It seems that health becomes more of a gamble and the stakes become higher as we age. I know women who have been dealt breast cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer, diverticulitis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fibromyalgia, bursitis, and a myriad of other diseases that are not easily discarded. The ball on my disease roulette wheel landed on Rheumatoid Arthritis when I was 40. That is not to say that the wheel was not given another spin, but unlike actual roulette, I pray that it never stops again.
The strategies to play through health conditions vary from all out battle to acceptance depending on the ante. Never a patient person, my go-to strategy was battle. I learned everything I could about rheumatoid arthritis with a primary focus on treatments because I was determined to beat my disease. When I suffered flare ups and could not function as my alter ego Wonder Woman, I felt betrayed by my body. Many of us enjoy control. I was addicted to it. My performance and discipline had reaped me generous winnings, making it extremely difficult to change my strategy. Losses continued to chip away at my bank of self-esteem until I accepted that rheumatoid arthritis is not my enemy, nor does it define me. RA is part of who I am and I am valuable, although I need another alter ego/mascot.
Winners know that the table changes when a new player arrives. Many women must learn to play a new hand of nutrition, exercise, meditation, chemotherapy and radiation, risky pharmaceutical remedies, or riskier alternative methods with the arrival of a
life-altering disease and/or chronic condition. I was fortunate that my rheumatologist prescribed a pain management program at Mary Free Bed Pain Center where I learned to optimize my play with the help of an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a physician, and a psychologist. I went there feeling broken, damaged and not in control. During my therapy I learned coping mechanisms and body mechanics that I use to feel as good as I possibly can, thereby giving me back some of the control I crave. I went all in by requesting help both at work and at home and by redefining life’s boundaries within what is conducive to managing my RA well. The kindness I showed myself has put winnings back in my self-esteem bank, although the play is at an intermediate level now and my losses seem greater if I fall into my old habits. If or when the disease roulette wheel stops again, I will adjust my play in order to live my most valuable life. My wish for anyone reading this is that you find a winning strategy for whichever health condition the wheel stops on for you.