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)

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Becoming Incurable | Help Make This Chronic Disease Documentary a Reality

Last summer I announced that I was being featured in Becoming Incurable, a film featuring the stories of three people in Sacramento, California, each living with different chronic diseases: Ankylosing Spondylitis, Lyme Disease, Mold Illness, and Dystonia.

In that announcement I said:

Since that day in February when I received Victoria’s (filmmaker/director) email, I have welcomed her into my life with Ankylosing Spondylitis and hidden nothing from view.

I am heartened by Victoria’s passion, curiosity, and talent in videography and visual storytelling. I am humbled by her desire to make this more than a film. She has poured heart and soul into this and I have witnessed her feel deeply and dream big as she has jumped into the deep end with us three professional, chronic survivors.

What I didn’t realize, even when I told all of you that I was in the film, was how big of an impact it would have in the chronic disease community even before the movie itself was ever finished! Becoming Incurable has become much more than a film; it has become a platform empowering people to share their own stories and lives with incurable diseases, largely thanks to the passion and drive of director/filmmaker Victoria.

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Voices of the Chronically Incurable

Becoming Incurable, which is scheduled for release in 2019, has already been telling short stories of people living with chronic diseases in the USA and abroad in “Inside Incurable Lives” video episodes and audio-digital magazine issues (find the latest issues on Facebook or the film’s website).

Continue reading Becoming Incurable | Help Make This Chronic Disease Documentary a Reality

16 Things I Take to My Infusions for Ankylosing Spondylitis

FYI: if you purchase something through a link in this post I may receive a small commission, but it will not change the amount you pay for the item.


When I began receiving infusion treatments for Ankylosing Spondylitis I had no idea how to prepare for my appointments. What do I bring? What do I wear? Do I need a ride?

Now, well over a year of regular infusions later, I often tell people that infusions are my favorite appointments because I actually feel like a patient. All I have to do is show up and be treated; I don’t have to steel myself for a consultation, review medical records ahead of time or expect to receive a new diagnosis or a change in medication. I just show up, get poked with a needle and catch up on emails or Facebook until I fall asleep. Minus the awkward IV pole, it’s the perfect SpA treatment (all you Spondyloarthritis folks got that joke, right?).

Here is my list for infusion days:

Continue reading 16 Things I Take to My Infusions for Ankylosing Spondylitis

Giving Back is About More Than Money

I recently wrote a narrative about my relationship with the Spondylitis Association of America for #MyGivingStory, a campaign that focuses on people’s relationships with giving to nonprofits. The story I submitted was not a finalist, but I believe it deserves a life beyond that campaign.


I still remember calling the Spondylitis Association of America (SAA), declaring, “I’m going to be a poster child for Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS).” I had just been diagnosed with AS – a severe, painful inflammatory disease that mainly affects the spine/low back and can cause bone spurs to fuse joints together, typically in the spine.

As you can imagine extra bone growing in your body that’s not supposed to be there can be quite painful.

Additionally, since AS is systemic it can also damage organs including the eyes, liver, lungs, and more. Over 2.7 million people have Spondyloarthritis (the type of disease AS is) in the United States – that’s more than twice the number of people who have Rheumatoid Arthritis. It’s also more than the number of people who have Lou Gherig’s disease (ALS) and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) combined. AS isn’t rare, but it often feels that way.

I was angry. So I became determined to use my physical strength and my pretty face to raise awareness of an ugly disease – I declared I was going to backpack across the country, give speeches, raise money, find a cure, and make Ankylosing Spondylitis a household name. Continue reading Giving Back is About More Than Money

I Told My Story at the 2018 Women’s March in Sacramento

Below is a video and transcript of the speech I gave at the 2018 Women’s March in Sacramento. The current video may be updated with an official rally video after it is released.


(Video courtesy of Darcy Totten, Activism Articulated)


Sacramento!!!

My name is Charis.

Five years ago I was asked to testify on a bill and I said to the person, “I am nobody, how can you expect me to say anything to convince these lawmakers to choose the right thing?”

She said, “Charis, all you have to do is share your story. Nobody can tell your story for you.”

Sacramento! Can you share your stories? That’s all you have to do.


I’m a former college athlete. I graduated magna cum laude from a women’s college and I paid off my college loans in 6 years. I could do anything!

But.

Then I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. You can’t tell because I’m hiding the pain, but Ankylosing Spondylitis hurts like hell and my body’s working overtime just to survive. I also live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, and Anxiety.

In 2016, I made the hardest decision of my life. I applied for Social Security Disability. Now, two years later, I am still waiting for a decision on my case. For two years I’ve been surviving on savings and occasional financial help. But with Sacramento’s rent rising astronomically and my savings and health in decline, my future is uncertain at best. Continue reading I Told My Story at the 2018 Women’s March in Sacramento

I Will Never Graduate from Treatment

​Many months ago during a routine drug treatment I heard a happy commotion and looked up to see balloons entering a private room across the infusion center. Noticing my curiosity, the nurse checking my vitals offered, “Last day of chemo.”

My lips curled upward into a celebratory smile, but it was interrupted as a different feeling suddenly took my breath away.

“Oh,” I breathed in sharply, “I’ll never get balloons.”

I was crushed.

The nurse asked, “What are you receiving infusions for?”

“Ankylosing Spondylitis,” I ventured, waiting to see if I would need to explain the disease to her.

“Oh, yes,” she replied, “I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. Perhaps we can bring you balloons for your next infusion?”

Someone walking by offered me a cupcake. I shook my head, no. Continue reading I Will Never Graduate from Treatment

27 Gifts for Someone with Ankylosing Spondylitis

FYI: if you purchase something through a link in this post I may receive a small commission, but it will not change the amount you pay for the item.


While gift-giving is common for special occasions and during the holiday season, people living with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) could use a little extra love year-round. Here’s a long list of items I use almost daily (I really have used all these items recently)! The prices I included are as of the date this was written:

Hot or cold? 

1. This Sunbeam Quilted Heated Mattress Pad ($70) is a little on the expensive side, but the extra padding covers the wires so you can hardly tell they are there.

2. This moist heat Battle Creek Electric MaxHEAT Pad ($65) is also pricey, but after over two years of regular use mine is still going strong. The cover is washable. Be aware that this pad gets super hot!

3. This style of Hot and Cold Reusable Ice Pack ($7) has been around for a while, but it still works really well!

Things to wear

Continue reading 27 Gifts for Someone with Ankylosing Spondylitis

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