American tennis player and 2019 Australian Open semi-finalist Danielle Collins has spoken about coping with rheumatoid arthritis in her post on the Behind the Racquet series. Collins is a former two-time NCAA singles champion and is currently ranked No.
51 in the world. The 26 year old reveals she struggled with her health issues from her teenage years. "It started when I was 15. I was having bad pain in my ribs and issues going to the bathroom. I was extremely sick for a couple months and saw more than a few doctors.
I went to a rheumatologist and I tested positive for an autoimmune disease. Everything else looked okay but the doctors told us that it takes some time to accurately diagnose. After a couple months they were still finding my bloodwork to be normal.
I was having symptoms that were consistent with someone with an autoimmune but they weren’t able to narrow it down. While in college I would get sick all the time. My college coaches were always pushing me to see doctors and stay on top of it because the health challenges they saw I was constantly facing.
No one could figure it out. When I stepped away from college it seemed like I was getting healthier. I stopped having as many health issues." Collins was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis two years ago.
"Then, about two years ago, I started to feel very sore in different areas like my neck, wrists, hands and even more in my joints. It was right before the Australian Open when I thought this was all just from training hard.
When I played a few days in a row the pain would feel different than normal. I spoke to a family doctor and he recommended with everything I have been feeling to go to a rheumatologist and ask to get tested for rheumatoid arthritis.
I was fighting back on it because I knew what that was, my grandmother had it and that’s not what I have. I am too young, that can’t be real for someone my age. I pushed it off for a long time. Periodically I would get bad joint pain, around my menstrual cycle, and it would be debilitating.
I would have a hard time getting out of bed and on the worst days would sleep for 15 hours straight. I constantly felt drowsy and tired. The weird thing is I got accustomed to feeling this way. I forgot what it was like to feel healthy and energetic.
I forgot what it feels like to wake up without pain in my hands and feet. My body adapted to figure out ways to ignore it. It was 2019 Wimbledon, where I was playing doubles with Bethanie. I was having terrible pain in my hands.
I knew something was really wrong. After the loss, I was packing to go home. I couldn’t even fold my clothes with all the pain in my hands. It was the worst pain of my life. I threw everything in my suitcase and went back to Florida, where it began to feel better.
I thought it was strange, that it actually improved, so I decided to get tested for allergies. Maybe I just needed to adjust my diet. My family doctor told me to go to a rheumatologist again, but I didn’t, I thought I knew better.
The allergist said to not drink coconut water and was a bit gluten intolerant, which would help with inflammation. Again, after a few weeks the pain returned. My feet were so inflamed it seemed they changed shapes. I was playing in August in San Jose and it all became unbearable.
It was everywhere. Each part of my body was cracking and popping. This was the last straw and I decided to see the rheumatologist. My appointment was in a few weeks, so I decided to play Toronto in the mean time, which didn’t help.
I knew I needed to take care of this before the US Open. After seeing the rheumatologist they found normal bloodwork with erosion in my neck, hands and feet, which was consistent with RA. It took a lot of bloodwork to rule out other diseases, such as lupus, but they finally diagnosed me with RA after the US Open.
That is when I started on medication. The medication only worked to a certain point. I didn’t want to try all these new ones, especially since my quality of life was not improving. I have been on two different medications since then that have worked very well.
I have mixed that with a pretty strict diet. Through all of this I have learned what I need to do for myself and what prevents a flare up. I monitor my training and write everything down. I am far more methodical and understand my needs when I am not feeling well.
As tennis players we all get caught up in what everyone else is doing and now I am finding what works for me. I have found peace of mind knowing that everyone is dealing with something in one way or another. I am putting myself in the best situation to be a healthy adult."
The American says she was determined to continue pursuing her tennis career and worked hard to stay mentally strong during this time and hopes to inspire others by sharing her journey. "There was no question if I was going to continue playing tennis or not.
I always answer, ‘F**k yes, I am still playing’. This is what I love to do. Going through this has given me the mental strength to fight through even my worst days on court. Still having all these goals in mind for me as an athlete helped me deal with all I did.
I work diligently a few times a week with a psychologist through it all. I’ve had many people say RA isn’t a real thing and all I need is herbal remedies to help me relax. It was challenging because I felt extremely isolated after my diagnosis.
I don’t know any people my age that have it. When I talk to someone they say, ‘I understand, sometimes I get joint pain when I run’. It isn’t the same. There was just a lot of scrutiny I faced, especially since I was an athlete.
You want to believe that you don’t care what others think but in the end you take some things to heart. I didn’t want to be viewed that I was weaker than others just because of it. I didn’t want people calling me sick or let this disease define me.
I had to take my situation and find the positives. I have moved forward in many areas the last few months but it still makes me nervous to think I may be a role model for others. I’m not the most outspoken person but I am working on being more comfortable with trying to help others through my experiences”.