By Lu Sobredo
|With Miguel and Eve Juteau After a Night of Jazz and Late Dinner in Berkeley. ©James Sobredo|
|Second from the Rt: Prosy Dela Cruz with our Friends at her Book Launch, Eastwind Bookstore of Berkeley, ©James Sobredo|
|At Opening of Philippine Art Exhibit with Friends at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco. ©Lu Sobredo|
|Hubby at New Year's Eve Party at Whirlow's with Friends Ned Leiba & Carol Sims, Stockton. ©Lu Sobredo|
|Bonding with Eve Juteau at a Restaurant in Dublin. ©James Sobredo|
IF MY RA COULD TALK
MANAGING RAHow I’ve managed this invisible, life-changing disease for six years is no secret. The medications are working. So far. There might come a time my RA doctor would have to change the kind or adjust dosage prescribed. For now, the meds have been effective in suspending severity and damage from the disease. For now, the multi-level exercise strategy has hastened my functionality. Find out more in this essay: Life with RA: Exercise Strategy that Works.
At my worst, I was in a wheelchair for about three years. At my best, I made the transition to using a cane and traveled to Spain again. I also subject my body to a gentle, yet ambitious workout at water aerobics in the pool. And of course, there’s that rare moment, I danced with abandon with friends to the pulsating music at a concert in the park this summer. Danced to the extent an RA-ridden body could move, that is.
My emotional and spiritual needs are nurtured daily. My physical strength and functionality are tested daily. My friends are present with me daily. Whether at the pool in the gym, across a dinner table or at a Café sipping latte. Whether at a museum or lecture hall, bookstore for book launchings or at a rally for social justice and other causes. Whether at a concert in the park, cruising through boutique stores, or online chatting about anything and everything via Facebook and other social media. My friends show up, I can always count on that. I swear, my friends seem to engage in adrenalin-inducing activities, spiritually enhancing conversations and quiet reflection. They are a gift from above.
I am convinced that my friends are my secret drug, a buffer between me and the illness that sometimes can’t help itself when it totally misbehaves. But, I am somehow shielded from drowning in pain. That throbbing, stinging, nagging pain visits me at will any time of day and night. The incision from craniotomy is healing. That’s separate and apart from my chronic illness.
|Paul Marsh at Law School Graduation Party for Cindi Marsh. ©James Sobredo|
|Heather Lea, Me, Ellen Nordwick & Cindi Marsh at Mile Wine Company. ©James Sobredo|
|With Steven Montalvo At Cindi Marsh's Graduation Party|
WHAT RESEARCH TELLS US
Deborah Miller, Ph.D., who works at Cleveland Clinic’s Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis to help families adjust to an MS diagnosis, told the magazine SELF:
RA AND FRIENDSHIP RECONCEPTUALIZEDMy mouth begins to water within five minutes of an RA injection at 9:00 p.m. twice weekly. I stuff my mouth with hard candy, crackers or a cookie to weather the inclement condition in my body, the side effects of drugs as they reach the blood stream. I drink a glass or more of water that my husband or son prepare for me. The collection of water bottles by my bedside mostly includes plain water, sparkling mineral water and flavored water. My family sustains me in multiple ways.
In the quiet hour of a warm summer night, a commanding voice in my ear says: “Drink plenty of water so the toxicity of the meds is released from your system quickly.” The RA whisperer is one of my elder wise friends, a retired U.S. Colonel who has RA and also takes some of the same meds. My incessant nausea persists still at 1:00 a.m. I get up to use the bathroom, then I drink more water. So, the cycle resumes: drink water, sleep and wake up to use the bathroom every hour or two. This innocent-sounding cycle robs me of essential sleep. It’s no wonder I wake up exhausted in the morning.
After a discordant and restless sleep, after countless times tossing and turning, the sequence is repeated. Drink, toss and turn, sleep, wake up and use the bathroom. It is a cycle I dread twice weekly. Oddly, it is a cycle I also look forward to, knowing it is important if I am to stay functional despite RA. It is the drug treatment that enables me to physically make it to the gym for aqua aerobics. The exercise routine strengthens and centers me so I could join my friends at coffee and conversation after the gym. My routines keep my hopes alive. My friends make me feel alive.
I am taking liberties at reconceptualizing what friends are to me. Friends are a valuable medicine in my health journey. It is not too far flung of a concept. I subscribe to Aristotle’s definition of friendship. In his book, Nichomachean Ethics, “Aristotle describes friendship as reciprocated goodwill, mainly a relationship between two people in which love and goodwill are shared…The perfect friendship as the one of virtue and good, one in which friends love each other for their own sake, and they wish good things for each other.” (Itani, Mustapha, Aristotle on Friendship, Medium.com, April 28, 2018. Web 21 August 2019.)
|Quarterly Coffee Time at Starbucks with Alan Rhinehart. ©Lu Sobredo|
|Summer Evening at a Concert in the Park with Sharon Jarvis.©James Sobredo|
|With Friends of Rwanda Association Commemorating the 1994 Genocide, Elk Grove. ©James Sobredo|
|Carla Bomben at her Birthday Bash with Ellen Nordwick and Me. ©James Sobredo|
Only a few of my dear friends appear in the photo essay. But, I have many more in my life, and just as important to my health journey. I love them all.
Friends have influence on what's in my heart. Friends make me laugh. Friends fill my email inbox and Facebook messenger with thoughtful and joyful comments. In my ears, heart and thoughts, I hear their voices full of wisdom, with some warnings, and with cheerful feedback more often than not. Great friends help ease the debilitating discomfort during: the highs and lows of the disease; the roller coaster ride with the brand of pain unique to RA; the highs and lows when life feels fragile.
I'd like to think that I reciprocate my friends' goodwill. I know I find joy when my friends are joyous. I offer a compassionate, listening ear when needed and be present as best I could. I thank them all for who they are as people, and who they are in my life.
No one could deny especially medical experts, that this mostly invisible disease called RA is forever my companion. And utterly undeniable is that great friends make great medicine.
Thank you to:
> Adrian Sobredo for helping with editing.
> James Sobredo for the beautiful photos. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
> Friends for understanding that I couldn't identify everyone in the photo if more than 4 people...Label would be too long.
> Friends for understanding that I don't necessarily have recent photos with all of you; and more photos would make for a very long photo essay.
About the Author
Lu Sobredo is writer/publisher at Lu Travels Abroad, a blog dedicated to folks whose limitations do not hamper them from traveling. A year into early retirement her world collapsed from the diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Her total life changed, but she did not let RA define her. With love from family, friends and an awesome doctor, she regained some functionality--her new normal. She will have RA all her life. And she now writes about life and travel with RA. During the pandemic of 2020, she stays put and writes poetry and a first novel, a travel of sorts but in the heart and mind.