My name is Mark Waligora. Thanks for taking time to read my story. I have always lead a pretty active life. In my 40’s, I even began running, weight training, and cycling to keep balance within my mind, body, and spirit as I aged. My passion for exercise even turned into an obsession for long distance running races and triathlons, with a goal to compete in a 50 and 100 mile Ultra Running Race before I turned 50. It seemed like the older I got, the more that I wanted to challenge myself to greater feats of endurance. The mental challenge of training, along with the energy of races, kept me feeling youthful and healthy. However, it would all change on February 17th, 2016. At the age of 48, after facing several months of debilitating pain, I was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA).
Early in 2014, after a series of multiple injuries, which I wrote off as just sports related at the time, I decided to take 6 months off to rest my body for an upcoming challenge. The plan was to start late summer of 2014, after I healed, to prepare for a personal goal to run 3 half marathons in 3 months. I’d put on a few pounds as I rested and the holidays were coming up, so you get the point. The training was also in preparation to start some more serious training for a 50 mile Ultra in the spring of 2015. While training for the first half marathon, I again started to have pain in my shoulders, feet, toes, back, elbows, and fingers. The pain was random at times and seemed to move around for no reason. I really didn’t think much of it, as pain was normal with training, or so I thought. However, I pushed on and fought through the pain with the help of modern medicine that could mask the pain for a period of time.
On Oct 25th, 2014 it was finally half marathon time. I took a couple of pain relievers, immersed myself in the energy of the other runners, hobbled up to the starting line, and bang, it was go time. I wasn’t really out to PR the race. It was more about the long term plan, so it was a slow go from the start, and once I warmed up and the endorphin’s kicked in, I was feeling good. However, I can remember it exactly, I had just hit mile 10 when the pain struck with a vengeance in my lower back, almost dropping me to my knees. The pain was so severe that I should have withdrawn from the race, but with only 3 miles left why quit then? My motto was always “run until you die, or something breaks”. So, after a few minutes, and a couple more pain relievers that I had tucked away, I finished the race. Well off my pace (1:55:49), but at least I was under 2 hours. Little did I know that at the time, that would be the last race I would ever run…
The following day, and the months before my diagnosis, the pain intensified so much that it was unbearable at times. The aches and pains were relentless day and night. It even hurt worse when I was resting. The pain was so severe that I was not sleeping much. I could barely walk and, at times, I struggled to even get out of bed. Emotionally and physically, the constant pain took its toll on me, and mentally I just couldn’t understand why. I sank into depression, became irritable, and I was just a miserable person to be around. My world was upside down, my goals slipped away as the holiday approached, and frankly, I was an unbearable beast to be around as the pain was consuming me.
2015 was really kind of a blur as I look back. The pain eased up a bit after seeing a sports doctor who prescribes steroids, which did the trick of masking the pain. My training was spotty, as the pain would seem to come and go without reason. Without consistent training, however, I was lost, and I began drinking and eating more as the stress, anxiety, and depression was sneaking its way in again.
Friends of ours, along with my wife, had planned a trip to Sedona, AZ with a 4-day hiking and camping trip in the Grand Canyon in October. Well if I can’t run, I could still walk, I think…Yes, finally something to look forward to- a long distance hike? I’m mean, I did do a full trail marathon before. What’s hiking, but just a long walk? In preparation for the trip, I started some light training by walking and weight training. When October came around, it was another round of steroids, and I was good to go. After 2 days of trails in beautiful Sedona, 4 days of hiking to and around the Havasu falls area and spending 3 nights on the floor of Grand Canyon, I was in love with hiking!
The following month after that life awaking trip is when my whole universe fell apart. It was the kind of relentless pain, no longer masked by pain relievers, and the emotional torture that makes you realize why people take it into their hands to end their lives. That was the waking moment for me to finally seek additional medical attention, instead of seeing a sports doctor who was just pushing pills. No longer will steroids mask the reality of the pain. I knew something else was wrong. After seeing my regular doctor, she immediately sent me to the Rheumatologist. The Rheumatologist talked with me about possible causes, such as Lupus, MS, and RA and sent me to the lab for blood testing. I can’t tell you the hell that I went through waiting for the results of the tests.
As a youth, I was plagued with a mild form of Psoriasis, which is dead flaky skin, inflamed red spots, which were mainly confined to my elbows and knees. In fact, I was very lucky, as these places where easy to conceal with clothing, but nevertheless, the impact of this disease takes a toll on one’s conscience, confidence, and emotions. I did my best not to let my condition control my life, and for the most part, I lived my life like most normal teens while hiding, as best I could, my embarrassing red patchy skin.
As time went on, I sought out many different treatments. Many of which had little effect, as much wasn’t known in the medical field about Psoriasis. Topical creams, steroid cream, sunlight treatment, eating more turkey. Yep, turkey. Like I said, not much was known and ultimately these treatments did not work. It wasn’t until my early 40’s that my Psoriasis seemed to go away all by itself. Well, at least about 98% of it. I was so relieved, but little did I know that it was just part of the storm that was building in me. You see, about 30 percent of people with psoriasis also develop a form of inflammatory arthritis called psoriatic arthritis (PsA). Like psoriasis, PsA is an autoimmune disease, meaning it occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, in this case, the joints and skin.
It’s now closing on 2 years since my PsA diagnosis and my treatment consists of a once a week pill form of Methotrexate. Methotrexate is typically used for chemotherapy for cancer patients, but it also has positive effects on RA patients. So far, I’ve had good results and most days, I’m around 98% pain-free. However, the Methotrexate scares me. It scares me, even more, the longer that I’m on it. I’m told that I’m on it for life. However, it’s necessary in order to live my life without constant debilitating pain, which is not something I’d ever want to go back to.
I’m now 49 years old, and my diagnosis has made me think about my life, my goals, my dreams, my universe…I still have a lot to learn and a lot that I need to unlearn. I want to live a meaningful life and accomplish new personal and spiritual goals. One of those goals is to inspire others to live with purpose. In retrospect, getting sick was a call to action for a greater story yet to unfold. Be_again!