Member Spotlight: Sean Rodman
Chances are you’ve seen Psoriatic-Arthritis.com contributor Sean Rodman around the community. In honor of #ArthritisAwarenessMonth and #PsoriaticActionMonth, we sat down to chat with Sean and feature him in our Member Spotlight.
When did you get diagnosed with PsA and how did it initially present itself?
I was initially diagnosed four years ago (at age 47) after a bout of bronchitis left me with pain in my sternum and ribs that would not go away. When summer rolled around and I still had the pain in my chest I knew something was amiss. My diagnosis was confirmed by the Cleveland Clinic in the summer of 2017. My diagnosis was tricky because all my inflammation markers, while a little high, were still within standard levels. I was diagnosed primarily based on my pain, pitted nails and inflammation in my right hand and wrist. I started taking Humira in December, which led to my pain level greatly improving. I even went bowling last month, which is something I never thought I’d do again. When I look back, I probably developed PsA in my late 30s or early 40s but simply didn’t know the signs. Shooting pain down both my arms I wrote off as tendonitis from weight lifting. It wasn’t until the pain got to the point I could not ignore it that I finally went to a doctor.
Do you think that people know how PsA differs from other types of arthritis?
I do not think the general public really distinguishes between different types of arthritis. Heck, even I didn’t know what PsA was just a few years back. I thought psoriasis was simply a patch or two of dry skin, nothing more. And I didn’t know what psoriatic arthritis even was. My own mother has rheumatoid arthritis and for the longest time I didn’t really get that it was an autoimmune disorder. I just thought it another type of arthritis like osteo. She never made a big deal out of it and I didn’t want to pry into her health so it never really got discussed at any length. It wasn’t until I developed my own condition that I truly grasped what she was dealing with. (She’s closing in on 80, by the way, which is proof to me that an autoimmune disorder and a long, active life are not incompatible.)
How do you explain what it means to have PsA?
I think the best explanation I’ve heard of PsA came from my Humira ambassador. He said to think of my immune system as a kitchen sink. In my case, my sink is stopped up. When it begins to spill over is when it starts to attack my own body. Biologics (and other drugs) can help drain that sink. How long it takes to fill back up varies from person to person, which is why some people can go off biologics and have years without symptoms returning and others find their symptoms returning between doses.
If you have to pick one aspect of your life that has been most affected by PsA, which would it be?
My aura of invincibility. I used to breeze through life secure in the knowledge that, while I had my problems like anyone else, I always had my health. I ran hard and lifted heavy weights. Since I was an athlete in high school I continued to train like an athlete as an adult. My body was like a suit of armor to me. PsA changed all that. I still try to stay fit but I have to go about it differently now. Running is too hard on my back (due to ankylosing spondylitis) so I’ve had to switch to an elliptical machine. I lift weights – light weights now – in order to keep my neck and back strong, not to build muscle. There’s a feeling of vulnerability and self-doubt that I never had before learning I had PsA. I think it’s something I’ll eventually work through, but that’s an ongoing process. It’s certainly given me a respect and admiration for people who battle serious health issues and maintain a strong, positive attitude.