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Kimberly Cooper

Kimberly Cooper

Real Profiles of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Photos © Kimberly Cooper

Name?

Kimberly Cooper

Age?

26

Location?

Fort Myers, Florida, United States

How long have you lived with RA?

I was diagnosed in March 2002 when I was 16, but spent about 1.5 years misdiagnosed as having Osteoarthritis.

What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed with RA?

Don’t let the anger get to you. When I was first diagnosed I found myself in a mixture of confusion, anger and self loathing. I was angry at all the things I couldn’t do, and at people for being able to do simple things like walking and writing with ease.

Do you use any mobility aids?

I have a cane that I have to use, specifically with an ergonomic handle to ease on making my hand sore from lots of use.

How has living with RA helped to improve your life?

Having RA made me grow up and mature emotionally and mentally. While other high school kids were concerned about typical high school drama, I had to re-evaluate my entire life. It was a struggle, but I came out better for it, and with a greater respect for the joys that life has to offer!

Do you have any visible signs of RA?

My right elbow has completely fused, and as a result of the constant inflammation from when I was misdiagnosed, it caused either dislocation or mini-fractures that have warped my tibia and fibia (my friends call it my T-Rex arm). I hope to have a joint replacement and reconstructive surgery over this summer. I have large scars on my left foot because my left ankle had fused in a terrible position, so I had a surgery that essentially broke the joint and put pins in to ensure fusion so that my foot sits flat, called an Arthodesis. My surgeon also had to do an Midfoot Osteotomy to make my toes lie flat. 

Can you please describe some of your favorite coping strategies for living with RA?

I talk to my loved ones about my pain level and any troubles I’m having, so that they are informed and can assist me when needed. I also stop myself when I’m feeling self-loathing or pitying myself, and instead find ways to show myself that I’m still useful. I also temper my pride, because I know that I can be bull-headed and it causes me pain and distress when I refuse to accept help.

Can you please describe your current medical (traditional and alternative) treatments?

I am currently on Methotrexate for my RA, and I’ve altered my diet because I found that too much red meat added to my inflammation.

Is there anything else about yourself that you would like to share?

I love to knit, which I find helps keep my wrists mobile, and through the support and encouragement of a great teacher in High School, I have had the dream of being a teacher since age 17. I have had some medical roadblocks, but I’ve finally gotten back into college to be a high school teacher!

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Kathryn

Kathryn

Real Profiles of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Photos © Kathryn

Name?

Kathryn

Age?

22

Location?

Boulder, Colorado, United States

How long have you lived with RA?

Only about 14 months. I developed symptoms in January 2011, and was formally diagnosed in August 2011.

What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed with RA?

Stay positive! Explore all your options and keep an open mind. Living with arthritis and chronic pain is tough, but allow yourself days to feel sad. Don’t let your medical team call all the shots – it’s your body and you definitely know it best. A good relationship with your doctor is key, so exercise your right to “shop” around for doctors, and find someone who really fits for you! Make sure you’re heard when you need to be; it’s okay to speak up! Don’t let your arthritis define who you are – work with your physical limitations, but don’t let them keep you from doing what you love.

Do you use any mobility aids?

I rely on my cane to help me walk, especially on the stairs, and I will sometimes wrap my swollen wrist in an Ace bandage to support it when I need to get some computer work done.

How has living with RA helped to improve your life?

Before my diagnosis, I struggled a lot with staying positive about my life. Now, I am incredibly positive most of the time! Life with arthritis can be pretty sad without constant positivity and a great attitude. I’m also learning a lot about how my body works and how I can work with it. I have a bunch of free time since I took a semester off of school, so I have used that time to learn a lot about autoimmune diseases and the best ways to take care of myself. After years of school and loads of stress, I’m finally learning to relax and do what’s best for me. I sleep in, take long naps, and read as many books as I’d like. I work from home, and develop to do lists that allow me some flexibility and time to relax. In middle and high school, I was a pretty decent artist, but dropped art in order to focus on my college studies. Now that I have time off, I’m getting back into my art and really loving it! I’ve also started collecting and planning some vegetarian and gluten free recipes; I hope to start my gluten free lifestyle soon!

My RA diagnosis has also made me a more compassionate person. I sympathize with other chronic pain sufferers, and am becoming active in a number of chronic pain circles.

Do you have any visible signs of RA?

I have rheumatoid nodules on my thumbs, a great deal of swelling in and around my right wrist and ankle, and swelling in my knees. My fingers are also frequently swollen. My gait is very visibly affected, as I rely heavily on my cane and tend to walk at a slow pace with stiff knees.

Can you please describe some of your favorite coping strategies for living with RA?

I have a wonderful support system in my family, friends, and especially my boyfriend DJ, who is my constant caretaker. I enjoy fresh flowers and try to have them in my home as often as possible, where they brighten up my day. I rely on my loved ones to help me through my rough days, but I’m not afraid to cry, rage, or just have a mopey day every once in awhile. Since my diagnosis, I have also started blogging as a way to express myself, release some stress, and cope with the day to day struggles I experience. I love reaching out to other RA and chronic pain sufferers and have made some great new friends through blogging (My blog is here.) When my wrists feel okay, I like to open the windows and sit in the sunlight to work with my sketchbook. As often as I can, I go out to visit my horse, Uno. I rescued him as an 8 month old, and he’s been mine ever since! He is such a sweetheart, and gives me extra cuddles when I’m feeling down.

Can you please describe your current medical (traditional and alternative) treatments?

I’m currently on a weekly injection of methotrexate as well as a weekly injection of Humira. I take Plaquenil twice daily and a folic acid supplement every day. My boyfriend and I make it a habit to go for short walks as often as possible, and I stretch and do a little yoga daily. I’ve recently started drinking a glass of 1/2 water and 1/2 organic tart cherry juice daily.

Is there anything else about yourself that you would like to share?

I hope to get back to school in the fall, and will complete my undergrad degree in Environmental Studies by next year. I’d like to get my masters degree in Environmental Public Policy. My ultimate goal is law school!

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Rosemary King

Rosemary King

Real Profiles of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Photos © Rosemary King

Name?

Rosemary King

Age?

24

Location?

Norwich, England

How long have you lived with RA?

I was diagnosed at the age of 21, three years December 2011.

What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed with RA?

The first time I was told I had RA was a major shock to me, I thought I was too young and I knew so little about it. Find out as much info as possible and ask lots of questions.

Do you use any mobility aids?

I mainly use the jar opener things and grip aids.

How has living with RA helped to improve your life?

This question really made me think, I’ve had a tough time with RA, I guess its made me change my life style a bit, I eat a lot healthier now then I used to, I don’t drink or smoke.

Do you have any visible signs of RA?

The main visible signs of my RA are my hands, they are constantly in flare mode and are getting more deformed as the years go by. My knees, shoulders and ankles also flare up often.

Can you please describe some of your favorite coping strategies for living with RA?

I watch a lot of comedy and lighten situations with a joke, I detach myself from things sometimes, music helps me to zone out of life.

Can you please describe your current medical (traditional and alternative) treatments?

I often look at my medications and remember back to a time when I didn’t even take pain killers for a headache, I had a pretty high pain threshold until the RA, now it’s different. Currently I’m on biologics- Rituximab (on infliximab before), also take methotrexate, alendronic acid, folic acid, prednisolone, sulfasalazine, lansoprazole and domperidone.

Is there anything else about yourself that you would like to share?

RA has changed every aspect of my life, I found it really difficult to cope in the early days before the diagnosis, I was so ill, a physical and emotional wreck, I didn’t know what was wrong with me, I was in so much pain and lost so much weight, I went down to 6 and a half stone and was totally unable to cope. What made it worse was that I was in my final year of an arts degree, miles away from home, trying to look after myself whilst having to cope with the stress of a tonne of work, deadlines and putting together an exhibition. Those days were hell for me and when I think back I’m amazed I managed to finish university and get my degree, I was so close to giving up but what kept me going was my amazing boyfriend, the love and support of my fantastic parents and the expert care of the Rheumatology Team at the norfolk and norwich hospital. I love England and I love the NHS, it is the best care in the world and means I don’t have to worry about the cost of my RA. The drugs although many, allow me to work full time and give me hope for the future, my goal is to go freelance with my photography and be able to work for myself.

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Kacee Nicole Andujar

Kacee Nicole Andujar

Real Profiles of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Photos © Kacee Nicole Andujar

Name?

Kacee Nicole Andujar

Age?

12

Location?

Hendersonville, Tennessee, United States

How long have you lived with RA?

Since I was 16 months old.

What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed with RA?

Never give up!

Do you use any mobility aids?

Not anymore, when I was small I had to use shoe supports and knee braces.

How has living with RA helped to improve your life?

It has made me stronger, more determined to reach my goals.

Do you have any visible signs of RA?

I have one thumb that is longer than the other. One foot is bigger than the other. One leg is slightly longer than the other. Still some signs of swelling in my knees they are larger than a normal childs.

Can you please describe some of your favorite coping strategies for living with RA?

I like to draw, read or anything to take my mind off my aches and pains. Sometimes, I just curl up with my mom.

Can you please describe your current medical (traditional and alternative) treatments?

I have no medical treatments at this time, as a child my body would not process the drugs so I could not take anything. Hot baths help a lot.

Is there anything else about yourself that you would like to share?

I want to grow up and be a singer, maybe you will see me on “American Idol” at some point.

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Rachel Marie

Rachel Marie

Real Profiles of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Photos © Rachel Marie

Name?

Rachel Marie

Age?

26

Location?

Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States

How long have you lived with RA?

I was diagnosed at the age of 7; so almost 20 years now!

What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed with RA?

I am a “take charge” kind of girl; so take a deep breath; look at yourself in the mirror and realize that you look exactly the same as you did an hour ago, a day ago, a week ago, before you were diagnosed. Make some phone calls; talk to doctors, talk to patients; it’ll help you get some perspective on what to expect.

Do you use any mobility aids?

I do not.

How has living with RA helped to improve your life?

I have met so many great people whom I never would have met.  Having RA has pushed me out of my comfort zone to attend functions, or to get up and speak in front of strangers to help spread awareness.

Do you have any visible signs of RA?

I don’t have a huge range of motion in my neck; I can’t straighten all of my fingers all of the way. Is fatigue a sign? I’d say yes; I get told I look tired a lot.

Can you please describe some of your favorite coping strategies for living with RA?

I have some of the greatest friends and family! Sometimes having a good cry can work wonders. Other times taking a night to myself, to realize how lucky I am to be where I am helps me feel better the next day.

Can you please describe your current medical (traditional and alternative) treatments?

I take Celebrex and Folic Acid everyday. I take 8 tablets of Methotrexate one day a week, every 7 weeks I have a 2 hour infusion of Remicade.

Is there anything else about yourself that you would like to share?

Getting involved with the Arthritis Foundation has changed my life.I have learned so much about the disease and it has helped me feel like I am contributing to find a cure. I always try to speak with parents of kids who have been recently diagnosed; my parents always made decisions with me, never for me. Feeling like I had some sort of a say made me feel better when I felt I couldn’t control my own body.

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