“Your life doesn’t have to stop.”
Maciej Piszczek, 45, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis five years ago. It came as a huge shock and initially he wasn’t sure how to move forward. But since then he’s turned things around and approaches life with an extremely positive outlook. He wants to help other people realise that a diagnosis doesn’t mean you have to stop living life to the full.
At first the doctor said it was nothing
I was about 38 when I started noticing lumps on my fingers. I did a lot of rock climbing and my hands couldn’t hold me on the wall anymore, they weren’t strong enough.
I went to see a doctor and they thought the pain and lumps were happening because I worked in a kitchen. Then at 40 things had got worse and I was sent for blood tests and scans which confirmed it was rheumatoid arthritis.
I was seen at three different hospitals who told me my condition was quite severe and that I would need to take it easy, and not do too much exercise.
It can feel like you are trying to break through a brick wall
At first, I felt depressed and just stayed at home thinking, ‘what am I going to do with my life’. It can feel a bit like the end, but now I’ve realised that life doesn’t have to stop.
I didn’t know much about arthritis at first, but I spent a long time researching on the internet afterwards. Some things you read are daunting, but if you look in the right places, you realise that it’s not as scary as it can seem.
I’m a chef and have continued to work full time and don’t see much difference in my day-to-day, only sometimes I need help with carrying heavy pans. I don’t take pain killers, but find that warm water, stretches and exercise help me fight the pain instead. You can find things that work for you.
I’ve figured out how to live well with my condition
You don’t need to stay at home. I have two boys, and we all still go to Lake District and do lots of walking and running, and I do as much as I can manage at the gym.
At the start I was given immunosuppressant tablets which I took every day, but they didn’t work for me so now I take methotrexate once a week. I was worried when I was prescribed it, having heard about some of the nasty side effects, but I’ve been on it nearly a year now and it’s working fine for me.
Feeling positive about the future
At my last checkup they found my arthritis had spread. I’ve spoken to my wife about a plan b for work if continuing as a chef gets too difficult. I will go into translating instead, which will be less demanding physically. There are always options.
I’ve had to stop rock climbing because my hands don’t have enough grip to hold on. When I’m shopping, I can’t carry heavy bags, but otherwise I try to live as normally as I can.
I have hope for the future, there are new medicines coming out all the time, so things will improve for people.
I’m going to continue doing the things I love, and if I can’t carry on with some of them, I’ll find new things. I have planned a half marathon at the end of this year and am training for a full one next year.
I’d love to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for my 50th birthday, but we’ll see!
My advice to others
- You’re not alone. Try to meet other people who have the condition and get their advice.
- Join support groups and get involved in local activities. I run two or three times a week and do some light exercises which I’ve found really helps. I’m much less stiff and it’s made a huge difference to how I feel mentally.
- Try to eat well and find a healthy balance that works for you. I studied as a dietitian and have found foods that make me feel good.
- Understand all your options and go with what works for you. Remember it’s not always worst-case scenario and it’s best not to think about this unless you need to.
- Don’t let it stop your life. It can be painful but don’t give in.
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