When Mary Whelan woke up and couldn’t move her hands, she suspected arthritis. Eight years on, arthritis is a part of her life, but it’s not running it.
Mary Whelan (45) went from running marathons and doing step-aerobics to being helped by husband John to wash her hair and get out of a chair. In 2000, she became will with Rheumatoid Arthritis but, today, she’s back in control of her own life.
“For the first four years, I was very sick, and totally dependant on my husband”, said Mary, mother of four children, William (21), Roisin (20), Niamh (11) and baby Suzanne, who died shortly after birth in 1985. “I had RA all over my body”, she said adding that it took time before she was prescribed an anti-TNF therapy. “Within two weeks of that, I was walking around with very little pain. I still have pain and I wouldn’t be able to pound the roads like I did during the marathons as some of my joints are eroded.”
But through it all – the visits to her GP, the visits to the Rheumatology clinic in St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, the visits to the Rheumatology Rehab Clinic at Our Lady’s Hospice, Harold’s Cross, she remained positive. ”The thing about the medication is that it takes so long to find the right one for you”, said Mary, who lives in Arklow, Co. Wicklow. “It takes up to three months to see the effect of the medication, then the dose is upped and that takes another three months to judge, but in the meantime, you’re getting worse. But, at the same time, I can’t stress enough that there’s life at the end of the tunnel and I always tell people not to give up in the search for the right medication for them”.
Whilst Mary had to give up work after she got RA, her love of art has persisted, and she maintained that interest and her involvement with an art group throughout her arthritis. Today, she designs and makes personalised cards, has published a children’s poetry book and paints watercolours and acrylics of landscapes, seascapes and still life, a far cry from the day in 2000 when she woke up and couldn’t move her hands.
“At my worst, I kept going. When I was taking Niamh to school, I would get up half an hour earlier than usual just to give myself time to get going. Then, we’d set off for school half an hour earlier to give up time. I felt I had to keep going because I had the children. I also felt that I could either sink or swim with the arthritis. I used to say to myself that I could either sit there in solid pain and not move and have everyone waiting on me, or I could get up and get moving and lost some of the stiffness in a few hours.
“At the same time, you have to respect your joints. I always make sure that I take all my medications. You have to follow your rheumatologist’s advice, keep your weight down and exercise. I lost a stone-and-a half and it definitely benefits the joints in my feet and hips. And I go to aqua aerobics so I get all the benefits of exercise without feeling all the work!”
Oh, and she keeps busy, fundraising for Arthritis Ireland, the Jack and Jill Foundation and local charities!
This article was taken from Arthritis Life, Winter 2008. To subscribe to Arthritis Life, click here