RA and Fusion Surgery Can’t Stop Janet

Janet Graham has an amazing ability to push through all sorts of pain. She’s been doing it for years. Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in 2009, Janet has weathered her fair share of battles with her disease. While her RA can turn seemingly simple activities into a challenge, Janet still finds a way to persevere whether it’s running, yoga or CrossFit. But with the looming likelihood of a multi-level neck fusion surgery, she was faced with the possibility of losing all that she had fought so hard to keep.

Rewind to November of 2016: Janet was experiencing severe neck pain and arm numbness as a result of Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD). To help alleviate the extreme discomfort, she underwent several procedures, including “2 sets of 3 cervical spinal injections and one radio frequency ablation, [or] cauterizing the nerve”.

Unfortunately, the relief was minimal and Janet’s pain grew worse by the day. She didn’t want to give up her active lifestyle, but her pain had other plans for her.

I finally gave in when my quality of life started to deteriorate rapidly. I couldn’t even hold a can or cup without dropping [it] and the pain was unbearable.

A Difficult Decision

The suggested solution was to undergo an Anterior Cervical Discectomy and fusion surgery. This surgery involves using a bone graft and titanium plates to fuse multiple vertebrae (4, in Janet’s case). To say she was nervous was an understatement. To make matters more stressful, she also had to stay off of her current biologics for 3 weeks before the fusion surgery and 4 months after, in order to avoid complications.

As daunting as the idea was, Janet knew it was necessary for her health and well-being. Her running and active lifestyle would have to take a back seat. With all the factors and possible complications, Janet knew it was not going to be an easy process, but she was willing to tackle the challenge with an optimistic mind set.

Recovering from Fusion Surgery

The fusion surgery went well, but the recovery presented a whole new set of obstacles. Still unable to use her biologics, Janet’s RA flared and her shoulder froze as a result of her immobility. In addition, she was required to wear a hard collar for six full weeks. Even after it was removed, she was restricted from any forms of exercise for for five whole months after the operation.

As soon as she was able to start back on her biologics, Janet’s recovery slowly but surely improved. Since then, Janet reports less arm-discomfort than before, but won’t feel the full effects of her neck fusion surgery until a full year has passed.

Picking Up The Pace

Getting back in to her old routine wasn’t quick, but Janet hit the ground running. As soon as her exercise restrictions were lifted, she signed up for a 10k. With a mere two weeks to train, Janet labored through one of her hardest races to date. While the six miles were grueling, true to form, she saw it through till the end, triumphantly crossing the finish line.

To say she defies the limits of her rheumatoid arthritis would be an understatement. But, she also knows her limitations and works around them accordingly: “While I love running, my body is not always up for it. I swap out different forms of physical activity depending on what my body can handle each day.”

Janet’s exercise helps as an emotional release, but also, as a physical-aid as well:

I found that the more I moved, the better I felt. I started slow and before I knew it, I was running races.

And she didn’t stop there, “I started CrossFit about three years ago and absolutely love it. Since joining CrossFit, my husband and I have competed in both powerlifting and team CrossFit competitions.” And on top of it all Janet is even aiming to complete her first half marathon in the near future.

Through her difficult recovery, Janet never gave up hope that she would return to the sport she loves. She always remembers why she fought so hard to return to running. “I race to bring awareness for others. I am fortunate that I am able to run in races. There are so many others with arthritis that do not have the physical ability to do so. I race for them.”

Janet inspires us and we hope she inspires you too. You can join her in her efforts by making a donation to her Racing For A Cure page here.

You can also keep up with her on instagram @janet_graham_ and twitter @Janet_Graham

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