Niagara Gazette — Three years ago, I never envisioned myself as an advocate for an incurable disease.
I did not envision battling the disease, myself. Nor did I ever imagine it being a serious and disabling form of arthritis. I was no longer the invincible teenager living a care free and healthy life; I had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 17.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a non-curable autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys not only the joints of the body, but internal organs as well, such as the heart, eyes and lungs. The attacks and destruction cause pain, swelling, inflammation, fatigue and many other symptoms.
When diagnosed, I had never heard of the disease and realized others had never heard of it either. I looked for help and answers and came across the Arthritis Foundation, which provided me with the tools and resources I would need throughout my diagnosis and treatment.
After raising more than $11,000 for the Arthritis Foundation last summer and spreading awareness of the disease and its 100 different types, I looked for more ways to better myself as an ambassador and an advocate. When I heard about the annual advocacy summit, held early in March, I realized attending the summit would be the best way to do so.
Held annually for the past 15 years, the summit brings more than 350 advocates from all 50 states together to educate Congress about arthritis and to urge action for more support, in the hope of preventing, controlling and curing arthritis. The summit allows arthritis advocates to let their voices be heard on behalf of the 50 million adults with some form of arthritis in America and the 300,000 children as well.
It was my honor to attend the summit. I not only became more educated on matters regarding Congress and their decisions on healthcare, but I was able to meet others with arthritis, especially young adults like myself. The summit was a chance for me to let Congress know that “ignoring arthritis is unacceptable.” This phrase was a common statement for us when speaking with members of Congress and/or their assistants.