I have been blessed with a happy life. My story is meant as a message of hope for all, but especially for patients with autoinflammatory diseases.
As the youngest of six children growing up in rural Vermont, I always knew I was different. At the age of nine months I was hospitalized for several days with an unexplained high fever. Throughout my life I have experienced recurring flares of high fevers, abdominal pain, vomiting, painful red rashes, muscle pains, etc. I missed a lot of school, but luckily I was a good student, and stayed on top of my studies. When I was feeling well, I did all the normal kid things– I rode my bike, went to the community pool, skied, did sleep overs, went to camp, etc. Early on, my parents gave up on main stream medicine and I saw a chiropractor. I might add, no one else in my family exhibited any signs of illness.
Although it took me longer than four years, I graduated with honors from the University of Southern Maine with a B.S. in Business and Economics. When I married my husband in 1975, I inherited a fabulous family including two step-daughters. As years went on, we added a special son-in-law and entered grandparenthood with five beautiful grandchildren.
By this time, I was dealing with additional symptoms with my flares, including eye issues (episcleritis, marginal keratitis), trigeminal neuralgia, and episodes of hives. The stomach aches left me doubled over in pain and in bed for two days or more. I also experienced many urinary tract infections and a kidney infection. Somehow, I soldiered on.
At the age of 64, after a lifetime of struggling with my unknown, chronic and sometimes debilitating illness, I was diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ with TRAPS. When I received the genetic results in April of 2011, I wept. I was validated, and I finally had a name to all my bizarre symptoms! I have been hospitalized four times, and sent to multiple specialists–including a trip to Boston, from Maine where we live. I have endured a zillion tests–not always pleasant. There was never an answer, although I never gave up hope. I was a mystery until the Mayo Clinic.
My illness has not defined me, or controlled my happiness and my life. I decided early on to live my life, and have chosen to take a positive approach to live well. I have learned to adapt by focusing on what I can control – eating a healthy diet, exercising, learning to say “no,” seeking support from friends and family, and actively participating in decisions about which doctors to see and my treatment. For multiple reasons at this time, I have decided to stick with prednisone for my flares.
I also worked part-time for decades, as needed, and when I was physically able for one of Maine’s largest general contractors. I even worked at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics. Some fun and memorable life experiences come to mind: Spending an afternoon with Muhammad Ali at his training camp in PA; having a white knuckle glider plane ride in Peoria, AZ, and a helicopter ride (up front with the pilot) into the Grand Canyon; 1994 attendance of the NCAA Final Four in San Antonio, TX; and lastly–making a cameo appearance in the filming at our home in Portland, ME for the television show “America’s Most Wanted.” It was a reenactment of a story. I have traveled extensively, including Alaska and I cruised the Panama Canal, walked the Great Wall in China, held a koala bear in Australia, and attended a family wedding in New Zealand. There are many more places I have visited and more on my “Bucket List” that I would love to visit.
I volunteered for many years for the Refugee Resettlement Center in Portland, ME as an American friend and a tutor to new arrival families from Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Vietnam, and other countries. Many became part of our family. I discovered, through volunteering that others have a very different kind of struggle. Somehow, my struggle seemed less significant than coping with a language barrier, limited employment opportunities, and adjusting to a new country and new culture. I learned that perspective really does make a difference.
Although any disease can be challenging, there is a silver lining in every cloud. Find gratitude and joy in your blessings. Live life!!