© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Christy Dunn doesn’t let her arthritis get in the way of activities, including being a busy mom to her son nine-month-old son Hunter.
As a teenager, Christy Dunn wasn’t a fan of mornings. She’d wake up with extreme pain and stiffness in her joints and knees and it would take her a few hours into the day to finally feel good. It was all she knew, so Dunn thought it was a typical part of everyone’s life.
But these symptoms weren’t “normal”, nor were they growing pains. At 22, Dunn was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a type of inflammatory arthritis and autoimmune disease where the body actually attacks the joints, specifically around the spine. The disease affects approximately 150,000 to 300,000 Canadians.
The diagnosis was met with shock and some relief. Doctor’s appointments and medication became a regular part of life. Activities had to be chosen wisely, because fatigue was a very real issue that wasn’t always associated with youth.
“I was overwhelmed at first,” said Dunn, now 28 and the director of development for the Confederation Centre of the Arts. “I was relieved to finally have a diagnosis but I was very ignorant of the disease itself. I found myself constantly justifying why I couldn’t participate in things because I didn’t look “sick”, and I was always so tired. It is very difficult to explain a disease to someone if you are still learning about it yourself.”
To learn more, Dunn attended an arthritis self-management program in Moncton offered by the Arthritis Society. The program allowed her to connect with others living with the condition and realize that the notion of arthritis as an “elderly person’s disease” truly was a misconception. The program focused on empowerment, education and managing the disease. There was no “pity party”, as Dunn jokingly recalls.
“I was 22, and I wasn’t interested in giving my life or my future up to this disease. I wanted practical resources and tools I needed to take control.”
Even with these adjustments, Dunn still lives with good and bad days. Sitting or standing for long periods of time can make special events tricky. Pacing and breaks is important, and, as the mother of a nine-month-old son, sometimes just kneeling to give her child a bath or picking him up out of the crib are monumental tasks others may consider routine.
Of course, the bewildered looks still come when she tells someone she has arthritis at her age, and very few have ever heard of ankylosing spondylitis.
Dunn will serve as the walk hero for the 2014 Walk to Fight Arthritis on Sunday, June 8, at the UPEI outdoor track in Charlottetown. The funds raised are important for the society to continue operating programs such as the self-management program Dunn attended. Dunn also acknowledges the need for more awareness for arthritis – and its many forms – is crucial.
“Arthritis is different for everyone,” Dunn explains. “My experience as a mother in my 20s living with ankylosing spondylitis is much different than someone in their 60s might experience the disease. That’s why making these connections at an event like the walk is so important – it allows us to connect with people of all age brackets living with arthritis in a positive and empowering way and the funds raised will hopefully lead to great advances in research of the disease.”
Part of that awareness is finding other people just like her connect and share a similar story, so that the bewildered looks when a young person shares an arthritis diagnosis stop, and the mention of arthritis at any age comes with acceptance and understanding.