Jaime Falco's Rheumatoid Arthritis Journey + Birthday Letter to JoyRide
Dear JoyRiders, Friends, Family and our community,
As many of you know, I have Rheumatoid Arthritis: a chronic autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is different than osteoarthritis (wear and tear); it is your immune system attacking your bones and joints. I was diagnosed just after Halloween in 1993, when I was three years old. I've now had RA for over 21 years.
RA is correctly called an “invisible illness”, it just doesn't typically come up in conversation unless I bring it up and there are two reasons why I (used to!) avoiding talking about my RA diagnosis:
1. Most people, unless they have a personal connection to chronic illness, don't understand the magnitude of having a disease like that. It's hard to explain in a concise way.
2. I was scared of people seeing me in any other way besides healthy, fit, and strong. I was scared to be vulnerable; and in a more personal way, I was still coming to terms with my reality as someone with a chronic illness.
I'm so young, but so different than many people my age and I have to admit that sometimes I need a break and can't do what I want to do. I pride myself so much on being healthy and fit and professional, not realizing until recently that I can still be seen as those things, even after talking about my RA.
Everyone has something in life that they didn't originally sign up for. This is MY "thing", and at 23 years old, turning 24 today, I am ready to acknowledge it, own it and do something about it. While there have been days and months where I have been in pain with swollen joints, there are also (for the majority, thankfully) so many good days. On these good days, I can truly appreciate how incredible it feels to be healthy and capable. On a good day, you can be absolutely sure that I am thinking in my head, “this feels so good; thank you, God, for my health today.
This grateful mindset is one of my major takeaways from having RA for over twenty years. Of course there is the thought, "it could always be worse", and yes, that's true. But I don't believe that belittling my struggle, or anyone's struggle, is helpful or productive. Life with chronic illness is a balance of acceptance, adaptation, and the constant desire to live a life not defined by your disease.
A chronic illness is very daunting and at times deeply depressing. Often you are hit with the heavy thought of "this is for life." Sometimes, a cure doesn't seem attainable and hope doesn't feel realistic. This disease is something you manage, cope with, explain, and adapt to for the rest of your life. Unless you have a chronic disease, it might be very difficult to grasp this concept.
I am undoubtedly more empathetic and compassionate because I have RA. I will always be a nonjudgmental, understanding ear to anyone (riders, friends, anyone) who is dealing with their own struggle. Sometimes just getting out of bed is a hard task that feels like a small victory. This is a hard journey that many people know nothing about, which is why raising awareness feels so important to me now.
As I began to really take ownership of my RA, I've been able to be more vocal about it and open with my story. I should've done it a long time ago. Sharing my story has allowed me to not only help others who share a similar journey, but it has allowed me to ask for help when I need it. Being vulnerable has brought me closer to so many of you, as we check in on each other and share our own triumphs and struggles. I forged some of my most treasured relationships when I decided that I didn't have to hide my illness. Allowing myself to be vulnerable allowed me to feel empowered enough to be vocal about arthritis awareness.
So today, on my birthday, there is just one person to thank and it's YOU. Just this past Friday night, I decided to "donate" my birthday on Facebook to the Arthritis National Research Foundation. I had an original goal of maybe $300-500, even wondering if it was selfish to create a fundraiser, especially while there so many urgent and worthy causes at the moment. But I created the fundraiser nonetheless and I am so grateful that I did.
As of this moment, in three days, you have helped me raise over $2,000. It has been a hugely uplifting and humbling moment for me to realize how many people care about and support me. I never saw my disease as being worthy or serious enough to ask for support in such a big way, but you have shown me love that I truly never expected. And I should have known you would because this is a community that has always been there for me. Whether you are a rider in my class, or a friend from high school, I have been deeply touched by your decision to support my quest for a cure. "Thank you" could never do it justice.
Sending all my love and all my wishes for your own health and the health of your loved ones,
If you still wish to donate to the Arthritis National Research Foundation, please click here.