Arthritis won’t stop this executive-by-day, rockstar-by-night

Barbara Foy-Pilchner singing

It took a significant ski accident a couple of years ago for Barbara Foy-Pilchner to finally pay attention to the worsening pain in her leg and hips.

Photography of Barbara Foy-Pilchner and her family

Barbara’s life is busy, to say the least. As a managing director with Manulife Investment Management, her role keeps her busy well beyond the 9 to 5 day. Yet she still finds time to rock out as the lead singer for Up in Arms, a Toronto-based band that was the closing act in the Arthritis Society’s recent Rock the Joint virtual concert, and pursue activities like taekwondo, skiing and running.

“I grew up as a dancer, performer and singer. I’d always suffered through back pain but managed to dance right into my 30s without thinking too much about it,” says Barbara.

Barbara’s accident on the slopes resulted in a torn psoas muscle, an injury that would shape a much different future than she’d imagined.

“My leg and hip were never the same and the pain continued to worsen. After all the tests and imaging, my surgeon realized I had significant degenerative arthritis in my left hip.”

The diagnosis shocked Barbara. She was in her 40s and had passionately embraced an active lifestyle and healthy eating habits all her life. It just didn’t seem possible, but Barbara had to accept that a lifetime of wear and tear had finally caught up with her.

“My surgeon said I have the hips of an 80-year old,” Barbara says with a rueful laugh. “I live in a hilly area and I got to the point where I wasn’t able to climb uphill anymore. My husband actually had to drive down and pick me up! That’s when I knew it was time for hip replacement surgery.”

The physical and mental toll of arthritis took hold of Barbara in the years leading up to her surgery. She suffered debilitating pain and faced the reality of giving up the activities she most enjoyed. Even short walks from the subway to her office were excruciating.

“Having chronic pain is terrible. I couldn’t sleep at all, I could never find a comfortable position, and there was constant pain in my hip and back,” recalls Barbara.

Photography of Up in Arms Rock Band

Despite the challenges, there’s an undeniable optimism in Barbara, evident in conversation and in her outlook. Instead of retreating from life, she used her diagnosis as an opportunity for reflection, asking herself questions about her purpose and her future.

“Life is constant change,” she says. “Arthritis has helped me realize there’s a natural end to everything and a beginning to many new things. Yes, I’ve said good-bye to my runs, taekwondo and skiing. But I’ve said hello to new things like daily yoga, weights, walking and stretching. And I can still do a mean jig on the dance floor!”

And as for her musical talents, she’s still performing with Up in Arms and embracing the lead singer persona as a mental and physical outlet. She’s even joined the Rock the Joint volunteer committee as a way to give back to the Arthritis Society. “There’s one thing I know for sure. Arthritis won’t stop me from rocking out!”

Check out and subscribe to the Up in Arms YouTube channel