The phrase ‘no pain, no gain’ resonates deeply within the hearts of true athletes. But for Lisa, an avid runner and Division I volleyball player, the pain was debilitating.
Lisa attributed her pain to her athleticism until, at the age of 23, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the tissues of the joints, causing inflammation, pain, and eventually joint damage and disability.
“The pain originated in my feet, so I just assumed it was stress fractures from running,” said Lisa. “But once I got the diagnosis, it was like the pain flared up everywhere instantly.” As symptoms spread throughout her body, Lisa struggled with simple, everyday activities such as getting out of bed, holding a spoon and opening doors. Ultimately, the joint damage led to multiple surgeries. In addition to the physical pain that accompanies living with RA, there is also often an immense emotional impact on relationships. Lisa explained, “My husband has always been very supportive, but it is impossible for him to live in my shoes. This [disease] can be very lonely because people don’t understand that it isn’t just a little pain in our joints or why everyday tasks can be so difficult.”
A strong support system
Almost a decade after her diagnosis, Lisa has found the right rheumatologist and, with the help of her healthcare team, is back doing the things she loves: volleyball, triathlons, marathons, and most important for Lisa, spending quality time with her young daughter. As the executive director of the Kansas City Sports Commission’s non-profit, WIN for KC—an organization that promotes female involvement in sports - Lisa spends her days at a job that allows her to stay active and involved in the things she is most passionate about.
Finding the right doctor has also made a big difference for Lisa. “Today, my relationship with my rheumatologist is amazing. She understands how important it is for me to remain active in a healthy way,” Lisa explained. “It isn’t just a ‘here’s a prescription’ type of relationship. She realizes it’s about managing a lifestyle, not just treating a disease.”
Lisa’s journey recently took an unexpected turn when her mother was also diagnosed with RA. Lisa finds fulfillment in helping her mother simply by being able to relate to her experience—a support system that she didn’t have at the time of her diagnosis. Through this experience, Lisa decided she wanted to get more involved in the RA patient community so she could help even more people coping with the disease. Today, Lisa is actively involved in the Arthritis Foundation, and regularly offers counseling services to newly diagnosed patients.
“The most important piece of advice I give any RA patient is that you have to keep moving. You can’t let this disease stop you from being who you are and doing what you want to do. You simply have to change your approach. If you can’t get through the obstacle, go over it,” she noted.