Rheumatoid Awareness Week 2021: Julie Bastarache's story

Getting diagnosed with an incurable illness is difficult, no matter how prepared you think you may be. Julie Bastarache reflects on her RA diagnosis and writes about her challenges this RA Awareness Week.


My diagnosis story

I began to have symptoms in the summer of 2018. The pain began in the ball of my foot, and felt like I was constantly walking on a bruise. Eventually, the pain travelled to my fingers. I would wake up in the morning and my fingers would be so swollen I would not be able to close my hand to make a fist. I was working as a dental hygienist in a really fast paced dental office at the time, so I was being naïve and thought it may be due to overuse/being overworked. I eventually left that practice and got a job at an office that was much less stressful. But, my symptoms never went away, and in fact, they became worse. I finally decided to seek medical help in January of 2019. The doctor ran some blood work and said they would contact me if anything came up. A few weeks went by and I still hadn’t heard anything, so I decided to call the doctors office to see if they had found anything. At this point the pain was unbearable and I could barely walk. Turns out, the lab had forgotten to send my results back to the doctors office. After a couple more weeks, I was able to see the physician, who informed me he could not tell me for sure, but he was “pretty certain” I had rheumatoid arthritis, as my RH factor was positive, and my inflammation markers were through the roof. He referred me to a rheumatologist to get a definitive diagnosis. It took about 8 months to get an appointment with the rheumatologist, who confirmed the diagnosis, just a few weeks before my 25th birthday. I started treatment right away in hopes of lessening the symptoms and slow down the joint damage. Despite this, my illness was still progressing very quickly, and I had to make the difficult decision to change careers. Unfortunately, one of the most important things to be a dental hygienist is functional hands and fine mortar skills, and that was now out of reach for me. I am hopeful that one day I will get into remission and be able to get back to doing what I love.

How R.A. affects my everyday life

After being diagnosed with a chronic illness such as RA, you get to appreciate the little things that most healthy people take for granted. Being able to hop out of bed, brush your teeth and hair, pour yourself a cup of tea, tie your shoe laces, go up and down stairs. These are all things that now take a lot more effort to accomplish, and are barely ever done pain free. Arthritis isn’t just joint pain - it affects many other aspects of your life that most people won’t understand until they get diagnosed with a chronic illness themselves. Above and beyond the excruciating pain, loss of independence, medical appointments and weekly injections, comes immense fatigue and exhaustion. I’ve only had rheumatoid arthritis for a little over two years, but my life has changed so much since then that I don’t even remember what it’s like to live without it.

What living with R.A. means to me

Getting diagnosed with an incurable illness is difficult, no matter how prepared you think you may be. There will always be days where you’ll want to give up, and think to yourself “why me?”. But on those days, I like to remind myself of all the good things RA has brought to me. I’ve learned to be kinder to my body, I’ve became more patient and I’ve been shown how resilient I truly am. My diagnosis has made me more compassionate for others dealing with their own struggles and has shown me how precious health can be. Since being diagnosed with RA I’ve been more grateful for the little things in life, and for that, I am forever thankful.

Image source: Towfiqu Barbhuiya, Unsplash

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