Psoriatic Arthritis Isn’t Who I Am: Julie’s Story
Her struggle with disease taught Julie Cerrone how to help herself and others.
By Erinn Connor
Medically Reviewed by Sanjai Sinha, MD
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Julie Cerrone was in the fifth grade when she was first told she might have psoriatic arthritis. She had undergone physical therapy and even knee surgery for joint swelling and pain. Still, it was hard to believe that she had arthritis.
“I can't even drive yet, so how the heck can I have arthritis? Arthritis is something my grandma has, not me,” she remembers thinking.
Knee pain plagued Cerrone throughout her childhood and into college. Three years after graduating, she decided to run a 5K race. Scrolling through Facebook, she saw that many of her friends were runners, and she hadn’t been able to run much as a child. But she aggravated her sciatica and knee pain while riding an exercise bike, and her hopes were dashed. A few months later, the pain got bad enough that she needed surgery.
In 2012, Cerrone was diagnosed with avascular necrosis, a condition in which bone tissue dies from a lack of blood supply. It can result from overuse of steroids, which Cerrone had been taking on and off since childhood for her knee pain.
A Diagnosis, at Last
It was then that Cerrone received a definitive diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis. She was told she also had complex regional pain syndrome, a chronic pain condition. She started on biologic drugs, but the treatment wasn’t giving her enough relief.
“I went to doctor after doctor only to hear the same thing: ‘We know what it is, but we can't really help you,’” says Cerrone, now 30. “You could try a knee replacement. But with your arthritis, you need to have your body calm down before you even consider it.”
An Emotional Toll
The pain made it almost impossible for Cerrone to leave her house. She also developed anxiety and depression, which is not uncommon among people with psoriatic arthritis. According to a study published in April 2014 in theJournal of Rheumatology, more than a third of psoriatic arthritis patients reported anxiety, and 22.2 percent suffered from depression.
“Pain and depression are intertwined, and untreated depression can intensify pain,” says , an associate professor of medicine and rheumatology at the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. “Depression is a common problem among subjects suffering from psoriatic disease and needs to be treated.”
The psoriatic arthritis diagnosis also explained digestive problems that Cerrone was having. A review of literature published in 2010 suggested that inflammatory bowel disease is more common among people with psoriatic arthritis.
Cerrone eventually received a stem cell treatment for her avascular necrosis, which helped regenerate bone tissue. To have the surgery, she had to discontinue her psoriatic arthritis treatment to offset her risk of infection. Since then, her arthritis symptoms have remained under control, and she hasn’t needed any new treatments.
“I've been managing my disease holistically, but that doesn't mean I'll never go back on meds,” says Cerrone. “I have no qualms about going back on them, because I know they work, and I truly believe they helped me get my disease under control.”
Cerrone started writing a blog in 2013 as a way to help others with chronic diseases. “Through my chronic conditions, I've found my passion and purpose in life,” she says. “I don't let myself be defined by my health struggles, but I realize that they're a part of me and they've made me who I am today.
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