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Walking to Cure Arthritis

Cathy Burgess, an industry vet who’s been with Opus for over ten years, faces more than the typical challenges that face hard-working event planners .

A few years ago, she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disorder that involves painful swelling and inflammation of the joints. It affects everyone differently, but for someone like Cathy, whose days onsite at large-scale events can mean hours upon hours on her feet, the diagnosis was heartbreaking. But of course, she wasn’t going to let it stop her: 

At the age of 38 my world shook when I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. A mother of two young girls aged 6 and 2, a wife and a corporate event planner traveling the world, I had no idea what to do.

Debilitating pain and swelling—I wasn’t able to type, clean the house, hold my baby, or walk. After a doctor misdiagnosed me with a “virus,” I ended up in emergency care swollen so bad my hands looked like lobster claws. I’m forever thankful for the young doctor who looked at me and asked my husband the question that is burned in my memory: “How long has she been like this?” My husband’s answer still puts tears in my eyes—“A second too long!” My husband explained the hot spots, the pain, and the tough wife he married who could not move. After receiving medication, along with the best rheumatologist’s number, we had a path to follow.

Crying to my rheumatologist, I was devastated. She leaned over and said to me through my tears, “I’ll help you walk again… You’ll hold your baby again.”

Life gives you challenges and I want to always look at the challenge face on and with joy! I see this illness as a gift. A gift to live each day to the fullest, to live life with joy, to appreciate all the small things, to take time to be the best mother, wife, and person I can be.

Challenges help you see that sometimes you have to just do things differently. I don’t look at my illness of RA as something that will hold me back but only that I need to do things a bit differently. I got to buy new shoes—more comfortable shoes! I rest when I need to and do my best to not feel guilty as I know my body needs it. I live life to the fullest and take advantage of good days. I carry things differently, take easier paths when needed, and have learned to ask for help when I need it.

When I was first diagnosed, my youngest daughter was 2. She’s petite and loves to be held, but I couldn’t hold her. With her being such a little climber we always called her our little monkey. I taught her how to hold onto me like a baby monkey holds onto its mama—tight around her middle. Today my daughter, now 10, still “Monkeys UP” and I can hold her! She’s strong and holds on tight and it’s our way of a tight loving hug!

My illness has also been a gift for my daughters. They have learned about how people are affected with illness and how their compassion and kindness can make a great impact. They have hearts of gold and are my hands and feet when I need support.

As a corporate event planner my job is high pressure and high stress. Traveling around the world, working up to 18-hour days can be trying, and with RA they can be even tougher. With the amazing support of my colleagues, I’m able to do my job—sometimes maybe a bit different. There are times that I can’t lift a box, need to get off my feet, or need to leave a show floor to take my meds. They are there for me and understand. One colleague has been a dear friend for many years and kept track of when I had to take my shots. She knew I hated taking them but also knew they were important. She’d send me messages with encouragement to take my shot and check in with me the next day to see how things went.

After many doctors, naturopaths, alternative medicine, and dietary changes I was given the green light that I was in remission! This took a few years and lots of discovery of how I needed to do things differently to ease my pain but it was worth it. Recently, I’ve been able to take my 24 shots a year down to 4 with adding a new daily medicine that is for a lower level of RA, while keeping my natural supplements, diet, and changes in life.

Living with a chronic painful illness is difficult, especially when others really can’t see it. From the beginning my husband has been my rock of support and understanding. He knows from my walk and even my voice when I’m in pain and fatigued. Without him I don’t think I could have made this challenge something that I see as a blessing or have been able to change my perspective from living a life debilitated to living my life with joy!

Cathy Burgess is a Senior Director of Team Operations for Opus and is this year’s adult honoree at the Arthritis Foundation’s Walk to Cure Arthritis in the Great West Region. To learn more about Cathy and the work done by the Arthritis Foundation (or join her team), visit the event website.

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