From high school star athlete to dual arthritis diagnosis in a blink of an eye
As a teenager, Staci Stringer was a star athlete, at the top of her game and the picture of health. Upon accepting a volleyball scholarship, her future was destined to include a successful collegiate sports career, complete with the student athlete experience of traveling, going to school out-of-state and having access to all the tools to stay in top physical condition. But then, while still in high school and working in a coffee shop, Staci noticed a sudden lack of strength, spilling milk onto herself as her hands and wrists gave out. Then, she began experiencing unimaginable pain, and in the blink of an eye her health drastically changed, and so did her life.
Forced to turn down her scholarship due to her sudden change in health, Staci began a journey of doctor visits, research, asking questions, continued struggles with her health and more doctor visits. Multiple doctors tested and checked for multiple conditions, overlooking her inflammatory markers, assuming she was too young and fit to have arthritis. Still searching for the cause of her inexplicable pain, doctors prescribed prednisone — a steroid often prescribed for many diseases — for eight months, until Staci was diagnosed with not one, but two autoimmune diseases: psoriatic and rheumatoid arthritis.
“I never thought I would go to bed sick one night and the next morning wake up with a chronic disease — something I’d deal with for the rest of my life. And that’s scary to think about,” Now, eighteen years after her diagnosis, Staci reflects. “Every micro decision most people don’t think twice about, I must consider how it will impact my every second of that day and the days to come. I’m always silently processing a massive pro/con to make even the smallest of decisions.”
That approach started the moment her hands and wrists gave out and the pain began. She had to preserve her energy to get through the day and to put the effort toward determining a diagnosis, and then toward living with that. Like for many faced with a chronic illness, Staci’s journey to a diagnosis and learning what that meant, was frustrating and emotionally challenging.
Instead of the rheumatologist taking time to explain physical and emotional side effects, what to expect with a dual arthritis diagnosis and provide comfort during a time of so much uncertainty and confusion, the doctor approached it with callous and a routine checklist mentality, rushing through life-changing information — including that she couldn’t have children. In addition, the appointment was constantly interrupted with the doctor tending to other patients. Staci felt like she was part of a laboratory experiment.
With an uneasy feeling, lack of information, working to grasp the reality of the life-altering impact of the diseases that were now part of her life, Staci pursued answers, a second opinion, treatments and a different future. There was no longer the vision of a life with children, a collegiate athletic dream or the certainty of what her career could, or would, be.