My Story: Mariah Leach

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What were the steps leading up to your diagnosis?

In the Spring of 2008, I was an extremely busy dual-degree graduate student, simultaneously pursuing a law degree and a masters in environmental policy.

I was a member of the law journal, worked as a newsletter editor and events planner for an environmental research center, and was the only graduate student on the University's club water polo team.

Then it happened. It started with some pain in my toes. Then fatigue and anemia. Followed by pain and swelling in my fingers. Wrists. Ankles. Knees.

At first, it was easy to excuse the symptoms. I dropped a flag stand on my toe during setup for one of my events – maybe the toe broke or healed funny. I was probably just fatigued from being so busy. My hands likely hurt from spending hours in front of my computer preparing for exams.

I expected to feel better when the semester ended, and I had real time to rest - but I didn't. Instead, my knees swelled up to the size of grapefruits, and they were so painful I could hardly stand or walk, and I was still exhausted no matter how much I slept.

With all my symptoms adding up, the doctors gave me my diagnosis: rheumatoid arthritis. I was 25 years old.

Who has been there for you? How?

My husband has been by my side since day one. We were only dating when my first symptoms began to occur, and he stood by me as they worsened and I was diagnosed with RA.

In the years since we have been married and started our family – we have two little boys and a little girl! RA affects his life almost as much as it affects mine, and it is a challenge that we always strive to face together.

What lifestyle changes have you needed to make?

After I was diagnosed with RA, I decided that I would have to start by taking my new life one day at a time.

I started my blog From This Point. Forward in September 2008 as an honest record of how I have adjusted to life with RA by always trying to look forward.

In the years since my diagnosis, I graduated with both of the degrees I was working on at the time I was diagnosed – but I've had to alter my expected career path. I knew that I wanted to start a family, and I didn't think I could be a successful mother and start a career in environmental policy AND have RA at the same time.

For the past six years or so, I have been very focused on starting my family – but a career in freelance health writing has developed naturally on the side. I've also become a very active patient advocate, both in real life and on social media.

One of my particular passions has become supporting moms (and moms-to-be!) who are living with chronic illnesses through my private Facebook group, Mamas Facing Forward.

After I was diagnosed with RA, I decided that I would have to start by taking my new life one day at a time.

What accomplishment are you proud of?

I'm proud that I haven't let my RA diagnosis stop me from achieving my life goals. Whether it's graduating from law school, starting my family, or riding my bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles I have always found a way to keep moving forward towards my goals.

I'm not comfortable letting RA make my life decisions for me. I still want the decision to be mine. Having RA may change the way I have to live or how I will achieve my goals, but it won't make reaching my dreams impossible. I will still go after what I want.

What accomplishment are you proud of?

I'm proud that I haven't let my RA diagnosis stop me from achieving my life goals. Whether it's graduating from law school, starting my family, or riding my bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles I have always found a way to keep moving forward towards my goals.

I'm not comfortable letting RA make my life decisions for me. I still want the decision to be mine. Having RA may change the way I have to live or how I will achieve my goals, but it won't make reaching my dreams impossible. I will still go after what I want.

I'll still go after what I want.

I'll still go after what I want.

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

Do your research and be your own advocate. If you're struggling, reach out for help. It may seem like you are alone, but there are so many people out there who understand what it is like to live with RA.

Be your own advocate.

Is there anything else we should know?

RA has made the path to parenthood significantly more difficult for me than it otherwise would have been.

When I first started considering becoming a mom, there was very little positive or uplifting information available to encourage me. I was desperate just to hear from another woman with RA that she had succeeded and survived, but at the time there weren't really any blogs or social media to help connect me. I don't think I've ever felt so alone in my whole life.

Now that I have been down that path myself – and dealt with issues of intimacy, conception, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and motherhood while living with RA – it has become a goal of mine to spread awareness and help other women know that they aren't alone, and that the dream of motherhood is possible despite chronic illness!

About Mariah Leach

My Story: Mariah Leach

Mariah is a writer and healthcare advocate who lives in Colorado with her husband and two young sons. She works to empower patients and raise awareness about arthritis and other chronic illnesses.

Since her diagnosis, Mariah has shared her story on her award-winning blog, From This Point. Forward. After learning firsthand the challenges of facing pregnancy and motherhood with RA, Mariah has become particularly passionate about supporting women with chronic illnesses who are or want to become mothers through her Facebook group Mamas Facing Forward.

She also writes for several health website and serves on Arthritis Foundation committees. Her family has raised over $45,000 for arthritis research since 2010.

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