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Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis: Diagnosis Has Transformed Her Into a Self-Described ‘Warrior’

Posted on April 11, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Patricia Pinto-Garcia, M.D.
Article written by
Marcia Frellick

  • Randi B. Likely was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at age 16.
  • Now, at 25, she has become a self-described RA “warrior” and started an accessories business with that theme.
  • While there are things about the condition she can’t control, she’s learned there are many ways to minimize pain from swollen joints.

At 25 years old, Randi B. Likely of Houston is a self-described rheumatoid arthritis “warrior.”

“My RA doesn’t control me,” she said. “I’m able to control it.”

The word “warrior” appears in her social media handles and email address. She has a warrior arrow tattooed on her wrist. She designs clothing items and accessories with warrior-themed slogans and sells them online under the brand Warrior Union.

She says she gets strength from telling her story.

A Swollen Knee Was the First Sign

Likely was just 10 years old when, one day, her knee puffed up and she couldn’t walk on it. Later on, her shoulder swelled, and she couldn’t lift her arm away from her body. At 15, she lost dexterity in her hand and temporarily couldn’t turn doorknobs because of finger swelling. She told her mom that her fingers felt as though they had been jammed into something, like the pain you’d feel if a hurled basketball hit your fingertips dead-on.

Doctors tried to find answers, but it was not until she was 16 that she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Her young age contributed to the difficulty in pinpointing the cause of her symptoms, as the disease more typically develops in people several decades older.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), “RA can begin at any age, but the likelihood increases with age. The onset of RA is highest among adults in their sixties.”

With RA, the immune system attacks the wrong cells in the body — healthy cells — causing painful swelling. It mainly attacks the joints and sometimes many joints at once.

About a year after her diagnosis, Likely regularly felt the effects of RA when she was driving. Sometimes, it was hard to grip the steering wheel.

“Just getting ready in the morning and doing my hair and my makeup, my hands were in a lot of pain,” she said.

When the pain kicked in, she sometimes had to sit on the sidelines instead of playing in basketball games.

Learning To Manage Her RA Symptoms

Now, after living nearly a decade with the diagnosis, Likely works on controlling her RA with diet, exercise, and medication. Her first medication was in pill form, but now she injects medication into her thigh once every two weeks. These injections are her fourth successive medication. After a few years, her body typically stops responding to what she’s taking and her rheumatologist tries a different treatment, she said.

Likely never knows when the flares will come, though repetitive motions tend to bring them on. But she has learned what works best when they do come. Warm baths or a heating pad can help tame her pain.

“If I am in a lot of pain,” she said, “having someone else move my joint actually really helps to relieve some pain and just get my joint moving again.”

On rough days, it’s easy to cry and be angry that she has to deal with the disease, she said. But it helps her to get messages from people who follow her on social media and have been inspired by something she has posted.

Online ‘Accountability Partners’

Likely is thankful for “accountability partners” — the people who reach out when she hasn’t posted in a while, when she’s posted something emotional, or to tell her she has helped them with their own journey.

She said the good days far outweigh the bad. She focuses on the positives, including that her firsthand experience can help others who are struggling.

She has become an advocate on social media for RA awareness, and she has a part-time job moderating questions for the website RheumatoidArthritis.net and its affiliated Facebook pages. She helps people who have questions about their RA find answers from experts.

Likely said her passion right now is graduating in April from Texas Chiropractic College in Pasadena, Texas, and then starting her own chiropractic practice.

Debunking Common Misconceptions

People have misconceptions about RA, Likely said. Many are surprised that she experienced the disease at such a young age. But she explained, “Everyone’s RA is totally different.”

She had to learn that people can control their RA in very different ways. Some people make a certain change to their diet, and it really helps their pain. But other people make the same change and don’t benefit. That can be frustrating, especially for those who are newly diagnosed.

“You have to give yourself and your body so much grace,” she said.

Likely also pointed out that RA is different from other kinds of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis and psoriatic arthritis, which are more common. Each kind affects people differently.

These days, she keeps active with working out and sports, including track. She modifies her exertion as needed.

Likely knows there are some things she can’t control with the RA. But she’s discovering the things she can.

“I control how I wake up and my thought process throughout the day and what I want to accomplish that day. That’s why I love the word ‘warrior’ so much,” she said.

Randi B. Likely told her story as part of a partnership between GoodRx Health and MyHealthTeam, which creates social networks for people living with chronic conditions. On myRAteam, the social network for people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, members share firsthand experiences, practical tips, and emotional support in a secure online community. Medical experts and specialists share trusted information via articles, videos, and virtual events. It’s free to join myRAteam via mobile app and the web.

GoodRx believes sharing your health journey can educate and inspire others. Want to tell your story? Follow these steps to share yours.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Patricia Pinto-Garcia, M.D. is a medical editor for GoodRx. Learn more about her here.
Marcia Frellick is an independent health care journalist based in Chicago. Learn more about her here.

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