I was humbled when I was reading the Facebook comments on my article on treatment following reaching remission. In the article, I made the generally accepted comment that RA can’t be cured, to which one very astute reader promptly replied that (paraphrased) that RA can’t be cured yet. Thank you for reminding me about what I also hold true.
I have always believed in medicine and its ability to cure. As a little girl, I watched the amazing medical dramas as television doctors worked their miracles and saved their patients. As I grew older and learned more about the world I also gained a deep appreciation for natural remedies and alternative forms of medicine.
And, of course, my own experience with the medical community has been blessed with talented physicians armed with technology and wonder drugs.
Intellectually I know that there are limits to what medicine can do, but emotionally it comes as a shock to me to learn that I’ve reached the end of what’s clinically available.
On my last visit to my rheumatologist, I mentioned that my Sjogren’s syndrome has been getting worse. Sjogren’s is, like RA, an autoimmune condition and is frequently a comorbidity with RA (meaning that it’s not unusual for people with Sjogren's to also have RA). In addition to the treatment plan I’m on for my RA (which includes an infused biologic, injected methotrexate, and a NSAID), I take a medication specifically to address the dryness caused by Sjogren’s.
My doctor looked at me and said that rheumatologically speaking, there was nothing else she could do and that we needed to look at treating the symptoms by using readily available products such as artificial tears.
What she was saying to me is that she had nothing else in her doctor’s miracle bag to offer. She couldn’t cure the disease and we were already doing all we could from a medical standpoint to help make it better.
I didn’t say anything but inside my mind, I was screaming. This was not what was supposed to happen. At the end of the episode as the television screen fades to black before cutting to commercial, the patient walks out of the doctor’s office, miraculously cured. That was the ending I had written in my head.
Unfortunately, in my case, life isn’t a television screenplay that can be edited to change the ending. But I’m certainly not at a dead end. There are lots of options open to me to help the symptoms of my Sjogren’s, it just wasn’t what I was expecting.
The bad news is, of course, that right now there are limits in treating RA, Sjogren’s and other autoimmune conditions. They can’t be cured – yet. The really, really great news is that even since my diagnosis eight years ago, there have been new drugs, new research studies and a wealth of knowledge amassed. The first biologic drug was introduced in 1998 – less than 20 years ago and biologic drugs have helped more and more patients achieve remission. Who knows what the next 20 years will bring?
So yes, we have limits and I have reached at least one of them. But we also have hope. And research. And lots of promising things on the horizon.
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