When RA threw a monkey wrench into model Grace Broderick’s life, she fought back with guts, determination and a hand from her doctor.
Sitting next to Grace Broderick in her daily yoga or Pilates class, you’d never know she has rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The former ballet dancer, 50, is limber and strong, and she radiates a youthful spirit. One reason: Her levels of rheumatoid factor—a blood test that measures the progression of the disease—have plummeted since she was first diagnosed nine years ago. She credits the energy-boosting change to a combination of exercise, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and medications, including cortisone shots and biologic response modifiers.
Grace has come a long way since the morning she woke up in horrific pain after spending several days on her feet at an auto show. “I could barely move,” recalls the model and interfaith minister in New York City. “My body felt frozen.” Shortly after, she learned she had RA and felt her life had “come to a screeching halt.”
But it didn’t: Her daily yoga and Pilates sessions help keep her fit, strong and flexible, so her modeling career is still going strong. “I just avoid jobs that require me to be on my feet all day long,” she says.
And after making a few adjustments, she realized the diagnosis brought some unexpected upsides. For example, she was able to devote more time to her work as a minister, which involves traveling to exciting destinations like Peru. Plus, being with the other ministers at her seminary helps her put her disease in perspective. “They give me the confidence to go on,” says Grace. She’s also discovered an interesting pain soother: Buddhist riddles. “Some of them are hysterically funny. When I laugh, it takes my mind off any pain I might be feeling.”
Over the years, Grace has learned that working closely with her doctor helps keep her treatment on track. She’s also found other strategies that help take the edge off her pain and stiffness:
Remind yourself to take breaks. Sitting for too long, whether it’s at the office or while watching TV, can cause joints to stiffen. “I sit at the end of a row or near an exit, in case I have to get up and walk around during a ballet performance, opera or workshop,” says Grace. Send yourself reminders to get up and move at least every hour—even if it’s just for a quick walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water. You can even have notifications sent to your smart phone as reminders; visit google.com/calendar for a free version!
Stretch yourself. Every morning, Grace performs a yoga pose known as the Sun Salutation (check out yogasite.com/sunsalute.htm) and meditates. “The stretching relieves the stiffness of RA, and the ‘ohming’ gets me going,” she says. She also makes sure to keep active. “I have to keep moving, even when I don’t feel like it,” she says.
Listen to your body. If you’re in pain, stop what you’re doing, says Grace. Although she’s devoted to her exercise classes, sometimes her joints “scream” at her. When that happens, she takes the day off or modifies her poses. “I wasn’t feeling right during one yoga class, so I spent the entire time in Child’s Pose, where you’re kneeling on the floor, with your arms stretched out in front of you.”
Reach out to friends and neighbors. “I ask my neighbors for help with things I can’t do, like changing a light bulb,” says Grace. You may not feel comfortable doing this initially, but you might be surprised by how willing people are to assist you.
Switch buttons. Have a favorite shirt, but the buttons prove a challenge? Have a tailor replace the buttons with Velcro versions. The buttons look like normal buttons on the outside, but they fasten together with Velcro on the inside. Find them at online retailers and craft stores.
Let the light in. Light switches on table lamps can be tricky. Look for on-off switches that work with a pedal—you just attach them via the power cord, then you can easily turn them on with your foot.
Take a hike. Numerous studies show that mild exercise can ease arthritis pain, and now a study from Johns Hopkins University has found that viewing nature scenes can provide additional pain relief. Think a hike would be too strenuous? You can find a list of easy-on-you accessible nature trails from the National Park Service at nps.gov, or just go for a walk around the block!