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help her

STAY in the RING Open communication and a helpful attitude can keep her fighting

Learning to communicate your needs — whether you have arthritis yourself or you know someone who does — is crucial to maintaining healthy relationships.

Jessica Smith

Karen was in her late 20s when she bent down to get something out of her kitchen cabinet and couldn’t straighten back up. A knifelike pain stabbed from her lower back. She was soon diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, followed by her first of five back surgeries. Through the years, Karen has faced communication barriers as well as physical ones. “Some people, you can look at them and immediately you know they have some form of arthritis,” Karen says. “In my case, you can’t necessarily tell by looking at me. You can’t see all the scars from the five back surgeries. You can’t see the metal that’s inside my neck and my lower back. So it’s really hard for some people to understand my limitations.” The open communication she shares with her family is a huge key to her success. She says her husband, sisters, son, and even her grandkids make an effort to understand and help her with arthritis pain.

K

aren Taylor, 58, signs her emails with this quote from the Greek philosopher Sophocles: “The one who knows how to show and to accept kindness will be a friend better than any possession.” It’s an appropriate signature for Karen. She’s a smiling sister, wife, mother, grandmother, and friend who lives in New Castle, Ky. Her story deals with dairy cows, gardening, makeup, and flea markets. It also deals with six different forms of osteoarthritis she’s fought over the past 30 years. But Karen’s fight with arthritis is not one she faces alone, nor is she the only one affected by it. Her family and friends walk with her through every step of her journey. “Of course, I couldn’t have done any of it without my family,” she says. It’s true that family and close friends are among the greatest support sources for a person dealing with arthritis pain. It’s also true that social dynamics can change as a person becomes physically limited by From left: Jane Mann, Karen Taylor, and arthritis. Kenneth Taylor.

Family Ties

“Family members can be one of the most important elements in keeping a positive attitude because it kind of depends on how they do react,” she says. “And how they support or don’t support you is going to kind of determine your attitude, or at least contribute to it.” Marilyn Bornstein, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Jewish Family and Career Services in Louisville, says communication and education are crucial elements in helping a person cope with a physically limiting disease. “You want your family to learn about it, to be educated about the disease you have so they know how to help you,” she says. “Communication is the biggest piece of this. If you begin to discuss it openly, your family is your first line of defense. If it’s not working out, then you have to get further help in communication.” Karen says the best way family members and friends of women living with arthritis can help their loved one is to simply show they care. Asking simple questions such as “How are you feeling today?” and “Do you feel like getting out and going to the grocery with me?” can go a long way. Karen also appreciates a generally helpful attitude and honest talking about frustrations, needs, or clarifications. Continued on page 38

Photo by Melissa DonalD

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Arthritis and Orthopedic Supplemnt 2011

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