Photo: Chaunté Smith
Smith did extensive reading and research to give herself as much knowledge as possible. “You have to find out what works for you,” she told me. “The disease can take over your life if you allow it to.” Explaining how the pain had impacted her both physically and emotionally, she related that there were times she “couldn’t put the car key in the ignition.” Unsurprisingly, she became frustrated and cranky from the pain. When I asked her if women would be aware of potential symptoms — in order to seek out medical help—she replied, “The pain is so excruciating you will know. You can’t even flip a light switch.”
Warned that if she had a second child, the rheumatoid arthritis could intensify. Smith was not deterred. She became very sick after her delivery, and when she had completed six weeks of breast-feeding — she resumed her regimen of medication. Her youngest daughter is now four.
Currently, Smith describes her illness as “better,” appending the statement with, “I still have my painful moments.” She combines family and work with speaking about rheumatoid arthritis — to foster support, information dissemination, and community building. Injecting a bit of humor into the conversation, she remarks, “People with RA all have the same story of how you have to slide out of bed!”
Stressing the need to be pro-active, whether asking questions or finding a doctor you can connect with, Smith reiterated the importance of early intervention. This action gets the disease under control in the preliminary stages, thereby preventing long-term joint damage. Her advice to other women was straightforward and simple. She said, “Don’t beat yourself up. Take care of yourself first.