Tag Archives: ankylosing spondylitis

The Disease Everyone Loves to Hate

Content note: this post discusses the topics of suicide and death.


I had a pretty good treatment day recently.

I didn’t even get upset that a new nurse tried and failed to get my infusion started. What’s another blown vein, anyway?

The infusion team was excited because they thought they’d seen a picture of me on a Facebook ad (it wasn’t me) – they’d even saved a screenshot to show me. My conversations with the nurses were light-hearted before I transitioned into catching up on emails.

I hid myself in my favorite corner where I can sometimes pretend I’m the only one in the room and I nearly forgot I was in a building with the word “cancer” all over the front of it.

I love the infusion team. And I better love them – these are treatments that I’ll need for the rest of my life unless this drug stops working or a better treatment shows up. I’m what you call incurable.


But as I was leaving my appointment I almost walked into a vendor table being set up for an event. On the table was a sign reserving it for a lingerie business. And then my eyes caught something else: pink.

Pink was everywhere. Rose petal fabric. Pink shirts. Pink everything. Pink was in the air. It smelled pink.

October. Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I can’t explain how crushing it was to leave my better-than-usual treatment, then turn the corner into an explosion of pink for an event that screamed, “You’re in someone else’s space.”

I have Ankylosing Spondylitis. The infusions I receive for my disease happen in a medical complex named Mercy Cancer Center. Every time I enter the building I see the name in big bold letters above the door and behind the check-in desk. While I wait for my appointment I see poster-sized lists of support groups and special events specifically for people with cancer. Continue reading The Disease Everyone Loves to Hate

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Raising Awareness on the Runway | I Took Ankylosing Spondylitis to New York Fashion Week

I modeled in New York Fashion Week recently.

Some might say it was a dream come true, but for me it was someone else’s dream I fell into. Alice didn’t expect to fall down a hole into Wonderland, and I didn’t expect to be diagnosed with a lifelong progressive disease when I was 26.

Around the time I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis in 2013 I began modeling. Neither the diagnosis nor the modeling were expected. One happened by an invite I almost grudgingly accepted from a friend. The other happened via email from my estranged father. You can figure out which was which – at least I hope you can.

When I began modeling I had just begun hating my body. It had betrayed me by getting sick after decades of playing soccer, running marathons, and being a professional mover; none of which I could continue regularly after I was diagnosed. Being an athlete had been my whole identity. Suddenly I wasn’t anymore, and not by choice.

Being in front of the camera helped rebuild self-esteem and I began to love my body again, which surprised me. But, even more than enjoying being photographed, I uncovered a treasure trove of humanity behind the scenes. When I began sharing my story with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), I found many models, hair and makeup artists, designers, and photographers with their own stories of chronic disease.

We are by and large fed stories of health, ability, and perfection by the polished images we see of models on the runway or in magazines. We tend to believe models are perfect, healthy, able beings with happy lives. And in an industry known for celebrating a very narrow, specific type of beauty and body, nonconformity is ill-advised if you’re in the thick of it.

I learned quickly how easy it is to feign – yet also truly find – confidence and identity when performing for the cameras.

Image by Glenn Jones/Ikona Photography ©2014. My first in-studio photo shoot ever. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

But anyone who knows me knows I’m not known for my conformity, so it wasn’t long before I was being myself. Continue reading Raising Awareness on the Runway | I Took Ankylosing Spondylitis to New York Fashion Week

How a Pair of Heels Gave Me a Reason to Live with Ankylosing Spondylitis

Shortly after I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) I decided to buy a pair of heels. I could count on one finger the number of times I’d successfully worn heels in the past: to that dance in college after a knee surgery, using my crutches to help me balance.

I grew up in rural North Carolina and heels did not help me climb trees, catch blue crabs, or sail a boat. I didn’t have a use for them. I didn’t know how to wear something that wasn’t running shoes or soccer cleats. I would only try on heels to make my friends laugh while I stumbled around like Jar Jar Binks.

It seems counter-intuitive that I would purchase a pair of heels right after being diagnosed with a disease that causes extreme joint pain, inflammation, and spinal damage. I should be preserving my body and my joints as much as possible, right?

But when I was diagnosed with AS something clicked inside me, and it wasn’t a desire to follow the Yellow Brick Road back home to Kansas. It was a sudden desire to experience everything life could offer before I couldn’t do it anymore. And that somehow meant learning how to walk in heels even if I was only able to use them for a year, 5 years, or 10 years. Even though it didn’t make any sense.

So I bought heels and kind of learned to walk in them.

And then I became a fashion model. I swear it wasn’t planned. During my first photo shoot the photographer had to teach me how to pose gracefully without falling over. Continue reading How a Pair of Heels Gave Me a Reason to Live with Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing Spondylitis Eradicated? A Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy Called GreenEva

February 17th, 2073.

Everything was eerily calm. Aside from a few fiery crashed planes and the last of the human-powered trains derailing, the world was quiet. Too quiet, except for hungry dogs with full bladders barking inside suddenly empty houses.

Traffic lights changed from yellow to red, red to green, then yellow to red again. Clock towers struck 9:00 AM and the Times Square marquee scrolled unchanging stock market shares. Swing sets swung and flags unfurled in the breeze.

This wasn’t the post-apocalypse sci-fi anyone had read as a teenager.

People had simply vanished. Poof.

The dark green fog, Green Evanescence, had taken every human with it.

Almost every human. Continue reading Ankylosing Spondylitis Eradicated? A Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy Called GreenEva

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 2017, 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)

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)

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.

Becoming Incurable Banner Image
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