Sunday, January 9, 2011

Spotlight on Cathy Wescott Kramer: A Beautiful & Strong Spirit

Loving With Chronic Illness has brought so much good into my life. Among other things, I've gained greater insight into my own experiences and have the pleasure of connecting with individuals that bring me great strength. For instance, I feel honored to have met Cathy. She has lived with Rheumatoid Arthritis since 2004 and writes about her journey on her blog, The Life and Adventures of Catepoo. I found her site just as I was beginning my own blogging endeavor and this was the first entry I ever read:

May 24, 2010 

Like A Storm

One great thing about rheumatoid arthritis is just when you think you have hit your worst possible flare and wonder how you will ever survive it, RA, like a storm, moves on and gives you a break. It is during this time that everything about living life feels new and exciting!
Short, sweet, and incredibly poignant. Aside from appealing to the poet in me, I  remember this sentiment reaching me just as I was starting to feel the effects of my failing medication. I was deeply comforted by these two simple sentences. Now, nearly 8 months later, I consider Cathy a friend and still look to her words for hope. Aside from being an RA patient, she is a devoted wife, mother of two, dog-owner, teacher, and so much more. Although she has known tremendous pain over the years, she fights to keep her incredible spirit alive. She always pushes herself to consider and identify what she's thankful for (in this post, for example, she makes a list). Cathy makes me want to fight harder; her messages and support this fall gave me strength in my darkest days. 

You need only read one post about her family to understand the love she holds for them. Cathy has a 14 year-old son named Alexander and a 12 year-old daughter named Sophia - two kids any parents would be proud to have raised. They are deeply empathetic people and have a strong desire to make her life happier and easier.  She has been married to Steve, her husband and best friend, for 22 years and they are clearly a fantastic pair. As Cathy experiences the healthiest and most pain-free period she's had in many years, it's fun and exciting to read about the new experiences her family is able to have! They make me hopeful and excited to start a family like this one day; a family that values each other over anything.

I've also been inspired by Cathy's desire to remain natural and good to her body. When doctors were pushing intense medications on her, she had the courage and wherewithal  to drastically change her diet and pursue more natural ways of healing. In her post Changing, Growing, and Always Learning , she writes "I love how life and its lessons keep building on each other allowing us to learn just what we need at the time, and then learning a bit more, until we finally find a place that feels right with who we are." She goes on to explain more about the various dietary changes she has implemented over the years - why she made them, how each one affected her, and more about her overall philosophy. Although Cathy's desire for improved health primarily facilitated these changes, she is also conscientious about her environmental footprint, the overall health and well being of her family, and the sustainability of her food choices. With a painful autoimmune disease to battle, a family to care for, and a job to do, Cathy's energy amazes me. It is precisely this passion, faith, and determination that makes her one of my role models. 

What is the year you were first diagnosed? 
I was diagnosed in 2004.

How old were you ? 
I was 36.

What would you tell someone who has been newly diagnosed with your condition and/or a chronic illness in general?   
Search everywhere for answers.  There is not one answer to your condition.  We each have unique paths that we need to take and by reading and talking with others, we find the path that is individually right for us.    

Please explain a bit about how your condition affects you.

I have what the doctors consider to be “severe rheumatoid arthritis”.  My symptoms began in my fingers, then my feet and eventually to all my joints.  On bad days, rolling over in bed is a chore and pulling the blankets up over me is almost impossible.  Picking up my cup of tea can be a challenge.  On good days, I can ride my bike, take long walks, complete all household chores, and hug my kids and husband without pain. 

The hardest thing for me to cope with is the severity of this disease.  I have always been fairly active, especially with my kids and husband.  Although I have found other ways to spend time with them, it has never felt like “me”.  I feel complete when I am active.  (I feel kind of weird saying “active” because I am also a person that demands a lot of down time.”)    Also, the ups and downs of this disease can be overwhelming.  I may have several weeks of feeling wonderful and then wake up and need help out of bed or getting dressed.  I keep reminding myself on good days that the bad may return soon, but I am never really prepared for it.  It always makes me cry. 

Despite my best efforts, this disease has become more severe with time.  I have tried many things:  medication only, integrative health (meds with diet/herbs/homeopathy), alternative only, and now back to integrative.  I 100% wish I could do this without meds, but have come to the conclusion that what works best for me is a combination of medications and a diet that is based mostly on free range meat, lots of veggies, fruits and supplements. I am still holding onto the belief that our bodies do want to heal and someday I will find what my body needs.  But, for the last six months, integration seems to be doing the trick so I will stick with it.  Feeling good is something we take for granted until it is gone.  I now know how precious it is.

What are 3 things you couldn't live without 
1.  Alternative options.  
2.  My family.  
3.  My positive outlook on life. 

What are you most proud of?    
In the last almost seven years, rheumatoid arthritis has forced me to find my strength.  I have realized that I am a really great person that deserves to seek out the best medical care available and choose from options that feel right for me.  Also, I have learned to stand up for myself and let health practitioners and even friends know when I feel decisions they try to make for me don’t feel right for me.   I have learned to listen to my heart and it never leads me in the wrong direction. 

Where do you get your strength? 
My strength comes from many places.  First, I have an amazing family that has strength beyond anything I could have imagined.  Not only do they support each of my decisions, they make sure they happen.  Their strength guides me every day.  Second, although I am not a religious person, I am very spiritual and feel this spirituality gives me strength and guidance.  I feel like I have become a better person having lived with rheumatoid arthritis.  For that, I am thankful to this disease.   Third, through blogging I have developed a support system that is out of this world.  I never imagined how much I needed to talk with others who experience the same feelings and pain I do.  The friendships I have developed online are amazing and I know I can always count on one of my friends to get me through a tough spot or cheer me on during my good days.

If you could send one message to medical professionals around the world, what would it be?  Listen to your patients.  Let them know that they are unique and treat them this way.  For many of us, having a disease and exposing our vulnerability can be humiliating and scary.  Not only are we in pain physically, but emotionally too and exposing that to strangers (medical professionals) is hard.  When I first saw my naturopath in November of 2004, I remember crying when she acknowledged how difficult this must be emotionally too.  This was the first time all year that anyone acknowledged this fact and it made me feel okay.  I still feel drawn to her because she continuously acknowledges what I am feeling inside.  Our diseases often make us feel that we are making things up because one moment we feel okay and the next we don’t.  Listening to us and letting us know that you understand means the world to a patient.
Thanks so much Cathy and please keep feeling great...



  1. Cathy is a beautiful gift to so many of us! Great post!

  2. Cathy is a wonderful lady. I especially like her advice to medical professionals.

  3. another amazing and strong woman! thanks for sharing your story, cathy.

  4. cathy is awesome. another lovely post, maya.

    and cathy, i remember telling my primary care doctor that i had been diagnosed with RA. she stopped and told me how sorry she was and how hard it must be. it was very genuine and made such a difference. i felt that she actually cared and that i wasn't just another file to process.

  5. (Finally I can comment on this post-I had some major computer difficulties earlier!)

    I just wanted to say how much I love this post! Cathy is such a strong, honest and inspirational person and I'm so glad I have made contact with her. Learning to know your own body and trust that we are the ones who know what it needs is so important and something I've really tried to go by. Some of her posts (and yours, Maya!) were really crucial for me at some very difficult times.
    I'm feeling very grateful for the blogging world right now!
    Love to you both,
    Kate xxx