living with various types of autoimmune arthritis via Facebook and other social media sites. I joined the International Autoimmune Arthritis Movement, and eventually cofounded IFAA (International Foundation for Autoimmune Arthritis). I became an advocate for patients living with RA. I wanted to see a change in how patients are diagnosed. How patients are involved in research, and how patients can let their voice be heard. I speak at some conferences to spread awareness, but for the most part, I do most of my advocacy from the comfort of my sofa.
Now IFAA is helping other patients let their voice be heard. We are redefining research by putting patients in the driver’s seat. Why is research so important? We need to get the patient voice involved in the research process. Who knows our symptoms better than we do? On January 4th, we are launching ACT (Autoimmune Community Team) in which patients diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA), Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), or Axial Spondlyoarthritis (axSpA/nr-axSpA) will get an opportunity to lend their voice to change research standards and guidance regulations now and in the future. The project starts recruiting January 4, 2016 so if you are diagnosed and want to change the world from your sofa too, sign up!