How opening up about her arthritis helped Trish stay positive

How opening up about her arthritis helped Trish stay positive

#ArthritisWontStopMe: Trish’s story

Known as the “zoo gal”, Trish Exton-Parder was the face of the Calgary Zoo for more than 35 years in her role as media relations lead. On television, radio and in print, Trish kept everyone informed of current events, conservation initiatives and the latest new additions among the zoo’s animal inhabitants.

Always sunny and always cheerful, no one knew that Trish, now in her late 50s, was dealing with inflammatory arthritis.

“My mother and her mother were diagnosed at a young age, at a time when medications were in their infancy. My mother did not let it define her. She set the perfect example,” she says.

Trish didn’t assume that she would eventually get rheumatoid arthritis but she was watching for the signs. It didn’t take long.

“I was diagnosed at 21. I was extremely active so I had good, healthy joints. It was easy to approach arthritis positively,” she recalls.

Positive but silent, as Trish kept a tight lip about her condition.

“I didn’t want to be viewed as any less capable than anyone else. The conception for most is that it’s an old person’s disease and I was going to have none of that,” she says.

Trish felt it was time to be more open about her disease after participating in the Arthritis Society’s Joints in Motion Marathon in Switzerland in 2012, in memory of her mother, Marg.

“It was this amazing experience that convinced me that I could help others by being more open about it, and I did. I had a few media articles and as juvenile arthritis is near to my heart, I reached out to parents whose children had been diagnosed for support and mentoring. Children with arthritis are so misunderstood and it is my hope that I can help to change that misconception through education, being available and perhaps generating more widespread content,” she says.

Trish keeps active with yoga, walking and some cardio and weight routines. Her medication regime changes constantly and she’s ventured into the world of biologics with methotrexate and the constant monitoring that goes with it.

“Pain can appear out of nowhere and not always due to overdoing it. I de-stress, use hot and cold solutions and mostly accept that it comes with the territory. I do my best to not complain, a tactic from my mom,” she admits.

Trish hopes that people continue to understand more about the nature of arthritis and the impact it can have on lives. 

“The positive is that there is research going on constantly. Being diagnosed does not have to dramatically change your life. We all get something along the journey and with improved communication we can help the 6 million Canadians who are affected.”