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Fitness | How I Did It

She Overcomes Disease With Can-Do Attitude

April 12, 1999|CELIA GERRY

"You'll be in a wheelchair in five years!" These were the words of encouragement I received shortly after I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in the summer of 1973. I was 27, recently married and newly arrived from England. Fortunately, with much help, I've been able to defy this prognosis, but things were very rocky along the way.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a nasty disease that affects the whole body. Not only were my joints eroded, but especially in the first years I felt I was battling a never-ending case of the flu, and I still tire easily. Because of damage to the joints and the ensuing pain and disability, I have had surgeries on my hands, feet, wrist, shoulder and right hip.

Meanwhile, I have lived my life as fully as possible. I worked for a few years, then gave birth to two wonderful daughters in quick succession. I was determined not to let my illness interfere with my role as wife and mother, but there were days when I barely made it through. Imagine, for example, total hip replacement, done originally in 1978, eight weeks after the birth of my first child. The replacement eventually wore out and had to be partially redone in 1989. The second time around, I was on crutches for six months. Then there was the time I had major surgery on both feet, went home right afterward and got up the next morning to care for two toddlers.

In 1991, just when life seemed to be getting easier, I discovered that I had breast cancer. Up to then, I had always consoled myself with the assurance that things could be worse--I could have cancer! Now I had to face that too. I successfully underwent surgery and chemotherapy, and am fine to this day.

How did I do it? I've been incredibly fortunate, always receiving the very best medical care available. I've had the support and help of a wonderful family and friends. Good times and bad, whenever possible, I've tried to keep fit by exercising. Exercise has improved my self-confidence and self-image. After all, I can't be that badly off if I'm physically able to do more than the average person.

I started off by bicycling with my husband. After I had children, I began swimming regularly. The last few years, five friends and I have been getting together weekly to walk in the Santa Monica Mountains. These walks have given me a tremendous high and have provided wonderful companionship.

On March 14, four of my friends, my husband and I walked the Los Angeles Marathon. We completed the 26.2 miles in 7 1/2 hours, about a 17 1/2-minute mile. Others may think we were slowpokes, but for me the accomplishment was a miracle. I want to thank the crowds who lined the route and cheered whenever my energy was flagging.

How Did You Do It?

Do you have a story about how you lost weight and kept the pounds off? Or a story about how you learned to mountain climb or in-line skate, trained for a half-marathon or discovered a unique way of keeping fit, dealing with a nagging ailment or persevering with a fitness regimen despite some obstacles?

If so, we'd like to hear from you. Tell us your story in a 500-word essay listing what worked in terms of diet, exercise and encouragement, as well as any emotional and physical changes.

For weight-loss stories, send us full-body color photos of yourself, before and after. For other types of stories, send a color photo of yourself doing the activity you're writing about.

Send essay and photos to How I Did It, Health, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. Include daytime and evening phone numbers. Submissions cannot be returned. And, please, no phone calls.

In addition to publication, winners will receive a Los Angeles Times Health section gym bag.

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