Dubai: Arthritis can affect your ability to move and work. But two Indian expat women suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) have shared the inspirational stories of how they won the battle against the crippling disease.
While one has established a support group for fellow arthritis patients, the other one became a teacher, learnt driving and swimming after diagnosis. They were among the arthritis warriors who spoke at the World Arthritis Day awareness event organised by the Middle East Arthritis Foundation (MEAF) in Dubai on Saturday.
Sanria Khan, who was also one of the event coordinators, runs a support group called ‘RA Positive Hub’. It supports other arthritic heroes and they have various sessions on yoga, kathak dance and swimming. “This is a lifeline where it keeps us going,” she said.
“Around 20 years ago, I had to get up about half an hour early to soak my fingers in warm water to get them moving so I could do the housework,” she recollected.
Sanria was an HR professional raising a five-year-old child at that time. She had difficulty climbing stairs, and suddenly she was not able to walk. “My knees were very painful and I experienced heavy lethargy. One day, I couldn’t move from my office itself, so I made my way to the doctor. We did some tests that showed I was Rheumatoid Arthritis positive and I was put on medications.”
With a dearth of rheumatologists at that time, Sanria said she was under the treatment of an orthopaedic.
“I had to give up my career in HR in 2002 to be able to cope with my health. I tried natural interventions for a year with natural meds, changing my diet and exercising regularly. But medication was the bottom line to improve symptoms. The rest was supplementary to the meds.”
‘Crippled by fear’
“When I was diagnosed, I had no idea what RA was. Nobody in the family had it as far as we knew. I was crippled by fear initially, praying that I would live to see my child grow older. But today, I’m a different person.”
After giving up her corporate career, she became an active member of MEAF and wanted to put her skills to work and help spread awareness about RA.
“So this is what brought about the RA Positive Hub website. I started the blog in 2018 and to this day I manage it myself. I share everything about my experiences as an RA patient and later as a RA Hero. Any time I thought about something, I would post it on the blog and I would have readers telling me how relatable it was to their own story. During the pandemic I was posting a lot, usually, I post twice a month.”
However in RA, the body’s immune defence system gets disordered and attacks healthy cells.
This causes painful swelling, mainly in the joints, as well as deformity in some cases.
She pointed out that arthritis can be an invisible condition.
“While we all look okay at a glance, there are days you cannot lift your hand, change clothes or even walk. It isn’t seen in the right spirit because people are not aware of the symptoms of RA.”
She added: “Once you have come out of the other side of the disease, you realise that you can have a great quality of life today even with your illness because it’s there to stay. You have to learn how to manage because doing that allows you to have a good family life, career, social life, financial security etc.”
After 20 years at the frontlines, Sanria is happy that people see her and accept that an RA patient can be like her.
“People used to come up to me at previous years’ World Arthritis Days or any other events held by MEAF and wouldn’t believe I had RA because I didn’t look like whatever they imagined or seen.”
While she enjoys a big support system from her family, she pointed out that self-care is also a crucial aspect of daily life for RA patients.
“It is taking responsibility for your health and well-being. It is important to note that what works for one person may not work for another. However, the very fact that the decision to take control of your health and use new ways of managing your arthritis may improve your overall physical and mental health. Finally, do not forget to take your meds as advised, even if you start to feel better, as it’s a continuous and slow process but enhances the quality of our life,” she said in a message to the fellow arthritis sufferers.
Hit with RA while losing a child
Meanwhile, Shama Khan, 62, revealed that she was diagnosed in late 1995.
“I had the symptoms for over a year but ignored them because I was busy with my daughter who was gravely ill with a heart condition. Plus, I didn’t think the sudden pains that would surface in my heel, my back, my shoulders etc. were anything serious. ”
After she lost her daughter, the pain increased 100-fold all over her body, she said. “My son was just eight. So, he became my priority as he was dealing with the loss of his sister. I was admitted to Dubai Hospital and treated for RA. My mother had RA so it wasn’t something that just hit me out of the blue. But my husband and son have been my rocks through my highs and lows with RA.”
Shama said she was in a lot of pain and she was shuttling through medication. She said her life transformed magically, and a lot of the symptoms subsided after she started consulting Dr Humeira Badsha, founding member of MEAF, in 2008.
“Before diagnosis, I did not work anywhere, but later, I felt that my life should not stagnate. I was in Dubai at the time, so I got my degree to become a teacher and was an English Language Instructor at Zayed University. I learnt how to drive and how to swim so I didn’t let RA limit me or overwhelm my spirit.”
What helped her
The right diet, lifestyle, exercise and meditation, journalling and being in a continuous state of gratitude will help you a lot, she said.
“That is in your hands. But early treatment is crucial and can even reverse your illness…I have learned to make changes in my food habits. I have been oil-free and vegan for the last three years, and I’ve lost a lot of weight and feel much healthier. It has made a massive difference to my pain, what I can do and my state of mind.
“I meditate a lot and spiritual growth, and self-help development is very important to me. These have helped me to reduce my anxiety about my condition too. Some of the best years I had, except for the pain, were after I was diagnosed,” added Shama.