My Story: Julia Chayko

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What were the steps leading up to your diagnosis?

One fall morning, I woke up with stiff and swollen joints and a slight fever. I brushed it off as the beginning of a cold, or perhaps the flu. The same symptoms continued for six weeks, neither wavering nor getting worse, but making me feel like I was in the body of Mr. Potato Head.

I made an appointment with my family doctor; he examined my swollen hands with a slight crinkle in his forehead. He made small talk, asking me what kind of work I was doing – I was working in a rheumatology clinic. After his examination, he calmly said, "I'm going to refer you to a rheumatologist."

What lifestyle changes have you needed to make?

I was a dancer, actress and writer. Being on stage, I had to be fit and energized, ready to deliver my best in each performance. With the pain, swelling and fatigue, my normal zip seemed to disintegrate. I took some time away from performing, trying to adjust to a new regime. I still exercised as best I could, but had to switch to low impact exercises like yoga and swimming. I was an avid Salsa dancer at the time of my diagnosis, but pain in my hands made it difficult to partner with people unaware of my condition.

I tried different medications, looking for that combination that would control my flares. At my rheumatologist’s suggestion, I switched to a gluten-free diet. He also suggested cutting out processed sugars and dairy – I was already lactose intolerant, so that was an easy adjustment. I learned to slow down. I used to rush about like a hummingbird, but weak hands caused me to drop things. By slowing down I was able to control the new clumsy quality of my life.

Who has been there for you? How?

My better half, who is the love of my life, as well as my family, my friends, my co-workers, and all the lovely people I have connected with through my blog.

What accomplishment are you proud of?

My Story: Julia ChaykoI returned to the stage four years after my diagnosis – it was a lead role and it required me to carry a tray of glasses. I got through rehearsals and four weeks of performances without mishap. I may have been tired, but I was determined not to let arthritis stop me from performing.

I also created a blog based on my daily life with arthritis. I took a page from my creative writing life and told my stories through the eyes of a storyteller and poet. I wanted to show the upside of life, even in the face of this disease.

Be positive, always look for the blessings in life and be kind to yourself.

Don't put pressure on yourself – you'll get there when you’re ready.

Don't put pressure on yourself – you'll get there when you’re ready.

What's your advice to someone else living with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Be positive, always look for the blessings in life. Don't be afraid to adjust your life; life will change, but it can be a good change if you allow it. Set goals for yourself to keep your hope alive. No goal is insignificant – it can be anything you want it to be, as small or as large as you make it, but do make a goal and do your best to meet it. Don't put pressure on yourself – you'll get there when you’re ready. Be kind to yourself – this is a painful, debilitating disease, you're allowed to whine every now and then and take time for yourself.

Don't be afraid to adjust your life. Life will change, but it can be a good change if you allow it.

Is there anything else we should know?

I fight my disease through words, learning to laugh at the ridiculous within it. I live each day to the fullest and revel in my life, whether it's a good day or a bad one. I am grateful to live on the beautiful West Coast of British Columbia, tucked inside a harbor city beside the healing, soothing waters of the Pacific Ocean. I thank you for creating this wonderful opportunity for people to share their stories.
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