“A Disease Turned Me From A MMA Fighter To An 80-Year-Old Overnight”

Male before her diagnosis

“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up and never give up.”

Maly, a former MMA fighter, had to step down from her favourite job followed by her diagnosis a year ago.

“The pain is just indescribable. It’s like childbirth,” Maly said.

It all started two years ago when she started experiencing symptoms including achy fingers and loss of strength. After seeking specialists for answers to no avail, all the signs were written off as a result of her actively competing in MMA and Jiu Jitsu.

Living with the constant intolerable pain

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. It happens when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body’s tissues. The chronic inflammatory disorder causes pain throughout the body, with inflammation on the joints and the nervous system.

RA causes joints to swell up and leads to joint deformity if not treated properly. It also attacks your central nervous system, a reason why patients experience fatigue and tiredness. 

Maly struggled to complete her daily routine at first. Her fingers swelled up to twice the size. They were so tender that even the slightest touch could bring the most intense pain. Something as simple as switching on the light was no longer possible.

Her high tolerance for pain from the MMA experience did not make the insufferable pain bearable.

“The pain that’s associated with rheumatoid arthritis literally made me go into the fetal position and cry,” Maly recalled.

“You also go through life like a bit of a voodoo doll. I’m sure people must think that I’m faking it because I could be walking with a limp on one side and then, later on, they might see me limping on my other side. That’s the nature of the RA beast,” she continued to explain. 

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Trying the new normal with proper treatments

In the beginning, Maly was taking as many as 16 pills a day to curb her intolerable pain. She was put on Celebrex and small doses of Methotrexate, a chemotherapy agent used to treat cancer. Prednisone is a type of steroid considered to be one of the most efficient medications for RA. It suppresses the immune system from releasing substances that cause inflammation. Since Prednisone suppresses the immune system, it can lead to a greater chance of infections. Long-term use is generally not advised by doctors.

Maly responded well to her medications. Now, she is able to cut it down to six pills a day. Currently, she is put on Plaquenil and Salazopyrin, two very common drugs used in treating RA to reduce inflammation.

With treatments, she is gradually returning to her normal life. Each day, she does about 15 minutes of kickboxing, among other light exercises such as jogging and skipping. However, it’s unlikely that things will ever fully return to normal nor will she ever compete in MMA or Jiu Jitsu again.

There is always light at the end of the tunnel as Maly believes. Currently, she is receiving treatments from a rheumatologist every 2 months. Blood tests are performed every month to check on her vitals.

Controversies are often drawn on the “harsh” medications RA patients take. Patients often feel “judged” for receiving treatments.

“If you knew the pain, you would take anything to make it better.”

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Nothing stops you from having a happy life

Maly and her kids happily holding each other

The stigmas and misunderstandings come the belief that RA is an “old-people-disease”. It’s not. Kids as young as four can get RA.

Most scientists believe that genes do not cause RA directly, but they make a person more susceptible to environmental factors contributing to RA. The exact causes are not clear.

Being more susceptible to environmental factors does not mean your children will necessarily get it. With advanced technology and a good healthcare system, many RA patients are starting their own family and carrying on with a happy life.

Maly is still living the best life and empowering others in the same shoe by sharing her stories.

“I want the world to know that you can have rheumatoid arthritis and still live a happy life. It is hard but it is possible.”

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