The Power of Peonies

It’s late May, that time of year when my peony bushes begin to sprout big pink ant-filled buds. While I love the smell, bringing them into the house is akin to asking the pest control guy to move in with me.

It also marks the one-year anniversary of being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis – the same disease that did my grandfather in when I was a baby. While I have no memory of him to fall back on, I’ve heard the story of Grandpa Bill’s affliction  my entire life. How he awoke one morning to find he couldn’t get out of bed, how his big imposing frame became a prison which offered no relief from the pain, swelling and fatigue.

I knew the disease was hereditary. Still, it didn’t immediately spring to mind when, while trekking to work in my favorite flats, the joints in my toes started to ache. My first instinct was to blame the shoes – cute, but hardly practical for marching down several city blocks. When switching to a retired pair of running shoes offered little relief, I gulped down the fact that I wasn’t getting any younger and would soon have to start taking the bus with the rest of the aging commuters.

It wasn’t until a year ago January, when I was just sitting there watching TV, that the same joints in my hands started to throb – and not just in an achy “I-overdid-it-on-the-laptop-today” kind of way. It was more like “who-ran-over-my-hands-with-a-steamroller?” But, the next day they were fine. Right as rain, so I shrugged it off.

Until it happened again.

As time went on, these little flares would last longer and become more intense. By April, I was in my primary care doc’s office begging for answers. By May, I was dunking my hands and feet in water so an ultrasound technician could baseline my joint damage.

Decades have passed since my Grandpa had received the grim news that he was afflicted with this chronic autoimmune condition. Treatments have evolved and improved as has knowledge of the disease. Words can’t express how grateful I am. While it’s still not curable, it is treatable. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had to make adjustments and hard ones at that. I haven’t been able to run due to the pain in my feet and, per orders from my RA doc, I have had to cut out processed foods, carbs (farewell deep dish!), refined sugar and (gulp) wine. If she had told me I had to cut out coffee, I would’ve been done for.

And technology has evolved. This, of course, is a double-edged sword. On the one side, I can google “Rheumatoid arthritis” and read up on all sorts of unsettling facts and figures. When I need a really good scare, I read the fine print on the my highly toxic medication’s warning label. But, on the other side, I can turn to social media where I’ve connected with many amazing RA survivors. Some are runners, other triatheletes, some world travelers. While some are newly diagnosed, others have been afflicted for decades. But they have one thing in common – they have chosen to stare down this disease with warrior-like persistence and ferocity that inspires me every single day.

When I’m feeling particularly optimistic, like I am on this blue sky, birds-chirping lovely morning, I can’t help but smile, thinking of the hopeful words my doctor shared at my last visit: “the goal is to be pain-free.”

A year has passed since my diagnosis. While all sorts of upsetting at first, it has morphed into a gift that’s helped me realize just how precious this life is which, in turn, has prompted me to take stock of my life, discarding that which does not bring me joy and cherishing the things that do – my kids, family, friends, readers like you…and the mind-bending scent of peonies first thing in the morning. 

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