Almost all of the experiences and words I’ve written down here over the past 30 days have been about me, and my journey and how I’ve walked in my own footsteps with the autoimmune, rheumatoid arthritis.

None of us live in isolation and life is not about ME but WE.

All of us, altogether, each with our own set of trying to’s. As Ram Dass so aptly put it: “Ultimately we’re all just walking each other home.” I love that.

We all have hopes and dreams. And self-visions of kangarooing over obstacles like ill-perfect health and maddening malaises.   Each of us has a story and for more than a 100 million people worldwide that story includes an autoimmune.

Two of my friends have graciously offered to tell their stories here and I hope and pray that you’ll find the touch of togetherness that will inspire you in your journey to wellness – and that’s for both autoimmune partakers, rheumatoiders and abstainers. (As if we have a choice. Ha!)

Dr Deborah Lantz is a very dear friend going back many years when I, as an exchange student to the US of America, attended the same school she did. Her story is straight from the horse’s doctor’s mouth (no offence Deb, it just sounded too good to erase!) and what a testimony of perseverance it tells.

The second story is from a much newer friend, Christo Engelbrecht, who is tireless in his mission to make our vacation times as happy as a holiday. Christo is the caretaker of our little seaside home in South Africa and we are so appreciative of his efforts to keep things in order whilst we’re living in the land of sand and when we’re back on home ground (his job never stops.)

Ladies first: Debs Story:

I had always been healthy, but I could not deny that the large joints in my feet and my hands were hurting, and it wasn’t going away, it was getting worse.  I was devastated when I was told that I had Rheumatoid Arthritis.  I was told it was forever and that it would get worse, that I would eventually need special adaptations of everyday tools, like forks and spoons, to do everyday tasks.  And it did get worse.  The medication they gave me didn’t work so they tried another one that gave me crazy, horrific dreams so they tried another one.  As I got worse and worse the red, hot, swollen, painful joints included nearly everywhere except my jaw and my elbows.  It was becoming more and more difficult just to walk, just to live daily life.  I was twenty-six.  I felt like I was eighty.  I didn’t believe that I could live the rest of my life like this.
After several months of getting worse and worse the doctors told me that they wanted me to take an anti-malarial to try to induce remission.  This made no sense to me and they had no explanation for why it worked.  I had taken an anti-malarial for a year when I was a teenage exchange student in South Africa.  I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how an anti-malarial drug that I associated with Africa and mosquitoes was going to help me with a terrifying joint disease in Seattle, Washington.  I told the doctors I would think about it.

As sometimes happens in life I had a serendipitous moment of watching late night television and, even back in the mid-80’s, there was nothing “good” on TV.  As I flipped through the channels I came across a public television program with a local Chinese herbalist.  What I saw and heard called to me.  It sounded like something I wanted to try.  I looked for that herbalist and thought I’d found him.  I made an appointment.  When I went in to his office I found out it wasn’t the doctor from the program, but I was ok with that.  The office had the most interesting smells and herbs lining the walls everywhere.  I decided I would try these herbs for one week, just one seven day week, and if they didn’t work I would take the anti-malarial.

Those yucky, bitter, crazy herbs WORKED!!  I could feel the difference after just a week!  No anti-malarials, no anti-inflammatories, it was HERBS for me!  I had to prepare the herbs two times a week in a laborious process and drink them six nights a week.  They were awful.  I took the herbs prescribed by the herbalist, whom I saw every two weeks, for nearly three years, but I was better.  I recovered.  I haven’t had a problem since.  I went with my gut and my heart, against all western medical advice, and I found what worked for me.

The herbalist did more than heal my body.  I was fascinated with these natural herbs that weren’t harming my liver or my kidneys in the process of making me well.  I began exploring other forms of alternative medicine and I found a profession called Naturopathic Medicine.  I eventually went to medical school and for the last fifteen years I have been a Naturopathic Doctor.  Sometimes the very worst of life circumstances can bring you to your life’s calling!

No slouch Deborah:

  • Graduated from Bastyr University in 1999 with a Naturopathic Doctor degree
  • Associate Dean, School of Naturopathic Medicine from 2003 to 2013 at Bastyr University
  • Private practice in Seattle, Washington from 1999 to 2013
  • Private practice in Healdsburg, California beginning 2015
  • I’d love to have her as my doctor.

Christos next: (Behind every successful man is his wife!)

“For some 30 months or so, two GPs, one rheumatologist specialist, a physio, a homeopath, and many blood tests later, my GP have been treating me for RA (lupis) with limited success. At first the symptoms were inflamed with swollen finger and toe joints with sufficient pain to make it rather difficult to walk up and down stairs. I gave up the little tennis I tried to play.

All medical advise was in agreement that the condition is not diet related, so after extensive analysis of the blood tests, the only thing that they could identify as problematic, was an extremely low plate count. This was sorted out without any problem in less than a week and a number of subsequent tests showed its normal position again.

Essentially I have been taking a plasmaquine one a day in the mornings and one Celebrex 200 after supper for this entire period. Rita (my wife) suggested zinc at night and salmon oil (Omega 3 and folic acid). So I took these. However some 6 weeks ago we had a rethink about all of this and since we argue as follows: there must important impact on the human body, as “in what we put in.” Therefore: if this is correct, we decided to go the Paleo (original) route. This program is comprehensive, but form the first day: No diary, No gluten, No sugar (except fruit sugar), No sugar imitations or sweeteners, practically No coffee, of course No cake, cookies or sweets, No potatoes and rice. But lots of veggies – morning, noon and night, fruit AND being physically active – regular rowing, walking and a little cycling. These three are to minimize impact on joints and for many people, I think; walking would be a good place to start. Of course, the rest of this program is introduced as we go along, but on those few listed above. No compromise.

In essence, this is a mind set change first, and then Do all the other things – from diet to being active. We have had enough of rationalizing this that and the other – its time for Nike – JUST DO IT! We think one can debate, study analyse and make excuses for ever and so the time will pass without any results, we just become miserable and waste time.

So, finally we have decided on one program, this one, stick to it and in my case IT WORKS. My level of discomfort is noticeably lower, in general I feel better, not only related to RA and without having to try, lost 4kg weight – an added advantage. i think the thing is I’ve taken too long to commit to one program and live with it for an extended period of time. Look, we are only almost 2 months into it, but for my money, this is the way to go. Of course I have to admit that it will probably never completely go away, but I think that is an unrealistic expectation. I am going to run with this for the rest of my natural live – very, very different from where we started some 30 months or so ago.

The good thing is that I have been cutting out two plasmaquins and a Celebrex per week for two months now and will continue to gradually do so at a rate of an additional one per week after a month to see how far one and reduce them.

There you have my story: Paleo + a few immediate No-Nos + reduction of medication + some physical activity + long term commitment = hopefully a better life.

Not hopefully Christo….I’m sure a better life and behind every successful man is his wife!

Thank you so much to these two friends for their honesty and time.

I trust, you the reader have enjoyed a different perspective and learned something from both of them.