What my life looks like 4 years after my AS diagnosis

Lifestyle modifications and a starch-free diet helped ease symptoms

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by Janneke Phung |

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It was a Saturday afternoon in October 2019. While I was the mom of three active young boys, sadly, it wasn’t unusual for me to be resting in bed at that time of day. I remember the moment vividly, because it was when I received a life-changing call from our family doctor.

“The good news is you don’t need back surgery,” the doctor began. “However, it appears you have ankylosing spondylitis. I will refer you to a rheumatologist who will explain treatment options. Don’t worry, you won’t have to live with this kind of pain forever.”

The years leading up to that moment were filled with endless medical appointments. Many were with professionals who attempted to treat my pain, while others aimed to diagnose me.

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I felt immense relief at finally receiving a diagnosis following an MRI. Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is not a walk in the park, but living with undiagnosed and constantly increasing pain, in my opinion, was worse. Chronic pain is physically and emotionally stressful. Add to that the medical professional who hinted that the pain might be in my head. Then, suddenly, the diagnosis of an incurable autoimmune disease provided massive validation.

The relief was instant, but the reality of a lifelong diagnosis eventually set in. I continued to struggle physically and emotionally. I grieved the diagnosis and tried to come to terms with the realization that I might never be the active and involved mom I had hoped to be. I felt trapped in a stiff and pain-riddled body that seemed a half-century older than the 33-year-old me. I didn’t have much hope for the future concerning my physical well-being.

Still, a diagnosis provided hope and a good starting point for treatment. I intended to pursue mainstream treatment to achieve pain relief as quickly as possible. I eagerly awaited my initial visit with a rheumatologist, although I was on a monthslong waitlist.

In the meantime

While waiting for my appointment, the realization that I was battling an incurable and often progressive disease created enough motivation to commit to strict lifestyle modification. As it turned out, by the time my rheumatologist appointment came around, my symptoms were largely under control with alternative treatment methods.

My first year post-diagnosis was full of unique challenges. I did a strict starch-free elimination diet, which meant eating only chicken and broccoli for a good chunk of the year (which, in hindsight, isn’t necessarily something I would do again). I became more diligent about stretching and exercising. In short, I tried everything in my power to get control of the inflammation in my body. I think it is fair to say that I became somewhat of a health nut.

It’s been 3.5 years since my diagnosis, and I continue to follow a strict, starch-free, anti-inflammatory diet, which allows me to live a life free of AS symptoms. I’m grateful to be able to share my health journey and starch-free recipes on a website I’ve created. It has brought purpose to my pain.

When we are in the thick of pain, it is hard to imagine a normal life. But I’m here to tell you that my family doctor was right: I no longer live with constant pain.

Looking back, I realize that receiving a diagnosis after decades of pain proved to be a critical turning point for me. Going forward, I plan to focus on healing my gut lining and microbiome, as I have a sneaking suspicion that it will lead to further progress in managing this incurable disease. I am so grateful and relieved that I feel healthier now than I did for decades before my diagnosis.

Thanks for reading! You can learn more about my story, browse starch-free recipes, or peruse the stories of others who successfully manage their AS with diet and lifestyle modifications on my website. Join me on Instagram and Facebook for the latest updates and recipes.

Note: Ankylosing Spondylitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ankylosing Spondylitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ankylosing spondylitis.


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