There’s no need to suffer in silence when you have arthritis. Alison Goulding meets a group that offers tea, laughs and a shoulder to lean on.
RHEUMATOID arthritis transformed Doreen Chard-Crosby from a working grandmother into someone who struggled to climb the stairs.
Forced to give up her job as a home carer, she also began to find everyday tasks like making a cup of tea or turning a tap off became a frustrating battle.
So now, when new people arrive at the Sunderland Arthritis Care group she chairs, she knows just how they feel.
Doreen, who lives in Lakeside Village, said: “I tell people about the group all the time and give them a leaflet. I say ‘no pressure, but come along if you fancy it.’ When you come to the group you feel you’ve done something.
“It does make a difference. I didn’t have anyone to turn to when I was diagnosed, but when Dr David Coady, who is the consultant rheumatologist at Sunderland Royal, encouraged us to start the group, everything changed.
“Family are great, but to talk to someone going through what you’re going through is really helpful. You can make suggestions, if you know something that works you can pass it on.”
The group recently celebrated its second birthday, and meets once a month at the Education Centre on Chester Road. New members are always welcome.
Doreen said: “I meet people all the time who’ve got what I’ve got but don’t go and see a specialist to get some proper treatment.
“Some people think the meetings are going to be all doom and gloom, but we have a real laugh.
“We would love some younger people to come along. It’s not fuddy duddy at all. The more the better.
“People sometimes say ‘you don’t look like you have arthritis’, but that’s because you make an effort to get up and put your make up on and get on with things. We have the group but I think it’s much harder for people who don’t have something to aim for.
As well as meeting to socialise, the group also has talks from specialists.
Wearside agony aunt Denise Robertson became a patron to the group last year, which was started following a Challenge Arthritis workshop run by Arthritis Care.
More than 10 million people in the UK have arthritis and there are more than 200 different types, though the most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid.
Osteoarthritis affects the joints while rheumatoid arthritis affects the bloodstream and is an auto immune disease.
Secretary Jean Courtney, 75, was diagnosed with osteoarthritis six years ago.
The Colombia grandmother said: “The main thing about the group was that it gave me some company. Before that I had nowhere to go where I live.
“I enjoyed the Challenge Arthritis course and thought it was something I could join in with. I feel much more connected now, especially when we have committee meetings.
“It taxes your brain sometimes, which you need when you’re getting older.
“People who come to the group can get advice and hear things they’d never thought of.
“One of our talks was from an occupational therapist who was able to organise six weeks of physio for me. It really helped my balance.
“You can get a lot of complications with arthritis, like osteoarthritis. Because I learned all the information through the group, I now take the correct calcium supplements. The things you learn in the group are very practical.”
Now Doreen and other members are doing further training so they can start a peer support group.
Doreen said: “The plan is that people who’ve been diagnosed with arthritis can come and have a one-to-one chat with one of us. We’re not medically trained, but we know what they are going through because we’ve been there ourselves.
“People caring for loved ones with arthritis can also come and have a chat with us and get some support.”
Treasurer Kay Marshall was diagnosed with rheumatoid and osteoarthritis eight years ago. It changed her life profoundly.
Kay said: “I couldn’t walk so I couldn’t work and I had to leave my job working with children with disabilities. It affects my wrists and hands and I couldn’t go running around after the children.
“I couldn’t move properly – it was awful. I was so used to going to work and I missed the social aspect, which is what I’ve found again through the group.
“Just talking to people with the same problems and getting all the information from arthritis care has really helped.
“My mam has rheumatoid arthritis. She’s 86 and she’s in a wheelchair. I think, had there been a support group when she was younger, it would have made a big difference.”
l The next Arthritis Care Sunderland Branch meeting is on Wednesday, April 3 at the Education Centre, Royal Hospital, Sunderland from 6pm to 8pm.
For more information call 520 1557.