Monday, May 31, 2010

A Life Recipe

Consider this post the second installment of my "extremely natural medicines" because, to me, poetry is another one. In case you missed it, my March post entitled "The Strength of Poetry" explains just what it's meant in my life. When I was working on my senior poetry thesis 2 years ago, I was given the prompt of writing a poem to a new graduate in the form of a recipe! (thank you, Professor Donnelly). I thought it was a pretty fascinating assignment during a very uncertain time. How would I tell someone what they'd need in the real world at a time when I wasn't sure myself? Anyway, here's what came out...

Recipe for Surviving After College

Mix 2 friends and
1 dream to crack open
and spill out more.
Take the bitterness.
Sit with it. Stir until
you find the sweetness again.
Add 1 roof over your head
with 2 good dogs to love you
even when you simmer;
to love when you forget how.
Don’t forget the 1 family
to run back to. Add
a dash of money,
all your favorite poems.
and top it off with 1 person
to remember you
when you’re gone.

-Maya Klauber

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Most Natural Medicine

Chronic illness is with us all the time and, especially during bad periods, it can be on our minds constantly. Between scheduling and keeping medical appointments, making pharmacy runs, remembering pill schedules and..oh, trying to maintain a life...sometimes it can consume every free moment. So while I'm a huge advocate of accepting your condition as part of who you are, it's so important to remember and appreciate yourself apart from the disease.

With medicines being prescribed right and left and side effects that can sometimes be more unbearable than the initial condition, we need to find alternatives. Some doctors might have knowledge of alternative therapies, but you come to learn you can't depend on that. Eventually you realize it's up to you to make yourself happy and comfortable and it's up to you to get creative. Let me ask this: what makes you smile? Even if you don't feel happy, just try smiling. You can trick your body into releasing Endorphins, which are natural painkillers. Not convinced? Read this list of the top 10 reasons to smile. I think especially if you're living with illness day in and day out, it's crucial to find joy to combat it; to find what makes you happy and to seek it out whenever you can.

No matter how small, strange or uncommon those things might be... delight in them. Make them yours. Notice humor around you and make sure to fill your life with people who do the same (or at least appreciate that you can). Over the years, this has become a survival instinct of sorts for me and a big part of what keeps me happy and excited about life. Maybe that's why I forward silly animal videos to the people I love almost every day (sorry guys) - because nothing makes me smile like animals do...

Animals that grin...

Animals that sleep like champs

Animals that love unconditionally (despite differences)...

Animals that love their owners enough to pose like this...

My animals...

This is medication I can take anywhere and on my own schedule. What helps keep you happy and healthy? Stay tuned for more of my extremely natural remedies...I've been thinking about this a lot.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Miss Mary

One person who deserves a post all her own is Mary Bowers, the girl I referred to as my "camper, friend and full-time hero" in my previous entry "A Special Place For Special Kids."

In a recent e-mail exchange, Mary told me she was writing about Buddhist philosophy and bioethics for a college course. A real under-achiever, that one ;) She wrote, "In my paper I talked about how, for somebody with a chronic illness, healing isn't about 'getting better. Instead, it is about reaching a relative state of physical well being and a sustainable state of mind." She also shared this amazing quote with me that she came across during her research and I had to pass it along to you all.
"A chronic condition requires perpetual healing actively constructed by the person moment to moment, day to day. This kind of healing involves a transformation of the whole person, whose attitude toward life changes from despair and frustration to liveliness and peace in spite of the continuing presence of illness or disability."

This is how Mary leads her life...with liveliness and peace. She is the type of person I'm just better for knowing and, from day one, I knew she was special. Hey, who else brings their hermit crab named Bob to camp? Whether we were boating or swimming or just sitting around shooting the breeze, we clicked from the start and I've been inspired by her ever since.

Mary was diagnosed at 18 months old with a form of Muscular Dystrophy called "Nemaline Myopathy" which, as you'll read, is a neuromuscular disorder that causes intense muscle weakness and a slew of other challenges. I have known Mary since she was about 10 or 11 and she has always handled her illness like a trooper- with humor, acceptance, patience and grace. Although her voice may not be loud, her personality burns brighter than most.

As far back as I can remember, she was always reading. She'd bring 3 or 4 books to camp and devoured them all. Through the years, Mary is someone I could always count on for a book recommendation. I don't doubt this made her vocabulary what it is today and, although I was impressed by her in grade school, her intelligence, wit and passion for learning continues to astound me today as she wraps up her first year of college (where exactly has the time gone?)

Among her many talents, wouldn't you agree that Mary's mosaics are stunning? (you still owe me one, Bowers). To me, they reflect the way she chooses to see the world - as a beautiful puzzle of sorts. She has a hunger for knowledge and experience and there's just so much that she appreciates - people from all walks of life, places she's seen and places she's only read about. In the past two years, I've seen my "little camper Mary" excel in high school honors courses, graduate, start at a great college, develop her identity and just blossom.

About 5 years ago, I started writing a book about kids and young adults living with chronic illness and disability. Mary was naturally the first person I interviewed. While the project has taken a temporary (albeit long) hiatus, I still have her answers here which blow me away today even more than the first time I read them. Allow me to share some highlights...

Maya: What is something you'd like to tell someone who has been newly diagnosed? What would your advice be?
Mary: It's definitely scary to have Muscular Dystrophy. After all, what are you supposed to do when your own lungs are suffocating you? Where do you go when your own body is the enemy? The important thing to remember is that you can work around it because you are strong.

Maya: Where do you get your strength?
Mary: I get my strength from my family and friends,from the music I play and books I read, and from the places I go. (the photo to the right is Mary getting a smooch from one of her wonderful sisters, Sarah. To the left is a beautiful shot of Mary and her mom Pam in Paris!). )

Maya:What has been the most helpful or comforting to you?
Mary:I take the most comfort in doing every day things that I know I'm good at and can do without any help (like reading, listening to or playing music, or talking to my friends). It's always reassuring to find aspects of life which remain completely free of MD.

Maya:What is the most difficult symptom to deal with? What is the easiest symptom to cope with?
Mary:The most difficult symptom for me is the loss of muscle mass in my face. It's frustrating to not be able to talk or smile "correctly." The easiest symptom to deal with is the looseness in my joints. All I have to do is avoid situations where there is a high risk of pulling my arms water-skiing and pole-vaulting are out.
(Gotta love that Mary humor, huh?)

Maya: If you could send one message to all the doctors around the world, what would it be?
Mary:I'd remind them that what is in someone's medical best interest is not always most beneficial to their overall health. Also, my name is Mary, not patient #19 at 3:30pm.

Maya:If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be? Why?
Mary:I'd ask people to be more accepting of each other, not necessarily to like each other, but at least to refrain from doing or saying things that can permanently hurt someone else.

5 years later, Mary is even stronger, wiser and more wonderful. She's a woman who I'm lucky and proud to call my friend...


Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Ups & Downs

Yesterday was one of those days...a disappointing "one step forward, two step back" kind of day. You know those days, don't you? Even if we're not talking about chronic illness here, I think this is a pretty universal phenomenon.

Sometimes my pain makes it hard to fall asleep, but it consistently makes it hard to stay asleep (especially in the early morning hours when my body is the stiffest.) The burning, the's like a yippy little dog asking to be walked at daybreak (and biting you until you do it.) That metaphor actually comes from a recurring morning dream I have during flare ups. I usually fall in and out of sleep from 4am-8am, dreaming that dogs are biting me in the joints that hurt the most (good thing I'm in therapy, right?) ;) In any case, I wont feel better until I get up, shuffle around a bit, and take all my medication...the most effective being Tramadol (a fairly mild, prescribed pain killer that I swear by).

The day before last was a "good day" - the first real one in months. Just to add to the unpredictability of it all, it was also pouring rain (a factor that usually makes me feel my worst). I have to say, Spondylitis definitely has a way of keeping me on my toes. I knew it was a good day because it was the first time in so long that I was able to sleep past 6:00 or 7:00 am. My pain didn't wake me. This may not seem like a huge deal, but after enduring a painful flare up for weeks, these little bits of relief seem tremendous.

I'm so thankful for these rare days that I tend to quickly proclaim them "good days" to the nearest person who will listen (like I just did it in this post) and carpe diem...pick an activity that I wouldn't be able to fully enjoy otherwise and just go for it. On these days, I sometimes (OK, most of the time) overestimate myself and try to do too much. That particular day was also day 3 of the annual NYC stationery trade show. So I excitedly headed in to cheer on my mom and aunt who, about 5 years ago, started an amazing business called Someday Designs. They make custom wedding invitations, announcements and correspondences and, while I know I could be considered majorly biased, I'm just blown away by their work (just like everyone else who sees it). During this show, they sold all 50 of their books to stores around the US in the first 2 days and have a pretty hefty waiting list. I'm a very proud daughter/niece for sure... (more about the business later)

As much as I enjoyed the day and couldn't be happier that I witnessed their success first hand, I walked around way too much. In the back of my mind, I knew it was too rainy to be so active, but I pushed myself because the alternative (staying at home or in bed) was not really an option to me - not that day. I think there is also a big part of me that likes to conveniently forget that I need to be more careful. However, the following morning I remembered. I woke to that familiar sharp pain, as if my body was saying, "What exactly were you thinking? You still have Spondylitis." I can't say I wasn't disappointed...I always am. It's hard to feel like just when you take one step forward, reality creeps in and pulls you two steps back.

As I'm writing this, I'm wondering why I insist on seeing it like this day after day, flare after flare. Why can't I just learn to give myself a break? But really, it' easier said than done. No matter how many years I live with Spondylitis, I think it will always be a learning curve just as it probably would be for anyone who wants to be in the driver's seat of their life (as I've put it before). I have plans and dreams. I have a career to work toward. I have a family to hopefully start someday. I always want to have new experiences and make new memories. I want to take my friends up on offers to hang out, I want to dance at night without considering the repercussions in the morning,exercise without the help of a physical therapist, travel without fear of pain. But I need to get it through my head: there will always be ups and downs. Whether I like it or not, it's all part of my life now and forever.

In my post "Busy Bee", I wrote about a rather large step I took in extending my masters program from 2 to 3 years. I did it primarily so I could take better care of myself. Giving myself permission to take it easier was a new experience, but it was absolutely the right decision and I'm proud that I made it. Just because I have to do things differently than a healthier person, doesn't mean I'm doing them any worse. I have to remember that and, as hard as it unrealistic as this might seem on more painful days... I'm actively trying to push disappointment out of my mind whenever possible. When "good yesterdays" fade into "bad todays," I'm reminding myself it's the name of the game; that it wont be this way forever. After all, If I'm going to live a fulfilling life, I need to learn to be fulfilled with my own path - the path that Spondylitis has influenced.

As I've said before, chronic illness by definition isn't going anywhere, so it's my thinking that needs to change. No one promised me (or any of us) a smooth road, so we must pave the our own way.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Learning To Just...Be










No matter how you say it, no matter the culture, the country, the time period...the fact remains: friendship has always been important (hey, look at the cartoon. Even Cavemen needed Caveman buddies). Novelist C.S. Lewis has called the love of friendship "the highest form of human love" - existing somewhere between the more instinctual, familial love that you're born into and the romantic love of a life partner. Close friends can be intimate truth tellers, compassionate on whole new levels, and in my experience they can also fill different spaces within us that we didn't know were there.

I was an English major in college and one guy I always admired was the English poet, John Donne. Sure - his words can be dense and hard to manage at times, but they have also moved me tremendously. Take his famous lines: "No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." I know he's speaking to mankind as a whole, but I also can't help but feel he's somehow reaching out to me and all those living with pain or illness - the message being we're not alone.

I guess this is how I've always tried to see my relationship to other people- somehow connected. I grew up in a close-knit family that was dedicated to helping others. I also attended a Quaker school from Kindergarten thru 12th grade because my parents wanted me to grow up learning the core values of peace, integrity, and charity (the pillars of Quakerism). Each school year focused around community service projects and a belief that every life is equal. Thus, I grew up learning that, in one way or another we're all responsible for other beings (people, animals, etc) - whether that means committing our lives to being helping professionals (doctors, nurses, therapists, etc), serving a stranger, or simply offering a smile to someone who might need one. Sure, on some people these gestures will be lost, but on others they could mean everything. If there is one thing I've learned through all the work I've done with vulnerable populations, my first year at Columbia, and my own battle with depression, we can never be sure what kindness can mean to another person. Whenever possible, I think we must give it freely because, to my core, I believe no man wishes to be an island.

So...frienship. More than any other element in my personal life, I've had the most trouble with friendships - getting into the right ones, being myself in them, keeping them, trusting them, etc. The list goes on and the issue is complex which is a direct consequence of battling illness through childhood and my most formative years. I'd say my time in high school was spent mostly in the denial phase (pretending I never had Spondylitis, telling no one, vowing I'd never be defined by an unpronounceable disease). And I think the only reason that worked for as long as it did was because my pain was manageable back then. Having Spondylitis at 16 meant having a name for my occasional aches and pains and getting to miss school for a bi-annual rheumatology appointment. It meant hearing: "one day it might progress", but not really knowing what that meant.

I believe this denial led to a certain shallowness with my high school friendships (not an uncommon thing, I know), but that's probably why one real connection remains after 13 years at that school. And then came college. In a random, unplanned visit I fell in love with Colby College in the heart of Maine..a small, liberal arts school and the school that was the furthest from home. It was also undoubtedly the school with the coldest climate.(the photo is the Colby chapel taken in January). While I wouldn't trade my time at Colby, the friends I left with, or the classes I took there for anything - in retrospect, what the heck was I thinking? Maine is gorgeous (my family spent many wonderful lakeside summers there), but Maine summers are quite different from Maine winters. I think this speaks directly to my denial: "Cold is bad for arthritis? Well for me it will be different:.."

And for the first few months, it was. But then the disease started picking up just like I always heard it would. No doubt this had something to do with caring for myself like a college freshman (read: terribly). I jumped right into the first friendships I could find for fear of being alone. These were girls that loved to party, but at that point I didn't feel strong enough to resist the group's mentality. Even though I didn't enjoy it, I drank for the first time in my life that year. A lot. I ate poorly and gained the "freshman 15". Incidentally, that year was also when I started my TNF blockers (at that time, it was Enbrel injections). When friends wanted to know why I was slowing down, why my alcohol tolerance was so low, why I was limping, or why I went to the health center every week and came back with a bruise on my arm, I passed over it all pretty quickly. I had learned in high school that my peers didn't understand arthritis (especially not in someone my age) and the truth is, I was terrified to be deemed "the sick one." I was terrified to be alone.

There came a point where I couldn't really hide my illness anymore and just couldn't keep up. But, as I had feared, this meant my "friends" went on to newer and more fun friendships. Staying in with me on weekend nights wasn't an option to these girls - it was college! I think, in many ways, I'm still dealing the pain of this; the nights spent alone feeling like I somehow had an inherent "strike" against me by being sick. Although it probably shouldn't have affected my sense of self the way it did, I can't pretend that I brushed it off. The loss of these friendships made me feel like I wasn't worth sticking around for.

Moving on, I became nervous and distrusting in friendships. I'd say I became even more closed off about my own struggles than I had previously been. When I met people, I tried so hard to be perpetually cheerful and the one everyone poured their heart out to. People even called me "the psychologist". I thought this made me happy... I really did (If I couldn't go drinking, at least I was a good friend). But the more the disease interfered, the more distant I felt from anyone my age. Thank God for my parents throughout these years. Many tearful nights were spent in my living room - the two of them reassuring me that I was special and, as my peers matured, it would be different. They have always been my unconditional best friends.

During the end of my junior year, I was lucky enough to find a fairly large group of girls at Colby that accepted me for me. But even though my heart told me they were different and genuinely good people, my insecurities kept creeping in. I still felt I had to be constantly positive and uplifting to somehow make up for my medical "shortcomings". If I was on crutches because of a flare up, it was only then that people usually remembered I was sick and asked about Spondylitis. Even with these wonderful girls, I'd respond with something brief, turn the conversation around to them, and made sure to end on some hopeful (and often unrealistic) note about my disease like, "Well, it could always be worse" or "everyone has their thing." It was easier to listen about the break-ups and boys and sub-par grades of my friends than try to explain my struggle with a disease that was never going away.

I mentioned in my previous post entitled "Staying Tuned In" that therapy has been a life saver and I'd say a majority of time is spent on my own security in friendships. Among other things, I've learned that I can be real. Just like everyone else who opens up to me freely and pours their feelings into me, I too have the right to friendship. I see now that, in some ways, I've taught people how to treat me. By awkwardly skimming over my disease and treating it like something not worth discussing, I've facilitated many one-sided friendships. If I can't even talk about my pain comfortably and honestly, how could anyone else be expected to? So it's a learning curve and for every person I open up to and who accepts me for being sick, there are three others that can't be bothered. But it's that first person - the one who really wants to learn - that I need to focus on. Actually, being chronically ill can be a pretty great built-in filter for lame friends. It helps me identify the right people and invest energy in those who will replenish mine (aka my spoons :) )

This hasn't all been my doing. Only now at age 24 with the best friends I could imagine (you know who you are), can I finally say I'm learning to Maya. And to be proud of that. I'm learning that to the right people - the people who have the capacity to truly empathize - Spondylitis is not a "strike against me." On the contrary, these friends remind me that my illness makes them proud to know me. They ask how I'm doing from day and really care to hear the answer. They can recognize what pain looks like in my face and do their best to make life easier. They understand when I can't travel to see them and instead come to me. They brighten my days and even know when to not say anything.

And from here on out? I'm seeing that being comfortable with myself and remaining open and honest about who I am right off the bat (which naturally includes being a Spondylitis patient) is bringing new, amazing people into my life. Words really can't capture how lucky I feel to have the friends I do now and, for the first time, I know the true value of friendship. I can honestly say that, for the first time, I feel like I'm worth sticking around for...


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Redefining "Disabled"

So one year of graduate school down! To refresh your memory, my dear readers, I'm getting my masters degree at Columbia University School of Social Work. My last day at my first internship was Friday and, since I extended my program in order to take better care of myself, I'm 1/3 on my way to being a social worker. Crazy, huh? I'm excited because now it gets good. Starting next Fall, I get to pick electives that I'm passionate about and really start on my chosen path - working with kids and adolescents dealing with chronic illness and disability as well as their families (couples, siblings, etc). Can't really think of anything better to spend my life on.

Anyway, one of the requirements for the first year was a course called "Advocacy." I went into it knowing what the word advocacy meant, but that was about it. I wasn't sure how it related to social work or my specific interests in direct counseling. What I soon found out is that advocacy work is very relevant no matter what one might do with their degree. As helping professionals who are responsible for ensuring the highest quality of life for our clients, we have an obligation to understand how to effectively advocate for their rights. Nothing will progress or change if we don't.

One of the best assignments in my advocacy course was a group project in which we had to find an agency to do advocacy work for. The class split into 7 small groups based on specific interests, so naturally I suggested having a "Disabilities group" (as this is my population of interest) and was the first person signed up. After meeting several times, our group decided to work with The Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY), a non-profit organization whose mission statement is "to ensure full integration, independence and equal opportunity for all people with disabilities by removing barriers to the social, economic, cultural and civic life of the community." A noble cause, wouldn't you say?

We got in touch with CIDNY and were invited to attend their monthly meeting. This meeting's main objective was to discuss the difference between what is fair and what is legal, as well as learn about the rights of people with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The group was diverse in disability and ethnicity; people living with chronic illness (like myself), hearing impairments, visual impairments,
Autism, Multiple Sclerosis, severe Cerebral Palsy, mental and emotional disabilities, etc. The members were very verbal and much of what was said reflected the frustration of living with a disability in a relatively ignorant society. The conversation centered on the lack of compassion and awareness out there, particularly toward those with less visible disabilities. I have my own thoughts about this, but I'll save them for a later post.

The meeting reflected both public and private struggles and I really admired the strength and candidness of each member. Because of their struggles and the struggles of their friends, CIDNY members are driven to organize, spread information across the disabled community, and travel to and from Albany to help influence crucial legislation. After the meeting, our group met with the Community Organizer Lourdes and brainstormed about how we could help. Since we knew CIDNY sought to spread the word about their mission and the rights of people with disabilities, I suggested that we create a brochure. Since we had a diverse group ourselves (consisting of a girl of Mexican descent, a visually impaired woman, a male, and myself), we had many perspectives on the project and were able to take it a step further. We ended up producing four forms of the brochure: an English version, a Spanish version, and two versions for the visually impaired (large-print and Braille).Note: If you'd like a PDF version of the brochure, e-mail me at and I'd be more than happy to send one along!

I feel lucky to have worked with CIDNY and glad to have helped spread their important message. The best part, though, was working so closely with people who had lost the ability to speak or walk, but who are still fighting for justice every day. This is something I'll never forget. Also, although I consider myself sensitive to the plight of people with disabilities (as I am one myself), this project gave me a whole new perspective. CIDNY isn't the only group like this, so I'd suggest that everyone attends one of these meetings if you can spare an hour or two. I now have greater insight into the various struggles of a diverse community (especially living in a big city) and what those with all forms of disabilities are up against.

As a society, we can and must work to broaden our awareness if we hope to make real differences in the lives of vulnerable populations. I learned that if we have a voice (and even if we don't), there is always a way to speak up for what's right. As always, thanks so much for reading...


PS: If you wish to volunteer at CIDNY, get more iformation or just be in touch, I know they'd love to hear from you. E-mail them at or stop by their Manhattan office (wheelchair accessible, of course) at 841 Broadway, between 13th and 14th Streets, in the Union Square area of Manhattan. Also, their telephone number is 212-674-2300.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Spondylitis Awareness & How To Help

After the Spondylitis Association of America (SAA) graciously reviewed my blog on their Facebook and Twitter pages (exciting!), I took some time exploring the site which I haven't done in a while. I learned that April was Spondylitis Awareness Month and that SAA hosted a video contest to promote awareness about the disease. Pretty cool idea. Two videos in particular caught my eye that I'd like to share...(Note: I haven't quite figured out video formatting yet, so if you can't see the whole video just click on it and it will pop out.)

I thought this one was great! After someone says, "You have Sponda-what??" I usually stumble over my words while attempting to explain it. Maybe next time I'll just show them this video - it's clear, direct and says all it has to in a little over a minute:

This one made me tear up a little, hearing it from the mouth of a lovely little girl. Of course it hits very close to home with me and my own childhood experiences, but I think it would be touching to anyone:

So...the past two weeks have been filled with one exciting blog-related thing after the next - the most exciting being all of these comments from my new readers! This was exactly my purpose in starting "Loving With Chronic Illness" - to connect with strong and wonderful people and hear each others stories. Thank you to everyone who is supporting this project! I'm profoundly moved to know that my words mean something and, for one reason or another, they are resonating with you. Please stick with me because you make it worthwhile :)

That being said, I'd like to make a little plug, so bear with me! Whether you're someone living with Spondylitis, someone coping with another chronic illnesses or you are lucky enough to have your health, I'm asking you all to consider SAA's mission in finding a cure for Spondylitis. if you are moved by my story, the videos above or the website, please consider becoming involved in some way. Whether it's monetarily or just by spreading the word, there are several ways to help out.


1.) Emotional Support: Really, this is the best thing you can do for people living with Spondylitis or any chronic illness. If you know someone battling a disease, offer your friendship, support or assistance when it's needed. Many people who are living with Spondylitis sometime have trouble asking for help. I know I like to be as independent as possible, but a little help can go a long way. Don't make a big deal about it-it's awesome if you just take note of the little things. Help open jars, bottles and doors. Offer to carry a heavy bag, extend an arm if someone is having trouble getting around, and most of all provide an ear to listen. I'm blessed to have friends and family that do just this and make life much easier for me. Trust me, it means the world.

2) Educate Yourself and Others: Spend a little time on SAA's website reading about Spondylitis and related diseases. Really learn about this disease. Take it one step further and tell a friend - tell five friends. Take the delighted housewives to the left, for example- they must be discussing Spondylitis, right? Okay, okay. It might not be the most popular subject at a party, but you'd be surprised how receptive most people are to learning. If there's one thing I've taken away from my advocacy course in my social work program, it's that awareness is a crucial step in reaching change.

3) $ Donate Some Money $:
I just know the guy to the right is giving that all to SAA! What a guy. But really, any little bit counts (a dollar from each person out there would go a long way). There is even an option on the website to donate money in someone's honor and anything you can offer will help push doctors and researchers one step closer to a cure. What a life-changing day that would be.
Oh and if you donate, I'll try to find you those cool money glasses as a reward. Just upping the ante a bit.

4) Buy Some SAA Merchandise: If you want to combine ideas 2 and 3, you can support SAA monetarily by buying a pack of Spondylitis bracelets (sold in packs of 10). Not only are you making a cash donation, but you're helping spread awareness every time you wear them and gaining a stylish new accessory ;) If you're a coffee drinker, consider purchasing a cool SAA mug for the same reasons!

5) Help Spread SAA's Message Via Social Networking Sites: Become a fan of SAA on Facebook, post a link to the website on your own Facebook, Twitter or MySpace pages and just help get the word out! These sites can be really powerful tools (hey, that's how I've found most of my beloved readers).

6) Get Your Company Involved: Many employers have programs in place and are willing to match charitable contributions made by their employees. Does your employer match gifts? Check here to see if your company could double or even triple your contribution to SAA! I can only assume the boss in this cartoon is referencing a cure for Spondylitis...

7) Become a Mentor: If you suffer from Spondylitis yourself, consider becoming a mentor for a newly diagnosed patient through SAA's Network of PEERS (People Educated and Empowered to Rise above Spondylitis). The purpose of the program is to assist people newly diagnosed with mananging some of these challenges, finding a support network and learning how to cope with the challenges posed by the disease. If you are a newly diagnosed patient and wish to become a Mentee, also check out the page for details on how to enroll in this awesome program.

8) Donate Your Junker: Got an old, unused car, motorcycle, boat or other vehicle crowding your driveway? How about the old garage? If you're willing to part with it, you can generously donate your vehicle to SAA and 70% of the proceeds from reselling it will go directly to SAA for research, patient services and educational programs for Spondylitis. The website assures me that the process is quick and easy, includes free pick-up or towing and that all donations are tax deductible. Best of all, it's an awesome way to support a great cause!

Get Creative! There are countless ways to help SAA and many haven't even been thought of. So that's where you come in. Some of the greatest change comes from individual people, so let's put our heads together! Bake sales don't have to be a thing of the past. Neither do walk-a-thons or car washes. Any little bit helps and we need people just like you to help find a cure.

Thanks so much for reading!