When Joy Fennell was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis back in 2008, the future looked bleak. The New York City-based makeup artist was only in her early 30s, but she suddenly found herself unable to lift her arms over her head or walk without a cane, and the only solution doctors offered was an intensive and side effect-laden drug regimen. After becoming nearly bedridden, she decided to take her health into her own hands and find another, drug-free, path to healing.
Fennell had dealt with carpal tunnel before, so when her left wrist hurt, she didn’t think much of it. But when the right wrist began to hurt as well, and she lost the range of motion in her arms, she knew that “something was really wrong,” she told WellBe.
She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and prescribed a slate of powerful drugs, including Prednisone and Plaquenil. Though she obediently took the meds, her symptoms quietly worsened, to the point where she became nearly bedridden. At that point, her underlying apprehension about the drugs came to the surface.
“I’ve always come from a place of, ‘OK, you want me to take these drugs, but they’re just covering up what’s going on. They’re not actually fixing the problem,’” Fennell said. She felt there had to be a way to deal with the root issue through lifestyle choices— despite the fact that conventional wisdom told her RA is not curable —and she resolved to find it. If she didn’t, a full-time caretaker would be inevitable soon.
Only when Fennell began doing her own research did she learn about the impact diet can have on RA. She found story after story of people who had beaten the disease by changing what they ate, and determined that if they could do it, so could she.
A lifelong sugar addict and 100 pounds overweight at the time, Fennell began changing how she viewed food, and noticing how it affected her symptoms. “When I ate well, that’s when my symptoms would diminish,” she said. “When I ate horribly, they would come back in full force.”
Just as her lifestyle changes began helping Fennell to reclaim her life, tragedy struck: her brother died. At that point, she regained the weight, fell back into unhealthy mental and emotional habits— and all of her symptoms returned with a vengeance.
However, she’d had a taste of how lifestyle choices could transform her life, and slowly found her way back on track with the help of a friend and health coach, Charles Chen, and the discovery of Mymee, a tracking program for individuals with autoimmune disease. She paid close attention to what she ate, addressed underlying sensitivities and allergies, and found a new, healing relationship with food.
Today, Fennell walks without a cane, doesn’t take meds, and has managed to circumvent two major surgeries through lifestyle changes— despite the adamant skepticism of doctors and nurses. As she told WellBe, “One thing that I have learned after going through this journey, is that this is my body and I determine what happens in my body, no one else.”
Watch the full interview below to hear about how she avoided a double-knee replacement and neck surgery, the role that Rolfing and chiropractic treatment have played in her recovery, and why she believes it’s essential to take control of your own health destiny.