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What were the steps leading up to your diagnosis?

I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis when I was 35 years-old. It revealed itself on a knee x-ray after I twisted it in a Zumba class.

When I had surgery to repair the torn meniscus, the surgeon discovered more cartilage loss than anticipated and performed a microfracture procedure to help. A microfracture procedure involves, as you may suspect, creating tiny fractures in the underlying bone to cause new cartilage to develop.

I was stunned when I woke up from surgery to a much longer, much more complicated recovery than I had anticipated. Physical therapy was especially frustrating, as I had to relearn how to use my knee. It was my first introduction to having what I now refer to as mobility issues. I spent a summer recovering, finishing summer school and graduate education classes on crutches.

Just about over a year after my recovery from the knee surgery, life hit my right leg again. This time in the form of an untrained, unsocialized German Shepherd that mauled my leg from my buttocks to my freshly recovered knee, crushing one of the nerves and leaving it permanently damaged.

Two months after this unfortunate accident, my marriage of seven years came to an end. The added stress of recovery back to back was a factor, as were the lifestyle changes I had to make.

Between the dog attack and the divorce, I had a mild nervous breakdown over that Christmas and was struggling to perform my daily job of teaching first grade and being a mom to my teenager, Michael. Michael came out as transgender several months after the divorce, providing a learning opportunity while trying to rebuild our lives at the same time.

Since that time, I've never had a pain free day. I have been diagnosed with PTSD, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis. It's been three years since my divorce was final and I have spent that time focusing on my health and Michael's journey as he finished high school and began college.

What lifestyle changes have you needed to make?

The biggest lifestyle change I've had to make is learning to be my own health advocate. I've had to become more adept at recognizing my limits and not allowing anyone else's input to sway me either way.

Many people want to be helpful, but I needed to learn what is best for me and how to communicate it. Saying "you should rest" does help, but I also need to exercise to help with anxiety and stress. "All you need is a walk" is great, except on a day when I feel like taking a shower and should be awarded an Olympian medal. I've had to become strict about my sleeping schedule, as I can get into bouts of insomnia that makes me feel awful the next day.

Who has been there for you? How?

My son, my parents, my sister, my friends, and my boyfriend have been incredible supports as we've traveled this road the past several years. They are always flexible with my schedule, allowing me to bow out if I need to rest without giving me a hard time about it.

My job as a teacher has been incredibly rewarding because the staff and administration help me when I need it and being a huge support during a tough time in my personal life.

I've come much closer in my relationship to God, as relying on my faith has served me well managing my stress and helping me to think of others who need more help than I do. I am blessed.

I've never had a pain free day.

What accomplishment are you proud of?

I am most proud of trying to be the best mother I could to my son during these difficult years of surgery, recovery, divorce, and new diagnosis that limit what we can do together.

He graduated from high school and is healthy and happy, just completing his second year of college. He loves Canada, is quick witted, kind and artistic. It wasn't easy, but we both worked hard to be good to ourselves.

What accomplishment are you proud of?

I am most proud of trying to be the best mother I could to my son during these difficult years of surgery, recovery, divorce, and new diagnosis that limit what we can do together.

He graduated from high school and is healthy and happy, just completing his second year of college. He loves Canada, is quick witted, kind and artistic. It wasn't easy, but we both worked hard to be good to ourselves.

Communication is everything.

Communication is everything.

What's your advice to someone else living with Osteoarthritis?

Communication is everything. Understanding what you need day to day as different symptoms pop up is critical to be able to tell others how to help.

Limit stress as much as you can! It never helps. Rest, stretch, find an exercise that helps your mood - I'm a licensed Zumba instructor, about to be trained in Aqua Zumba, to help my joints and strengthen my muscles in the water. Exercise can be so hard to get to, and you need to find something that helps your mood too.

Anxiety and depression are common as you learn to adjust your life. Being able to focus on the positive is imperative! Read Lucky Man, by Michael J. Fox.

Focusing on what is good has helped keep the challenges in perspective.

Is there anything else we should know?

I love teaching elementary school, teaching and attending Zumba classes, traveling, attending church, playing piano and baking.

Spending time with the people I love is my biggest joy, watching TV together, playing games, and making each other laugh.

I love trying new things, like ballroom dancing and knitting. I perform in the bell choir at my church, and I could watch Criminal Minds every day of the week.

Going out to dinner with my friends was a lifesaver to me these past few years; they make me laugh every time we're together, and they helped remind me of what normal was. It took a long time to heal after my divorce, but after two years God blessed me with a patient, loving man to support me. Focusing on what is good has helped keep the challenges in perspective.

About Susan

My Story: Susan

I'm a 43-year-old mom and elementary school teacher. I've been teaching K-5 for eighteen years, and a mom just a bit longer as my son is 20 years old. I live close to my family, have coached chess and cook in my classroom as often as I can. My biggest loves are my family, friends, and teaching. I am blessed!

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