Cardiac arrest, lesions, thinning hair, life-threatening hypotension, increased appetite and weight gain, loss of muscle mass, depression, convulsions, vomiting material that looks like coffee grounds, emotional instability and irritability, hallucinations, long-term memory loss, schizophrenia, blurred vision, and decreased resistance to infection.
Those are just a few of the hundreds of reported side effects for the drugs I was presented with in the fall of 2005. I sat in the doctor’s office, with my mom, stunned at the news I had received. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis – an incurable auto-immune disease, in which one’s body attacks itself, causing severe joint pain, deformation and chronic inflammation.
I was only 16 years old and it seemed I had one of two choices: take the immune-suppressing drugs – whose side effects seemed worse than the disease itself – or refuse the drugs, while my body continued to attack itself, eventually leading to complete deterioration.
My mom was hesitant to put her 16-year-old son on drugs with the side effects comparable to those of chemotherapy, so she questioned the doctor, asking if there were any alternative treatments of the disease. His response: “Nope. I’m a doctor; you’re going to have to trust me.” And that’s where my seven-year journey began.
In 2005, I was a typical teenage boy. I was a sophomore in high school, listened to rap music, secretly enjoyed romantic comedies, and was obsessed with sports. I experienced a massive growth spurt and fresh off my two-year stint with braces, my confidence was sky-high. I had my first real girlfriend, running three miles a day, playing pick-up basketball multiple times a week, and just started a weight-lifting program. I felt like I was finally becoming a man, and well on my way to becoming an absolute stud.
Unfortunately, my unhealthy lifestyle was also typical of a 16-year-old boy. Although I was exhaustingly active and in amazing shape, I stayed up till the wee hours of the morning playing video games and ate fast food every day – sometimes multiple times. On the outside, I was perfectly healthy and in the self-proclaimed best shape of my life, but I had no idea of the destruction going on inside my body.
On a random August day, I woke up with a unfamiliar pain in my right wrist. I didn’t remember injuring it lifting weights or playing basketball, so I assumed I slept wrong. I applied Icy Hot throughout the day and by the next morning the pain had gone away.
A few weeks later, I woke up with a similar pain in my left shoulder, assuming this was another instance of sleeping wrong. I applied Icy Hot and the pain subsided. Only a few days later, I woke up with pain and discomfort in both of my hands, as well as my fingers and wrists. The pain was so severe that I literally couldn’t squeeze my shampoo out of the bottle.
At that point I knew something was wrong. I visited various doctors and took countless blood tests. The common diagnosis was “Growing pains”. Eventually one doctor referred me to a Rheumatologist, where I was officially diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. He insisted on prescribing Methotrexate and Prednisone immediately – both dangerous, immune-suppressing drugs.
My mom was adamant about finding an alternative way to treat the disease, because giving her son the near-equivalent of chemotherapy was simply not an option. Being a naive 16-year-old boy, I was not receptive to the idea of attempting to cure an incurable disease “the natural way”, by doing things like changing my diet and taking a few extra vitamins. My thinking was, “These guys went to school for eight years for a reason; they know what they’re talking about. I’m sure if there were an alternative treatment, they would know about it.” I asked my mom, “Why don’t you just give me the pill?!”. Luckily, she made the executive decision to attack the disease the natural way.
The days and weeks following my diagnosis weren’t pretty. We visited a handful of natural doctors – most of whom I thought were complete lunatics. One visit in particular prompted my one and only mental breakdown. I sat in the office with my mom, listening to the doctor explain how she wants to put me on a diet consisting of only raw vegetables and nuts. I sat there in silence, watching my mom politely nod, while I thought to myself, “If anyone thinks I’m eating strictly nuts and vegetables in some off-the-wall attempt to cure a disease, they’ve lost their damn minds”.
On the car-ride home my mom pitched the idea of eating only nuts and vegetables to me. I sat in the backseat, without saying a word, but as soon as we walked in the door, I exploded – screaming, crying, throwing stuff. I had a lot of anger built up, which manifested in a complete meltdown. My mom – who felt horrible – decided to scrap the nuts and vegetables diet, vowing to find another way. That’s the singular moment I agreed to bypass the drugs, and trusted that between my mom and I, we’d figure it out.
We continued to visit natural doctors until we found one we both liked. The one we settled on freaked me out at first, because he was so intense, but I was sold when he said with the utmost confidence, “Oh, you have Arthritis? We can fix that.” I thought, “Either this dude is a lunatic like the rest of them, just one with supreme confidence” or “Hmm, if somebody else besides my mom seems to think we can do this, let’s do it.”
My treatment consisted of a food sensitivity test – accompanied by a specialized diet avoiding all the foods my body was “sensitive” to – various acupuncture sessions, dozens of vitamins and supplements, homeopathic medicine, joint massages, joint creams, etc.
My life got worse before it got better. In the months following my diagnosis: I broke up with my girlfriend, had no energy, quietly suffered from anxiety and depression, woke up every morning in pain, and was on a diet of plain chicken, brown rice, applesauce, green vegetables and soy ice cream. Among the simple tasks I was unable to do because of my condition included: running, opening a milk carton, squeezing shampoo out of the bottle, playing video games, shooting a basketball, and looking over my shoulder to change lanes, while driving. Every movement hurt – from walking to class, to putting on my backpack.
But as the days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months, I saw significant changes in my health. The pain wasn’t nearly as severe. My mom got the hang of cooking, so my diet improved drastically. And I started doing things I was doing before Arthritis. (I’ll never forgot the first time I shot a basketball again – something I thought I’d never do).
It took ample time for my body to heal itself of all the damage I had done 16 years, but two years of natural, drug-free treatment later, my blood tests came back normal, no permanent damage had been done and I was “95 percent” healthy. Instead of simply treating the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis with drugs that could’ve caused heart problems, skin problems, memory problems, immune system problem, and the vomiting coffee grains (!), my blood tests showed that I no longer had the disease, nor the side effects accompanied by the drugs. The only long-term sacrifices I made were: take a few extra vitamins every day and alter my diet to avoid certain foods – like gluten and dairy. But I wasn’t out of the woods just yet.
Fast forward to the summer 2010. I was a few months removed from my 21st birthday. Since I was still feeling 95 percent healthy and RA-free, I began to neglect my diet. I was finally legal, so I drank once in a while. I’d also eat fast food a few times a month and hang out in hookah bars. I continued to feel healthy, despite falling back into old habits, so there was no incentive to remain strict on my diet.
At the end of May, I flew to Boston to live with my extended family to complete a three-month internship at Kronos. Feeling as good as I have in a long time – and fresh off a year and a half working at UNLV, doing manuel labor (of all things) – I was also the biggest and strongest I had ever been.
During my first month in Boston, I half-heartily followed my diet, but my last two months consisted of nothing but pizza, McDonalds, beer, hot wings, banana splits and more beer. I was still feeling good, all things considered.
Then, two weeks before my internship ended, I came home from work on a random Thursday night. I posted up on the couch to watch the latest episode of Jersey Shore and indulge on some gluten-free donuts, when I felt my lower lip beginning to swell up. With my lip continuing to swell up, I turned off Jersey Shore and decided to go to bed. I assumed the swelling in my lip would be gone in the morning.
A few hours later, I woke up and headed to the bathroom. I turned on the light, looked in the mirror and was blown away with how swollen my lip had become. I kid you not when I say my lower lip was as thick as bratwurst sausage (picture).
I was staying in my aunt and uncle’s house, alone, while they were in Connecticut. It was three o’clock in the morning and not only was my lip not getting better, but the swelling felt like it was spreading to my throat area. To die with a swollen lip would’ve been bad enough, but it would’ve been absolutely tragic if my last memories were a plate of gluten-free donuts and an episode of Jersey Shore.
I panicked and called my mom. She suggested we iChat, and upon seeing my lip her reaction went something like, “Oh my gosh, Jordan. You need to go to the emergency room now!” Reluctantly, I called my cousin – who lived 30 minutes away – who I also iChated with. After making fun of the size of my lip for a few minutes, him and his fiance took me to the emergency room. The nurse asked me ‘what brought me in tonight’ (seriously?!), they pumped me full of antihistamines and kept me there overnight.
Following my internship, I flew back to Vegas, and was diagnosed with Leaky Gut Syndrome – a condition where pin-sized holes in your intestines allow food particles to enter your blood stream, causing various reactions. My reaction came in the form of chronic hives.
For the next six or seven months, I was in worse shape than I was in 2005. Not only did my joints hurt again, but now I was breaking out in hives every day – face included. Again, the doctors provided no hope, saying I’d have to take an antihistamine every day, for the rest of the my life.
I carried a Benadryl everywhere, for fear of swelling up. I went without a haircut for nine months (picture) and rarely shaved. I went weeks without leaving my house and lost all contact with friends, as my social skills slowly diminished. I ate nothing but plain chicken, rice and apples, because no one could figure out what foods were causing my hives. I was so malnourished, that I lost 30 pounds and my testosterone plummeted to dangerously low levels.
My life consisted of nothing but school and watching movies, by myself – I was rotting away. I was desperate to work out, but my elbow was so inflamed, and deformed, that I didn’t even have the range of motion to wash my hair left-handed, let alone lift, even a two pound weight.
After re-testing my food sensitivities and taking a stool test, my trio of natural doctors – along with my mom – helped me figure out a plan of attack. It took a seven months, a ridiculously strict diet, along with various vitamins and supplements, but I finally stopped breaking out in hives and my blood tests returned to normal. I cut my hair for the first time in almost a year, shaved, slowly re-gained confidence and re-kindled friendships.
Despite still being somewhat limited, I dragged myself to the gym. All I could do last summer (June 2011) was run, sit-ups, curl two pound weights and pull-ups on the assisted pull-up machine. I was disgustingly skinny and malnourished, but the hard part was over with. Leaky Gut Syndrome and chronic hives were a thing of the past, as was Rheumatoid Arthritis – again. As time went on, I steadily became healthier, and eventually surpassed the “95 percent” healthy that I was before Boston.
Over the past seven years, I’ve been to hell and back. But now I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been, and the happiest I’ve ever been.
That said, I remain unsatisfied with the status quo. The first week of January 2012 I set two new goals for myself. 1) Pack on 25 pounds of muscle and 2) Trim down to six percent body fat. I was ready to make up for seven years of lost time. In four and a half months, I’ve put on nearly 10 pounds of muscle and cut down from 18 percent body fat, to 11. (Here’s a before and after picture). I’m still a ways away from reaching my goals, but continue to take it one day at a time.
I can now say with complete conviction, that I feel normal for the first time since my freshman year in high school. I’m still on a strict diet, and although I cheat every once in a while (Doritos Taco!), I learned my lesson from my days in Boston. I lift weights at least five days a week, play in an adult basketball league on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a flag football league on Sundays. Not only am I not on any medications, I don’t even take over-the-counter stuff, like Tylenol. Looking at me, you’d never know what I’ve been through.
The other day I was asked if I’d do it all over again. My answer is absolutely. Not only am I healthier than I ever could’ve imagined, but my mom is healthy, and my kids/family will most definitely be healthy as a result of my experience. The process has also made me an incredibly strong person, both mentally and physically, and I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do.
Being legitimately healthy changes your outlook on life, and I sincerely hope that everyone has the privilege of complete and total health some day.
Whether or not the ailment is as small as ‘trouble sleeping’, or as large as an auto-immune disease, there’s an alternative to the pills the doctors prescribe, which only treat the symptoms, not the condition. Your body has the amazing ability to heal itself, if you’re willing to put in the effort. I’m living proof.
Meanwhile, my mom has gone on to become a certified Health Coach, while still working 40+ hours at her day job. When co-workers became aware of my story, they inquired about natural treatments for various ailments, so she decided to go back to school and make a post-retirement career out of her new-found passion – natural health. (Her website recently went live, which you can visit at NutritionInspired.com).
So, that’s the story of my seven year (winning) battle with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
All the thanks goes to God – a lot of prayer went into the healing process. Many thanks goes to the friends and family, who supported me every step of the way – also my natural doctors. More thanks goes to everyone from my old church, and the hundreds of people I had praying for me. A special thanks goes to my crew at Liberty Ballers, who unknowingly served as a getaway for me, during the of worst times.
I also want to shout out to my long-time friend, Alex, for being the first one to accept my diet for what it was. He’d come to my house and chow down on gluten-free/dairy-free food with me, without hesitation, when everyone else treated me like an alien.
Thanks to everyone who ever doubted me, including the original doctor who advised my mom and I to “trust him”.
But the biggest thanks of all goes to my wonderful mother. Not only has she managed to raise a dope kid, but her relentless determination not to give me those medicines changed my life, her life, and the rest of our family’s lives forever. Because of her, I’ll be able to enjoy a long, heathy, happy life, free of joint pain and/or the nasty side effects of the drugs.
This story still has plenty of chapters to be written, but not many people can say they’ve overcome an incurable disease. I’ve done it twice.
– Written by Jordan Sams (@samsjordan)