After graduating from the University of Texas at Dallas, I decided to do something completely crazy and pursue acting before getting a real job. In 2003, I packed up everything that would fit in my little Hyundai Accent and moved halfway across the country seeking a new beginning. So, there I was, living a charmed life in Los Angeles and participating in experiences that most twenty-somethings would die for. I started landing some acting roles and I had a couple of friend groups that included some very well-known actors. I worked with an A-list actress, a musician and his family, and even landed a job at Tiffany & Co on Rodeo Dr.
Life was great until it wasn’t.
I woke up one morning and the index finger on my right hand was completely swollen and painful. I went to work and the pain got so bad that my boss at Tiffany’s told me to go to Urgent Care. I went and the doctors told me that I must have rolled over on it in my sleep. Now I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounded crazy. I assured them that was not possible. Seriously, I am the lightest sleeper in the world and surely I would have known if I rolled over and sprained my finger in my sleep. They splinted my finger and sent me home with some medication. The next morning, I woke up and my finger was completely fine. No swelling, no bruising, literally nothing was wrong with it. Some weird anomaly, maybe?
A few days later, a friend of mine asked me to join him at the Circus. I was so excited to go and was told we were sitting in Tom Hank’s suite, unfortunately, Mr. Hanks was not there. During the show, I started to not feel well and excused myself to go to the restroom. As I was walking back to the suite, both of my knees locked up and I couldn’t walk. I was standing by a railing when my friend came out to find me. I told him I didn’t know what was happening, but my knees hurt so bad that I couldn’t walk. He drove me home and by the time I got back to my apartment all the joints in my body had locked up. Totally stiff. I couldn’t move them. My brother rushed me to the ER where they immediately hooked me up to an IV and started me on prednisone. They referred me to a rheumatologist and once I was feeling better they sent me home. I was very familiar with the healthcare system because I had been fighting what I now know is Crohn’s disease since I was 19 years old, but never had I experienced anything like all of my joints locking up before.
I went to see the specialist who ordered more blood work and then I waited in her office hoping to get a diagnosis and a solution to fix it. The news I received was not what I was hoping for. The rheumatologist said that my blood showed a marker that was consistent with rheumatoid arthritis, but that wasn’t even the most shocking thing she told me. She asked me if I was physically active and asked about my diet. I told her running and soccer were my life, I didn’t drink, and my diet was pretty healthy. I told her my doctors were suspecting that I had Crohn’s disease but it wasn’t confirmed at that time. Even knowing I had some sort of GI problem I had not let that slow me down.
What she said next, felt like being punched in the stomach.
She looked across her desk and told me that those days were over. She told me that I would never run again. I am pretty sure, right at that moment, the whole world stood still. “I would never run again.” Those five words hit hard. Fortunately for me, it was not the first time I had been given devastating or life-changing news, that I was able to overcome.
My freshman year of college, I had been recruited and given a full-ride, division one, soccer scholarship to Northwestern State University in Louisiana. The first couple of games I was having a problem with one of my legs and was diagnosed with a compressed nerve. I had surgery on both calves and immediately started working towards recovery. While I was still on crutches I was a guest host for a radio station covering one of our games when the reporter turned to me and said, “Coach Watkins said your injury is a career-ending injury. How does that make you feel?” I was floored! That was the first time I had heard anyone question my ability to return to the field. I told the reporter that clearly Coach did not understand what I was capable of. I fought through every painful workout, practice, scar tissue massage and was cleared by my doctor to play in the final championship game.
As I walked out of the Rheumatologists’ office, I had a choice. I could have sat down, given up, felt sorry for myself, and accepted those five words as my fate, but instead, I chose to put one foot in front of the other and to keep moving forward. I turned to her and with all the confidence in the world I simply said, “We will see.” I chose to fight. I became an advocate for my health, continued to seek answers and solutions from my medical team and changed my health habits to give me the best chance at a positive outcome. There is a difference between accepting a doctor’s medical advice on treatment and accepting their opinion on how a diagnosis will impact one’s quality of life. I didn’t argue with her about my diagnosis. Clearly, I had something drastically wrong with my joints, but I refused to accept her opinion that I would never run again.
My diagnosis did not stop me.
If there is one thing I have been groomed for my entire life it is to overcome obstacles and challenges. I have always held tightly to my positivity. I have grown to be resilient AF. I went on to model professionally for ASICS. I landed the Italian cover of Runner’s World magazine. In 2012, I ran a half marathon with my best friend Katrina and I continued to play coed soccer until 2018. Today, I still run weekly with my fiance and just finished hiking to the top of a 13,229 ft. mountain. I will continue to share my story right here through my blog.
I am certain that in 2004, I had drug-induced Lupus and I don’t think it is something the Rheumatologist at the time could have ever anticipated. It wasn’t until 2017, when it happened again, that Mayo Clinic figured it out. So, I don’t blame her for her diagnosis, but I sure am happy that I did not accept her opinion on how it would impact my life. I did not give up. I listened to my body. I continued to fight and I just kept moving forward.
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