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From Immobility to Beekeeping: How One Woman Managed Her Rheumatoid Arthritis

By HERWriter
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Phyllis Dudley

Sponsored by: Rituxan (rituximab)

Phyllis Dudley was used to working hard. She'd done it all her life. She grew up on a 275-acre farm, and as an adult had been a record keeper for 16 dairy farmers and worked as a milk tester for local farms. Carrying heavy equipment was a part of the job. She also measured milk samples using heavy machinery. 

But 13 years ago, pain and stiffness hit. Her hands began to hurt badly. Eventually, they became so weak that Phyllis had to take time off from work for a month. She had never done that before.

She couldn't navigate her way down a set of stairs and had to slide in a sitting position to get up and down the steps. She couldn't even open a door due to the condition of her hands. 

She could no longer take part in her passions, including working in her garden and crocheting. She also couldn't drive her minivan due to her hand weakness, and had to get a different car as a result. 

Phyllis received a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in 2001 after being evaluated by a rheumatologist. Anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) treatments only helped for a few months at best. Her future with the disease looked bleak.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory arthritis that affects joint linings with swelling that can cause deformity and disability that is irreversible. It can also cause erosion of bone mass. It is an autoimmune condition, which means that the immune system attacks the body's own tissue and organs. 

RA is not a condition that typically gets better over time. Doctors often prescribe treatments that aim to control symptoms, such as fatigue, joint swelling, joint pain, joint tenderness and joint stiffness, as well as to avoid further damage to the joints. 

Things were not going well for Phyllis. As time went on, her disease was progressively getting worse. Fortunately, that began to change with a referral to a rheumatologist.

Phyllis’s rheumatologist treated her with infusions of a biologic medication called Rituxan (rituximab), in combination with methotrexate (MTX). Biologic drugs are used to inhibit the immune system to help reduce the inflammation that occurs in rheumatoid arthritis.  

In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Rituxan for RA. The medication is indicated in combination with MTX in adult patients with moderately-to-severely active RA who have had inadequate response to one or more tumor necrosis factor antagonist therapies (anti-TNF).

Anti-TNF drugs act to block the activity of a substance called tumor necrosis factor in the body that contributes to inflammation in immune system diseases.  

Following treatment with Rituxan, Phyllis began experiencing improvement and she was able to move better. Working closely with her healthcare team and keeping up with her infusions of Rituxan is important to Phyllis. 

Phyllis beekeeping

Phyllis is now 74 years old. She has two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She also found a new passion – she began learning about beekeeping and took classes after her treatments. She now has two beehives at her home in Groton, Vermont, and is pleased to be able to sell honey locally.

“My healthcare team and my family have been so very important to me since my diagnosis,” explains Phyllis. “I can’t imagine having gone through what I did on my own. I would have felt isolated.”

Her husband, Jim, was very supportive and helpful following her diagnosis. Now, he continues to be there for her in their shared passion for beekeeping.

Phyllis offers advice to other RA sufferers. “If you have RA, there is help out there. Go to your doctor and ask questions. Don’t settle on a treatment that doesn’t work for you!”

What Does Rituxan Treat?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): with another prescription medicine called methotrexate, to reduce the signs and symptoms of moderate to severe active RA in adults, after treatment with at least one other medicine called a tumor necrosis factor (TNF) antagonist has been used and did not work well enough.

People with serious infections should not receive Rituxan. It is not known if Rituxan is safe or effective in children.

Important Side Effect Information

What is the most important information I should know about Rituxan?

Rituxan can cause serious side effects that can lead to death, including:

  • Infusion reactions: Infusion reactions are the most common side effect of Rituxan treatment. Serious infusion reactions can happen during your infusion or within 24 hours after your infusion
  • Severe skin and mouth reactions: painful sores or ulcers on your skin, lips or in your mouth, blisters, peeling skin, rash, pustules
  • Hepatitis B virus (HBV) reactivation: If you have had hepatitis B or are a carrier of hepatitis B virus, receiving Rituxan could cause the virus to become an active infection again
  • Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML): a rare, serious brain infection caused by a virus

What are the possible side effects of Rituxan?

Rituxan can cause serious and life‐threatening side effects, including:

  • Tumor lysis syndrome (TLS): TLS is caused by the fast breakdown of cancer cells. TLS can cause you to have kidney failure and the need for dialysis treatment or may cause an abnormal heart rhythm
  • Serious infections: Serious infections can happen during and after treatment with Rituxan and can lead to death
  • Heart problems: Rituxan may cause chest pain and irregular heartbeats, which may need treatment, or your doctor may decide to stop your treatment with Rituxan 
  • Kidney problems: especially if you are receiving Rituxan for NHL. Your doctor should do blood tests to check how well your kidneys are working
  • Stomach and serious bowel problems that can sometimes lead to death: Tell your doctor right away if you have any stomach area pain during treatment with Rituxan
  • Low blood cell counts: Your doctor may do blood tests during treatment with Rituxan to check your blood cell counts

What are common side effects during treatment with Rituxan? 

  • Infusion reactions
  • Chills
  • Infections
  • Body aches
  • Tiredness
  • Low white blood cell counts

Other side effects include:

  • Aching joints during or within hours of receiving an infusion
  • More frequent upper respiratory tract infections

You may report side effects to the FDA at (800) FDA‐1088 or www.fda.gov/medwatch. You may also report side effects to Genentech at (888) 835-2555.

Please see the Rituxan Medication Guide including most serious side effects for additional important side effect information at http://www.gene.com/download/pdf/rituxan_prescribing.pdf.

To learn more about Rituxan for RA, visit: http://www.rituxanforra.com/patient

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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