Shelley's story 

The time from first symptom to diagnosis was relatively short for me compared to stories that I have heard, so I am thankful for that. In March 2015, I woke up with a swollen and sore foot and a toe that looked like a sausage. Thinking I must have kicked it during the night, I continued with life as usual. Two weeks later, my foot and toe were still painful and swollen, I went to the GP and had an x-ray. This showed nothing, so again I left it at that.

Within a period of about four weeks, I began to experience extreme fatigue, pain in my wrists and elbows, and sausage shaped swelling in three more toes, and two fingers. Back to the GP, and over the next six weeks, I went through a series of blood tests to rule out a number of illnesses and fevers. Each time, my inflammation markers were rising. I was referred to a Rheumatologist, and was diagnosed, at the age of 35, with an aggressive form of Psoriatic Arthritis in June 2015. I had no formal diagnosis of psoriasis prior to my PsA diagnosis.

Since my diagnosis, I have noticed flares of PsA in my hands, elbows, wrists, spine, hip, knee and feet, as well as psoriasis flaring on my scalp and face. I have tried a number of treatment options Methotrexate, Plaquinel, Arava, Sulfasalazine, and now Humira, as well as therapies such as hydrotherapy, massage and acupuncture.

In addition to my PsA diagnosis, I have been battling chronic pain, and PTSD resulting from a car accident four years ago. It has been a tough road, in such a short period of time, but I have found great comfort and support with my family and friends, via the Swell Gals Facebook page, an understanding workplace, and a great team of medical providers in my GP and Rheumatologist.”

  • What have you achieved since being diagnosed with arthritis? 

“Prior to my diagnosis, and car accidents, I had a great passion for cake decorating. I loved to spend my weekends baking, creating recipes, and decorating cakes for family members and friends birthdays, baby showers and weddings. I gave up for a period of time, and especially since my diagnosis, I lost all interest in being in the kitchen. It was too painful and difficult to open milk cartons, and measure ingredients, not to mention making figurines and flowers out of sugar paste. I have recently started getting back into the kitchen. Whilst it is still a challenge, takes much longer to do, and what I am creating is not as technical as it used to be, the sense of pride and achievement I feel is far greater that I have ever felt.“

  • What has been your greatest challenge since being diagnosed with arthritis? 

“The biggest challenge for me has been mentally dealing with my physical changes, and comparing myself pre and post diagnosis. Simple tasks like brushing my teeth or opening a milk carton, and walking upstairs, or around to do the groceries, that I took for granted, can now be a bit of a challenge. Dealing with the fatigue that comes with an autoimmune condition, and constantly feeling like I am letting family and friends down at the last minute, because I don't feel up to attending events or catch ups. I can be a bit of a stubborn person, and find it difficult to ask for help, but I have had to learn that sometimes, I do need to do just that, and that is ok.”

  • Where do you see yourself in 10-20 years? 

“Hopefully in 10-20 years, there have been huge advancements in treatments, and that life and body for all those diagnosed is not dissimilar to pre-diagnosis. I would also like to be a part of educating the community that Arthritis is not just for old people. Personally, I would love to be enjoying more travel (cruising through Asia and the Greek Islands, and spending some time learning to cook in France and Italy would be nice), spending quality time with family and friends, and definitely spending a lot more time in the kitchen and cake decorating!”