How One Woman Outsmarts Rheumatoid Arthritis

When RA threw a monkey wrench into model Grace Broderick’s life, she fought back with guts, determination and a hand from her doctor.

By
Katie Alberts

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.

Published
April 2013