What happens when two strangers meet to discuss their arthritis journey?

Learn more about Stephanie and Brian's arthritis journey:

  • Stephanie Leblanc

    At age 20, Stephanie was enjoying university life, time with family and friends, and being active when she first started experiencing sore and swollen feet. Initially, she was told by her doctor to wear more appropriate footwear, but after some persistence a blood test was ordered, and her rheumatoid factor was found to be off the chart, and her symptoms began to worsen. A rheumatologist confirmed her diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.

    She was started on a series of medications to relieve the inflammation and minimize her pain and fatigue. This maintenance went on for seven years, with limited success: the bones in her hands, jaw, spine and feet all suffered damage. Stephanie would go on to endure bone fusion surgery on her left foot to relieve excessive pain and damage.

    “It wasn’t until I was 27 that the biologic treatments came on the Canadian market,” says Stephanie. Biologics were the first major advancement in drug treatment for rheumatoid arthritis since the 1950's. “I tried one and it completely changed my lifestyle. I was able to get back to regular exercise, committing to social events and having a relatively normal existence.”

    Then, in her late 30s, Stephanie and her husband were trying to start a family when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had to undergo a thyroidectomy. Luckily the cancer was contained and as soon as they could, they tried again for a baby and were surprised to become pregnant with twins! Soon after she delivered two healthy babies - a boy and girl.

    "In my last trimester and postpartum I experienced a flare of my RA. This meant adjusting my arthritis medication in combination with a thyroid replacement,” says Stephanie. “Both my rheumatologist and endocrinologist worked hard to stabilize my dosage to make sure I had the energy and physical strength required to take care of myself and two babies." At that stage, there were times Stephanie wasn't sure she'd be able to pick them up. Her wrists, especially, were badly affected and sadly resulted in permanent damage.

    Stephanie had to give up her career in advertising as a result of her condition, and now works part-time in a family business. Working from home and keeping up with her twins is demanding and managing stress levels is paramount to keeping her RA under control. Just as this disease erodes your joints, it also erodes pieces of your life. "Things that I used to love doing, I know I'll never do again. Sometimes that makes me sad but then I think...it could always be worse."

    Despite the ups and downs, trying to stay positive and surrounding herself with loved ones that are supportive gives Stephanie strength. And right now, she is feeling good and plans on taking advantage of every moment she can in this roller coaster life with RA.

  • Brian Groot

    Runners talk about hitting “the wall” – the point where your stores of energy are depleted, and you are struck by sudden fatigue. The ability to persevere through the wall to continue and finish the race is the hallmark of a good distance runner.

    Brian Groot from London knows all about the wall and moreover, knows the pain of running with arthritis. Brian lives with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) – an autoimmune disease in which the body begins to attack the joints of the spine, causing stiffening of the back, along with periodic and crippling pain and fatigue. That presents a different kind of wall altogether.

    Brian had started competing in marathons as a teenager and later took on running more extreme ultra distance races all around the world. So when his AS symptoms first presented in his mid 20s, he thought they were due to the typical wear and tear of an athlete. He cut back on his running thinking that would help, but instead it made things worse. It was strange enough that he remarked on it to his physician, and in time he was diagnosed with AS.

    “There were several points where I thought I would never run again,” says Brian, now in his 30s. “But by the time I saw a rheumatologist for treatment, I’d already figured out my own self-management strategy. I found that running doesn’t hurt me – it helps keep my joints mobile. And the mindfulness of yoga really helps me to listen to my body and what it needs. The fusion of the two has helped keep me free of major flares for years at a time. I even perform better.”

    It seems to be working – Brian continues to participate in long-distance running events, now with nearly 100 marathons under his belt.  He shares his experience and perspective as a coach for both yoga and running, encouraging others to combine the physical and mental disciplines to help improve their fitness and their mental well-being. Brian is learning how to overcome the wall of living with AS and helping ensure that his body and mind are positioned for success – on the run, and in life.

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