Battling GPA for Half My Life

Battling GPA for Half My Life
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I reached a milestone in November. Half my life ago, I was diagnosed with granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA). On Nov. 16, 2001, I was near death when I was admitted to the emergency room. Nineteen years later, here I am. Each of those years has been a bonus in my life.

You can read all about the beginning of my journey here. I was discharged from the hospital the day before Thanksgiving in 2001. So, each Thanksgiving, I think about that dreadful time. I also think about the fact that each Thanksgiving marks another year of victory against GPA.

Over the years, I’ve gotten used to my normal symptoms and the restrictions that come with GPA. I have joint pain, especially in my knees. Cuts and bruises take forever to heal. Fatigue pops up randomly. A pile of worry comes with every cold or other illness. I get random stabs of pain all over my body. I take methotrexate, so I don’t drink and am careful in the sun. Weight loss is a struggle. Doing anything that requires physical exertion is challenging.

I am so used to these things that I forget it’s not normal. When I think about what is normal, I become jealous of others my age who are healthy. I wonder what it’s like to not feel 20 years older than I am. Then I get mad at myself because I remember that my life now is all extra time, and avoiding parties and other things doesn’t mean I haven’t had nearly two great, albeit challenging, decades.

I think the most difficult part of dealing with GPA involves doctors and insurance. I’ve changed jobs several times, which has meant moving to different locations and switching medical practices and insurance providers.

I hate finding a new doctor, because I always wonder if they will be familiar with my condition. Will they listen to me? I never know what to expect, because each doctor and medical office is different. At some places, I see the physician’s assistant, not the doctor. Sometimes practices do in-office lab work, and sometimes they don’t. Some doctors want to see me every six months, and some every six weeks. Some require referrals, some don’t.

As for insurance, that’s even more stressful. For example, I currently have no insurance. I just started a new job, and the healthcare plan doesn’t kick in until January. Thankfully, I have been able to afford my medicine and lab work. I was stressed over the costs, but I got a steeply discounted price for my methotrexate through GoodRx, and the nice nurses at the lab found me a discount.

I have to be really careful because I can’t afford to end up in the hospital right now. I have been sheltering at home since March due to the pandemic, so hopefully, COVID-19 will stay far away from me. My job is remote, so I’ve only left the house to get lab work done.

This is not the first time I’ve gone without insurance for a bit. I’ve dealt with it every time I’ve changed jobs. It’s always nerve-racking. I wonder, will I get sick? Will I have a flare? Can I afford the medicine that keeps me alive?

It’s strange to think about everything I’ve gone through in the last 19 years. While writing this column and thinking back, it occurred to me: I am happy.

I love my new job, and it pays a lot more than my last one. It’s remote, so I don’t have to worry about going out during the pandemic. I live with my mom, and we get along perfectly. Plus, I get to eat home-cooked meals all the time!

After many years of ups and downs, I am finally in a place in which I smile every day. I laugh every day. After my diagnosis, I didn’t think this could happen. I thought GPA would crush my body and spirit. And at times, it did.

Now, for the first time in my adult life, I am content. It feels good.

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Note: ANCA Vasculitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ANCA Vasculitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ANCA vasculitis.

Sandra (or Sandy) was diagnosed with granulomatosis with polyangiitis, formerly known as Wegener’s granulomatosis, in 2001 at age 19. After living in various states in the Southern U.S. since graduating from college, she now lives in her childhood home in Virginia. She has a degree in journalism and has worked for various newspapers as an editor and designer since 2004. When not working, she enjoys playing video games, relaxing, writing in her blog, and collecting hats. She hopes to spread awareness of her condition while also letting those who have it know they aren’t alone.
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Sandra (or Sandy) was diagnosed with granulomatosis with polyangiitis, formerly known as Wegener’s granulomatosis, in 2001 at age 19. After living in various states in the Southern U.S. since graduating from college, she now lives in her childhood home in Virginia. She has a degree in journalism and has worked for various newspapers as an editor and designer since 2004. When not working, she enjoys playing video games, relaxing, writing in her blog, and collecting hats. She hopes to spread awareness of her condition while also letting those who have it know they aren’t alone.
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6 comments

  1. John says:

    As someone who was diagnosed at age 61, I know I will never be able to say “I’ve lived with this illness half my life. From now on, each year forward you will have lived more than half you life with it. And I hope it goes on for a very long time.Wonderful to read your story. Best to you.

  2. Jo Ann Landon says:

    Love your attitude Sandra. I have GPA also. Your an inspiration and I love your articles! Thank you so much for sharing. It is nice to know I am not alone in my abnormal life.

  3. Silvana Barone says:

    Sandra, I was 16 years old when I was diagnosed with wegener’s granulomatosis. I was living in Italy and spent 8 months going from one hospital to another and no one could figure out what was wrong with me. I came to the State thanks to my uncle who was living in Providence RI and the next day he got me to see a doctor in Boston. After few tests they found out I had Wegener’s. I am 56 years old I had been through so much in 40 years. Cancer three times due to the cytoxan that was giving to me for over 10 years. I have seen so many doctors because like you said not all the doctors knows about wegener’s. Sometimes I feel so frustrated to tell the new doctor all my story over and over, but we are still here. Certainly this year was the worst for me. I lost my mom and I feel so lonely, so empty without her. She saved my life many times. This summer I started gardening because I couldn’t get out so I kept busy with my garden. I just hope I can get the COVID vaccine ASAP and get out of my hole, see family and friends. I am too tired of worrying all the time. I read your story and I can’t believe how similar is to mine. I wish we could keep in touch. I am deaf because of wegener’s. I was planning to get a cloclear implant but then he’ll broke with COVID and had to cancel everything. I have not gone to see my doctors since January. I am afraid to go to the lab to get my tests done. But hopefully we will get the vaccine soon. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Sandra Ross says:

      Wow, 40 years! That’s inspiring in itself. You have been through so much, and 2020 was really rough. I was also scared to get my lab work done, but thankfully the medical facilities are the places with the most stringent COVID-19 regulations. I hope that you are able to go soon, and I certainly hope you can get your implants! Every day is a day closer to getting that vaccine. Thank you for reading.

      • Silvana says:

        Hopefully bad times will be over in few more months. I loved your story. Thank you for sharing and inspiring people to go on. We can’t let our disease get us….we are strong

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