GREAT FRIENDS MAKE GREAT MEDICINE
By Lu Sobredo
There is a new drug in my health journey: a daily dosage of friends.
When added to my pharmaceutical regimen, it seems to magically expand the time
|Closest Best Friend, My Beloved: Our 26th Wedding Anniversary at The Kitchen in Sacramento. ©James Sobredo|
The stores were about to close when I was struck with a yen to
pick up bowtie pasta at the Italian Deli in my neighborhood. It’s not every day
that I make an impromptu dash to the store. Once there, it’s never just bowtie
pasta that finds its way into the shopping cart. Just ask my young, adult son
who drove me there.
It wasn’t going to be a quick trip after all. I ran into my
primary care doctor and his lovely wife at the grocery store. She has a PhD and
rightfully has the title of Dr., I thought to myself. My M.D. asked about my
recent visit with my neurosurgeon. Aside from a chronic illness, I also had a
mass in my right frontal lobe that luckily turned out to be benign. Find the
backstory here: World in
Motion: Parts 1, 2 & 3--Navigating Health Storms and Healthcare System. After catching my M.D. up on my post-craniotomy status, his wife whom I rarely see, blurted out: “You
look so good.” She and I both agreed that if not for the walking cane I carry,
mostly for security and at times to aid my balance, I don’t appear sick at
all. I look normal. Pressing his right index finger to his lips, it was my
M.D.'s subtle warning to us that we were getting loud in our enthusiasm. Oops!
But, “you look so good,” became a refrain.
And that remark is both a blessing and a curse of
invisible diseases. All well-meaning friends say it. I don’t take offense.
Deep down, I’m flattered. Despite knowing that there is no cure
for now, I work very hard at improving my physical well-being. Thanks to
mindful eating, medical advances, doctors, physical therapists and body
I’ve had my share of talk therapy, meditations, prayers and daily
affirmations from my family and friends to stabilize a fragile emotional state,
a common affliction of folks with a chronic illness like mine.
|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|
IF MY RA COULD TALK
|Bonding with Eve Juteau at a Restaurant in Dublin. ©James Sobredo|
If they could talk--my fingers, hands and wrists; my knees and
left heel, and recently my neck and hips would have tales of pain to share.
Pain is an annoyance, a threat to an already frail disposition, a constant
companion with which I’ve made friends, especially during flare-ups. Rheumatoid
Arthritis (RA) is a part of me, but it is not who I am. RA doesn’t
define me. I am more than my RA. And that outlook and attitude
have saved me from misery. Not all the time, but it seems to do so at crucial
times of this autoimmune disease, this chronic illness, this health journey.
I write often about my RA, not because I am self-absorbed. I do it
for my friends. Although, I must admit, writing is darn cathartic. It acts
like another drug for me, only with less harmful side effects.
If guilty of being self-absorbed, maybe I am only self-absorbed
because so few know or understand the illness. I write about RA as a
precaution. I do it for family. If I had recognized the early symptoms, my
first RA doctor said that treatment could have deterred the progression, or at
least minimize the damage the disease has inflicted in my body. Some of the early signs of RA could be found here: Life with RA: The Early Signs and More, formerly titled, Life with RA: When Pain is Your Daily Companion.
I write about RA. I do it for others. For strangers and their
significant others. My diagnosis came after the condition had become so severe
that it took longer for my body to respond to a regimen of medications. I even
dabbled quite seriously in natural and holistic intervention. It was too late.
My RA specialist assessed that the illness descended on my otherwise healthy
body five years before tangible symptoms alerted me.
I write about RA for the women of this world. According to my RA
specialist: “Women in general have a high tolerance for pain. Women tend to
ignore pain or have learned to effectively manage it.” Although men and
children suffer from this disease, it’s more common among women.
I write about RA because I feel a sense of urgency to help others
stay vigilant and act promptly when they suspect that they might suffer from
this autoimmune disease. I don’t know if the disease could be avoided. But I
believe it can be delayed and managed.
How 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.
These exceptional, crazy (aka creative), mature
friends love life. They face their own brand of challenges. But, keeping company with them has brought unintended effect. I actually think time
spent with my friends enhances the intended effect of RA drugs. My time with
friends has distracted me from wallowing in self-pity over my health condition.
Their phone calls, Facetime, texts, and Facebook messages are an added incentive
to stay on course towards increased functionality.
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.
|At Diner En Blanc in Stockton with Sharon Jarvis. ©James Sobredo|
|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|
|Hubby's Photography Exhibit at Mile Wine Company, Stockton. ©James Sobredo|
WHAT RESEARCH TELLS US
My personal experience is testament to the healing effect good
friends have to someone with a chronic illness. This summer in particular has
been filled with meaningful meet-ups with friends. Don't just take my word for
it. Maybe it's just a coincidence. But my RA specialist couldn't be happier to
share at a quarterly visit that he found improvement in the recent lab test: my
Sed rate decreased from 38 to 14; the marker for inflammation falling within
normal range of "0 to 30." My kidney and liver are functioning
well--two organs most susceptible to potentially suffer from the adverse side
effects of medications intended to slow down RA progression.
And the research I found online is thought-provoking. Although,
this speaks to friendship and youth, it could easily apply to friendship and
“Previous research has consistently found benefits of friendship
for healthy youth. One line of research has indicated that the presence of a
friendship is protective against such things as internalizing symptoms…The
presence of a friend has also been found to boost self-esteem… A second
line of research has shown that these benefits appear to be specifically
associated with friendships that are high on positive qualities and low on
negative qualities. Thus, prior research has not only demonstrated that having
a friend is beneficial for healthy youth, but that the quality and valence of that
friendship is also important for determining potential benefits.” (Wigdor,
Alissa B. (2015). A Friend in Need: The Influence of Friendship on the
Psychosocial Adjustment of Youth with Chronic Health Conditions (Unpublished
doctoral dissertation). Duke University 2127 Campus Drive, Durham, NC.)
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:
“There’s an increasing body of evidence that
social support and other aspects of social well-being are almost as important
in how a person manages their disease as other aspects of their medical care,”
Miller says. For instance, a 2011 review of 61 papers in Chronic Illness found
that social networks including friends and family affect how someone handles
having a chronic illness over the long-term. It makes sense, when you think
about the fact that friends can help a person with a chronic illness shape how
they view their condition and how they change their lives to manage it.” (Todd,
Carolyn L. How to
Support a Friend Who’s Just Been Diagnosed with a Chronic Illness, SELF, May 23,
RA AND FRIENDSHIP RECONCEPTUALIZED
My 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
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
|Quarterly Coffee Time at Starbucks with Alan Rhinehart. ©Lu Sobredo|
|Coffee Meet-Up with Wendi Maxwell at Toot Sweets in Stockton. ©James Sobredo|
|Pam, Stella, Sharon & Yolanda--Friends from Aqua Aerobics Visit Sausalito. ©James Sobredo|
As Joan Friedlander, an author and life coach who suffers from an autoimmune
disease called Crohn’s Disease, wrote: “As with many life-altering events, an
autoimmune illness is almost guaranteed to cause you to re-evaluate your
priorities.” My time with great friends has become a higher priority next to
God/force-of-the-universe, family and my healthcare providers.
|Summer Evening at a Concert in the Park with Sharon Jarvis.©James Sobredo|
My dear friends are exceptional people as individuals
in their own lives, in their community, and our community at large. They remind
me often how far I’ve come with this disease called RA. Friends, like family,
contribute in every which way in my life activities, including coming up with
ideas for a title of this essay. Prosy Dela Cruz from Southern California
suggested for a title: “I am more than my RA.” Karen Pennrich
from Northern California’s wine country thought of this: “Friends, my
drug of choice.” Another dear friend, Vicky Santos from the Silicon
Valley thought I could borrow a title from an old project: “Good
friends make good medicine.” I did my best to integrate their thoughts
in this piece.
I asked for help. My friends delivered as always.
|With Friends of Rwanda Association Commemorating the 1994 Genocide, Elk Grove. ©James Sobredo|
|With Julie Schardt at the Stop-Gun-Violence Rally in Stockton. ©Lu Sobredo|
| With Karen Pennrich at Asian Art Museum, Filipino American History Month. ©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
ALL RIGHT RESERVED
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.
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