Category Archives: Heroes

I Talked with Zach, the Try Guy with Ankylosing Spondylitis (Part II)

Since Zach’s vlog announcement of his Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) diagnosis in September 2018, the video has been viewed over 4.9 million times (as of time of this publication).

In part one of this series I talked about Zach’s story’s impact, the validation that came with his diagnosis, and lessons learned living with a disease that is always beneath the surface.

In part two I dive deeper into Zach’s decision to announce his diagnosis on YouTube, his approach to coping with AS, and whether he calls himself an advocate. Finally, I’ll share his exclusive message to the AS community.

Before I continue, I want to clarify that I am neither doctor nor medical professional. None of the following should be taken as diagnostic, medical or treatment advice. Please consult with your physician before starting, stopping, or changing treatment.

Let’s get started.

Why the video? Continue reading I Talked with Zach, the Try Guy with Ankylosing Spondylitis (Part II)

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I talked with Zach, the Try Guy with Ankylosing Spondylitis (part I)

When Try Guys member Zach Kornfeld announced he has Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) in September 2017 I was so relieved.

I know what you’re thinking. Relief sounds super self-centered, so let me say right now that I was also really sad for Zach’s diagnosis; I wouldn’t wish Ankylosing Spondylitis on my worst enemy. But when you live with a common-but-unknown disease, awareness is what you live for.

Well, it’s what I live for anyway. And when a celebrity makes an announcement a lot of people pay attention.

Zach’s video marked the second “Ankylosing Spondylitis coming out” by a celebrity figure in two years (Dan Reynolds announced his in 2015) and it made a big splash in the AS community. Spondylitis Twitter was buzzing. Spondylitis Facebook and Instagram were buzzing, etc etc. It was exciting to see someone talking frankly about AS to a really large audience (as of April 27, 2018 the video had nearly 4.9 million views). Zach was telling all our stories by telling his own and we clung to this moment as a chance to be seen and heard.

Here, let me lay this out for you better.

Ankylosing Spondylitis is an immune-mediated inflammatory disease that can progressively damage joints in the body, especially in the spine, and in some cases cause the spine to fuse into a column of rigid bone. Additionally, AS is a systemic, or whole-body, disease; so it can cause fatigue, cognitive impairment, sleep impairment, and damage multiple organs in the body. There is no cure, so the goal for treatment is to reduce inflammation to slow the progression of the disease and manage symptoms.

Many of us who have AS had never even heard of the disease before a doctor sat us down and opened their mouth to a flood of slow motion gibberish, “You have A n k y l o s a u r a s d i n o s a u r S p o o n d a c t y l a u r u s B l i b b i d y B l o p p i d y B o o.”

Then, as if our disease isn’t hard enough to pronounce, our own friends and family struggle to even understand what we’re experiencing and that it’s serious. And a lot of general practitioners have already forgotten the one paragraph about AS they read during medical school. There are even rheumatologists (the specialists who treat AS) who refuse to diagnose women. More about that another time.

And yet AS affects so many people. Ankylosing Spondylitis falls under an umbrella of diseases called Spondyloarthritis, which affects an estimated 2.7 million people in the USA alone. That’s more than Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)/Lou Gherig’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis combined. Estimates vary regarding the number of people specifically with AS in the US, but it is the most prevalent type of Spondyloarthritis. That’s a LOT of people.

I wish nobody had AS, but since a lot of us do and we largely suffer in silence, Zach’s video was cause for celebration – not for his being diagnosed, but for his willingness to talk about it in front of millions of people.

When I saw his video I knew I wanted to help his story reach more people. I knew I wanted to talk to him.

So six months later I reached out to him about a chronic disease documentary I’m in (shameless plug) and it turned into a Skype interview.

Continue reading I talked with Zach, the Try Guy with Ankylosing Spondylitis (part I)

Watch This Trailer For “Becoming Incurable,” a Documentary About Chronic Disease

The day before I turned 30 I received an email that would change my life.

It is not abnormal for me to receive emails from chronic disease patients, news outlets, doctors, and advocacy groups.

But this email was from Victoria, a videographer, sharing her vision of a documentary highlighting the stories of three people living with physically debilitating, incurable diseases. She wanted me to be one of them.

Participating would require me to open my heart, home, and schedule to her camera lens, questions, and vision. Saying no never even crossed my mind. Continue reading Watch This Trailer For “Becoming Incurable,” a Documentary About Chronic Disease

Talking Ankylosing Spondylitis with Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds

I don’t always interview rock stars – it’s not really my thing. But this day was different. This was personal.

It was a chilly morning, much too early for my stiff body to roll out of bed. But this was a big day – I would soon be interviewing Dan Reynolds, the lead singer of Imagine Dragons.

“This wouldn’t be happening,” I thought, “if we didn’t share a wicked diagnosis.”

In late 2015, Dan announced during a show that he lives with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). A year later, he partnered with Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation and the Spondylitis Association of America to launch This AS Life Live!, an interactive talk show for and by patients living with AS.

Before I keep going, I want to express how lonely it can be to trudge through life surviving a disease that people do not know about. I spend substantial time and energy educating friends, strangers, and even doctors about my condition, which leaves little room for receiving compassion and empathy – like the supportive gestures people usually offer to someone who has a disease in the limelight. Everyone knows cancer is bad, but AS is not a well-known disease, so for a celebrity to name it on stage is life-changing. Continue reading Talking Ankylosing Spondylitis with Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds

My Walk to Cure Arthritis

I still remember my first time. I showed up curious, yet expecting to be bored. After doing cancer walks and fundraisers for everyone else, this was just another event for people with some horrible condition. I didn’t really take it seriously – after all, arthritis was for old people, not me.  This walk felt like something else to fill up space on my calendar. I could be doing…something else.

It was May 18th, 2013, and I was standing in front of the California State Capitol building at 8:30am. A month earlier I had been diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. It was “California-HOT.” People were gathered around without much energy – people I didn’t know, until a few friends showed up and held me upright while I wondered for the last time what I was actually doing there. I still didn’t want to accept I actually had arthritis.

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With Suzy, 2013 Arthritis Walk

I had raised over $2,000 for this walk. Raising the money was a way to share my story after the shock of hearing the words, “You have ankylosing spondylitis.”

It wasn’t about the money. It was about screaming at the top of my lungs to be heard after my world fell apart. It was about what I could control. While I couldn’t control this new diagnosis, I could make sure everyone in my life knew about it.

It wasn’t about the money. It was about people seeing my world fall apart, and I wanted my friends to glue me back together and erase the scars. Continue reading My Walk to Cure Arthritis

What Mom Thinks About Me Being Sick

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Mother, Caroline, and Daughter, Charis, at Meredith College circa 1989. Charis is wearing the first dress she ever picked out.

I have ankylosing spondylitis and several mental health issues. I asked my mother some questions about them impacting my life. Here’s what she had to say:

What was I like as a child?

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Charis building muscles at a young age

You were always physically active – as a baby, stretching and leaning toward what you liked/wanted.  You enjoyed crawling, walking, later bicycling.  I enjoyed watching you do backbends and cartwheels at about ages 6-10.  You wanted to be scored – 1-10 – as though in the Olympics.  You loved kittens and puppies.  You enjoyed holding them and carrying them around.  You were inquisitive.  You were very shy as a toddler, often hiding behind my skirts or my legs so you would not have to talk to people who addressed you.  You enjoyed spending time with people of all ages as you became an older child.  You became friends with adults and enjoyed learning new things such as tennis and fishing from your grandparents.  I had come to believe that “it takes a village to raise a child”, so I encouraged your independence in going alone by bicycle into our village and forming many relationships with nurturing adults there.  I allowed and encouraged you to be outspoken to the point of some thinking you were “too sassy”, but I believed that as a female in this society, you would need to be able to speak up and take care of yourself as you grew up.  There could easily be a book about how you were as a child, so this will have to be an incomplete capsule.

Do we have any similar quirks that you have noticed/ Do you think these quirks are the result of nature or nurture? Continue reading What Mom Thinks About Me Being Sick

Dorothy’s Oranges

Dorothy has an orange tree in her back yard

Seedless

Sweet

Ripe and ready last week

Far-reaching

Heavenly

The tree groans and shrugs under the weight of full, ripe, juice-running-down-fingers oranges pulling nutrients from within her aged spine of a trunk

A giving tree.

4419-MMS-1443156449716-attachment1-20150924_183634-1Loving our neighbors means sharing our oranges

Because when we have an abundance of fruit, why let it go sour in our back yards?

Dorothy loves her neighbors

Dorothy is a sweet orange

And her sweetness extends beyond the last morsel of citrus – there is always more, and next year the tree will be full again

Sharing the sweetness of our gifts is not a rotten pursuit