Vanessa Hamler: Champion and Advocate for Autoimmune Disease Community

My name is Vanessa Hamler and I have always been a go getter.  All of my life, I have made things happen in my personal and professional life. I felt like I was on top of the world. After the recent down-turn in the economy I decided to return to school and pursue my dream of becoming a chef. I enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu 2009. In 2011, I finished culinary school and began to work at a four-star restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. At the age of 40, I felt accomplished and proud. I was realizing my dreams left and right, taking advantages of open doors that would help me climb the tricky ladder of success. Then, something changed.

I developed a limp. 

This had never happened before; it came out of nowhere. Very soon after that, my hands became swollen and brittle and eventually lost movement. My body was achy and very stiff––I felt like I had the flu. I went to my primary care doctor to try and find out what was going on. They did blood work and referred me to a rheumatologist, but it took me three months to get an appointment.

Finally, on March 23, 2012, at the age of 41, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I had no idea what that was but was very sure that I would be ok. While at my appointment, my rheumatologist gave me several different prescriptions and directions. I asked how long I would have to take this medicine. His response was that I would have to that this medicine indefinitely…that there was no cure of rheumatoid arthritis. Leaving out of the doctor’s office I had so many feeling running through my head. How could I have something that does not have a cure? Is this going to kill me?

When I returned home I went into a severe depression. It took all I had just to get up in the morning and get my daughter to school.  I had given up! I was in so much pain and my body began to react in a bad way to the medication that I was given. It has taken a while to determine an effective course of treatment. Currently, I am on a duo of biologics. One I take daily, and the other is an infusion every 6 weeks. My rheumatologist also suggested physical therapy, but severe inflammation prevents it from being effective. As a result of the autoimmune arthritis I have challenges walking up and down stairs, preparing food, combing my hair––actually, most daily tasks are a challenge for me at this time.

When I was first diagnosed, I just thought it was an isolated that that would affect a knee or hand one at a time. I never knew there were some forms that were more intense, affecting the entire body and causing total debilitation. And I certainly never thought I would be a victim.

I began researching and asking questions. I was very afraid of the answers but I asked anyway. I noticed that the awareness and information really did not show minorities with the disease. This research lacked hope, motivation and it made me feel sadder than I originally had been. Since then, I have started my own awareness movement. I decided to become the change that I wanted to see. I have had several speaking engagements at retirement communities, nursing homes, and health fairs. I have also traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak to legislators about laws effecting individuals with debilitating diseases. Perhaps most importantly, I hosted the first autoimmune awareness walk in the state of Georgia.

I am motivated every day to share my story and connect with those who are affected as I am. There are so many different types of arthritis. And contrary to popular belief it is more than an old person's aches. It is a life-changing condition that should not be underestimated. I believe that if I keep pushing to educate others and raise awareness about this horrible disease, we can find a cure. I will continue to speak and share my experiences with the hope that it will help the suffering and the afflicted. I am encouraged to lift up others as we face this disease.

Cure bring possibilities.


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