Meet Nicole Hartbarger
As a healthy, 20 year old junior in college, the last thing on my mind was Arthritis. I thought Arthritis was a painful disease of the joints that “older” people suffered from. Little did I know I was extremely under-educated on the topic. But that was all about to change.
After a long day of classes and an even longer dinner shift as a waitress, I was exhausted. I went straight home to unwind and study for a final exam. That’s when the real pain started. Around 11pm a dull ache started in my right shoulder, which I immediately attributed it to carrying heavy trays all night at work. I tried a dose of Tylenol and laid down to sleep, but the pain continued to intensify.
That happened seven years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the first night in my life that I literally could not fall asleep; I am known to be able to sleep through anything! At 7am the next morning, I woke my Dad up and told him something was seriously wrong, as the pain had spread over to my left shoulder. We then rushed to the ER with my Mom and Step-Dad right behind us. After blood work, x-rays, lots of discussing with the physicians, we walked away with no answers, just a shot for the pain. After following up with my family doctor and having a series of tests for Lupus, Lyme disease, etc, that all came back negative, I was given a referral to a specialist to see if an answer could be found. A week or so later I had my first appointment with the referred Rheumatologist. The answer I got at this appointment was basically “nothing is wrong, get more exercise, and lose some weight.” This was very disheartening.
Six months later, after continued aches and pains, I found a new Rheumatologist and was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was completely mortified and very confused as I thought Arthritis was only something our Grandparents got! I was immediately started on a barrage of pills and was told I would probably be on medications for the rest of my life.
Once the prescriptions were filled and the monthly blood work began, it hit me that I, a healthy 21 year old going into my last year of college had a chronic disease. It made me think back to all the “aches and pains” I had suffered over the years. I wondered if I had RA all along or if those were the normal “growing pains.”
After a couple years of finding the right medication combination, moments of “why me?” and still dealing with pain, I switched doctors yet again and began a new approach to treatment. After getting used to administering the meds (needles, eeeeek!), my mood lifted, I accepted the cards that were dealt to me and I began healing mentally, physically and spiritually. I immediately felt better than I had in years!
Currently I am a 27 year old married, business woman with Rheumatoid Arthritis. It does not define me, but it is and always will be a part of me. I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Accounting from Siena Heights University and started my first job the day after I graduated in the accounting department of a manufacturing company. I’ve since been hired with Rexam Healthcare Packaging, Inc. as a Pricing Analyst and have completed my Masters of Business Administration in Finance at the University of Toledo. I work with the market to determine the best possible prices for plastic bottles for our customers who are in the healthcare industry; Pfizer, McNeil, Alcon, and Bausch and Lomb for example. Such companies produce the very same medications that I use in every day life on my journey with RA.
I realize how very lucky I am to have an amazing, understanding and caring husband, family who wants nothing but for me to succeed in life and to be healthy, and friends and co-workers who are there for me no matter what. While I understand living with RA can be cumbersome, the motto for my life is, “Things can always be worse.” RA can be difficult to deal with at times, but I am thankful for where I am now.
After I graduated from the Masters program at UT in December, I knew I wanted to start volunteering for an organization with all of the extra time I would have. The Arthritis Foundation made sense to me; why not help the same foundation that will help me combat the chronic disease that I and so many others suffer from? Also, I figured I could meet people who are in the same situation and educate myself and others on all forms of Arthritis. I contacted Cherie at the NW Ohio chapter and began helping with my first fundraiser immediately. I am so blessed to be the honoree for the Bone Bash. I look forward to many years of volunteering with the Arthritis Foundation and helping to make a difference in the lives for those of us with any form of Arthritis!