Arthritis walk helps former patient pay it forward

Cheryl Johnson didn’t think much when one day her wedding ring felt a bit tight on her finger. She was leading a healthy and active lifestyle, so she felt whatever the underlying condition was that made wearing her ring uncomfortable it would go away in due course.

She was wrong.

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Johnson was experiencing the initial indications that arthritis was steadily creeping into her life and would change it almost completely.

The pain eventually radiated throughout her body, from her jaw to her toes.

“I became one ball of pain,” she said. “And I knew from the level of pain something wasn’t right.”

It was also the start of her journey through varying stages of the disease with the assistance of the Arthritis Society, which will hold its 10th annual Walk for Arthritis on June 1 in Vancouver that supports research and education into the disease.

After puzzling doctors as to what ailed her, Johnson was ultimately sent to see a rheumatologist who came back with a triple diagnosis - she had rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.

It came as an emotional shock.

In her professional life, she was used to being the point person people looked to for leadership.

“Going from that to being so ill I was in a wheelchair, it emotionally blindsided me.”

She said the Arthritis Society and Mary Pack Arthritis Centre in Vancouver, where she was sent, were pivotal in her treatment, specifically the outpatient day program where a team of five healthcare professionals - a rheumatologist, nurse, an occupational and physiotherapist, and a social worker came to her aid.

“That was the turning point,” she said.

During that time Johnson also found herself reaching out to fellow patients, helping them through their own journeys - an act of empathy Arthritis Society staff recognized, leading them to later ask her to be part of their team of assistants.

“I was so grateful for what help I was receiving that I wanted to help others, because that’s who I am,” she said. “I wanted to pay it forward.”

“They (Arthritis Society staff) saw that even at my weakest I had potential and skills I could offer to others as an educational leader.”

That’s why, since the very first event, Johnson has been a Walk for Arthritis supporter.

“I’ve become an advocate about this and remain passionate because it touches so many lives,” she said.

For more information about the annual Walk for Arthritis, visit online at: walkforarthritis.ca

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