Before I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, I had never heard of it. I knew something terrible was going on with my body, but I assumed it was Rheumatoid Arthritis. When I was a small child, my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with RA. We visited her every Sunday. I remember her crying in pain during some of those weekly visits. I also remember her recounting her weekly struggles and doctor appointments. As a child hearing these tales of pain in her shoulders or hands, I could not begin to imagine how your body could hurt so severely. My grandmother was fortunate in the fact that she was able to be active right up until her passing at age 84 years. I believe her body and pain would have been immensely worse if she had not been able to stay active.
Following in my grandmother’s footsteps is my mother. Mom had episodes of significant pain during her 40s, 50s, and 60s. However, my mom is one of those people who is never still. She is constantly doing something. She helped my dad on our farm until the 1990s when my father passed away and we stopped operating the farm. During the farming years, my mother worked harder than some men. Neighbors frequently spoke of how hard my mother worked. The producers of our farm's income were cattle and tobacco. She helped put up hay, the almost extinct way of rectangular bales that you actually lift by hand. She’d throw those bales up on the wagon faster than anyone. Then carry them from the wagon and stack them in the barn with dad. She also helped dad in the tobacco patch. She’d hoe a whole patch of tobacco. When the tobacco was full grown, she’d cut off each plant and hand them to dad to spear on a stick. If you know about growing tobacco you know being the cutter means bending, lifting, and twisting. Those tobacco plants are pretty heavy, considering they are about 6 feet tall and still green with a lot of moisture in them. Some people would leave there speared tobacco in the field until the sun dried it, which made it much lighter to lift and hang in a barn. My daddy didn’t think you got a nice, quality finished product doing it that way. Therefore, he insisted we load it on a wagon, haul it to the barn, and hang it on tier poles in the barn as soon as we got the entire patch speared. My mom carried those heavy tobacco sticks which usually had about 5 plants on each stick. My dad would climb the tier poles in the barn and mom would hand those straight up while standing on the wagon to dad. Plus my mother worked a full time job, as well as farming. My mom was a power horse!
During her early 70s she began experiencing more frequent pain. Her bounce back time was more significant as well. A day came when she had severe pain in her eye and head. Terrified, we went to an eye doctor. He said she had inflammation in her eye and prescribed steroid drops. However, the steroid drops didn’t help, she ended up in the emergency room. An MRI showed her optic nerve was highly inflamed. The emergency room doctor asked mom questions about her joints and other body aches. The line of questioning seemed odd to us since we were there for her eye pain. The ER doctor called a eye specialist in a neighboring town and had us drive immediately to that specialist. The specialist gave mom a high dose injection of steroids and he also questioned her about joint pain. After talking to mom,he said he would like to refer her to a rheumatologist because her symptoms could be a sign of an autoimmune disease. The rheumatologist was fabulous. She ran tests and sat talking with mom for about an hour. Mom was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis finally after all those years.
Based on my family history, I assumed I also had RA but to my surprise it wasn’t. My doctor said RA and AS are both autoimmune diseases. Somehow I ended up with this weird named disease, Ankylosing Spondylitis. She said having one autoimmune disease increases your chance of having another. So who's to say what my mother's or my future may hold in store for us. I pray my children do not carry on the family history of autoimmune, rheumatic diseases.
In closing, I hope everyone can see how movement helps keep us sufferers mobile. We’ll have our down days, but continue to get up and fight. My mom just celebrated her 82nd birthday. She’s still a “go-getter”. She inspires me daily.