Meet Sheila Cruthirds, ProHealth Manager of Print Marketing, FM & CFS Patient

Sheila Cruthirds, ProHealth’s Manager of Print Marketing, is a real American (Fibromyalgia) success story. After years of struggle, her health status is greatly improved, supported by the best nutritional advice she can get and a “team” of knowledgeable care professionals. She has hardly any Fibro fog, more energy, a workable strategy for handling bouts with pain and sleep problems, and new goals in her sights. But she’s always mindful that progress is never a straight line. Sheila has had to go off the tracks and find her own path many times to get where she is today. A woman with nice brown eyes, a mass of curly brown hair, and a voice you’d warm to, Sheila was raised by her grandparents in a little Northern Minnesota farming community (McIntosh). However, she also got a taste of opportunities in the wider world during summer trips with her free spirited stewardess/model mother. Even before Sheila knew for sure what “marketing” was, she says, she indicated it was her career goal when applying to the University of North Dakota. But between her freshman and sophomore years at UND, staying on the expected track became impossible. She was a passenger in an auto accident that left both knees badly damaged. As a result, she had to drop out of school while she regained her ability to walk again. Next she worked as a business and marketing manager at her mother’s day spa in Arkansas, and then, still struggling with swollen knees and chronic pain, drove out to California to pick up where she’d left off on the education and career track. For a while, Sheila did OK living in Santa Barbara with her crowded life of work, marketing/communications classes at Antioch University, and a new marriage. But pain, fatigue, infections, digestive and bladder problems, and mental fog all advanced insidiously until one day, walking up a gentle slope to her school, she just couldn’t make it. “I sat down and cried,” Sheila recalls. “My body fell apart. I knew something was wrong but I had no idea what.” Next came the search for a diagnosis. “All they could come up with was Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS),” she recalls. “And I said ‘That’s good to know, but it doesn’t explain all the rest of what I’m experiencing.’ They really didn’t have any help for me, except: ‘Just try not to eat certain things.’ It got so I took crackers and ginger ale with me everywhere I went to try and keep my stomach settled down. As I didn’t really know what was wrong, or have a full diagnosis, I didn’t know how to take care of myself. So I was eating things and doing things that of course were making my symptoms worse” – for the next six or seven years in fact. Sheila endured scores of physician visits, tests, one damaging assessment telling her that it was all psychosomatic, and stints as a human pharmaceutical “guinea pig” which often produced side effects like skin discoloration and a severe case of hives that landed her in the emergency room. “Even my husband, Curt, who has had Type 1 diabetes for over 40 years and has done an amazing job of pulling himself up by the bootstraps, was saying ‘They can’t find anything wrong. Your tests are all normal. You look fine. Just push yourself forward and you’ll feel better soon,’” says Sheila. “He was doing the best he could to support me with what he knew worked for him, especially since I had no clarifying medical answers forthcoming, but of course with Fibro it had the total opposite effect.” Then fate intervened. A specialist filling in for her regular physician diagnosed Sheila with Interstitial Cystitis (IC), known as “painful bladder disease,” which many people with Fibromyalgia also have. And subsequently another physician who takes a special interest in keeping up with the latest clinical research studies and trials finally diagnosed her saying, “Sheila, you’ve got Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome too. Your symptoms are all part of these illnesses,’” she recalls. “I was so excited that there were actually names for what I had been experiencing. I could now do some research and find out what I needed to do to hopefully start feeling better.” After this she took her first big step on the road to recovery. As her husband was on the board of the American Diabetes Association, she connected with a nationally-known endocrinologist in town “who is ‘radical’ because she believes in vitamins and supplements,” says Sheila. “She told me, ‘You know, your body is starving,’ and gave me advice and guidance on foundation nutrients I needed. Then she said, ‘Once the foundation is in place, we can build from there.’” “Within four months on the nutritional supplements, a huge amount of my symptoms, especially hormonal, had calmed down,” Sheila recalls. “The fibro fog was better, and it felt like a miracle, after eight years and the thousands and thousands of dollars we’d spent, to finally feel an improvement.” Still, Sheila and her husband “have to live around” their chronic conditions, giving up some of the trips and luxuries they’d be spending their money on if not for the necessary investments in healthcare, alternative treatments, supportive supplements, and medications. “Right now I use a team approach for my healthcare,” Sheila adds. This includes a group of professionals who help her deal with the ever-changing challenges of FM and CFS – ranging from her physician, who still constantly scans the medical literature for news and suggestions, to a naturopathic doctor, a chiropractor, a well-informed nutritionist, and a massage therapist who also does acupuncture. As for her position as Manager of Print Marketing with ProHealth, Sheila says it was serendipity. “For years I searched the Web for information on Fibromyalgia, and I kept coming up with articles from and Then I found out the company was located only five minutes from my house, and when this position opened up that matched my professional background, my training and my illnesses, it seemed as though a job with ProHealth was a perfect fit. Here, I’m able to talk with other FM and CFS patients, and staff, and give them support about symptoms and supplements from my Fibro/CFS point of view. I feel very grateful to be able to assist in this way.” Sheila was invited to be in the National Fibromyalgia Association’s “Leaders Against Pain Advocacy and Media Training Seminar” in March 2006. And she was recently interviewed for an upcoming article on how massage therapy helps people with Fibromyalgia for Woman’s World magazine. This story should be released in Fall 2006 – so we will keep you updated on which issue it will be in. Still, Sheila wants to make her experiences count even more for patients. “My goal is to take what I’ve learned to help others,” she says. “Now I think my health has improved enough to pursue this.” Starting this fall she’ll be attending classes three days a month at the local Pacifica Graduate Institute, ultimately aiming for an M.A./Ph.D. degree in psychology specifically tailored to help her support people with chronic illnesses. But as she knows full well, her illness will dictate speed and direction. “You live day to day with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,” Sheila says. “You work with it, accommodate it, and it doesn’t always fit into your plans. Sometimes these illnesses dictate your day, and you have to honor that. You know if the car’s not working properly, you don’t push it. If it has no oil, you can’t expect it to run properly. So I’ve had to learn how to be gentle with myself and know if I have a bad day, that’s OK, and hopefully tomorrow will be better. I have to advocate for my health, and accept my limits. My pride does pop up, as I’d like to think I can just do it all, but I have to accept if I do push myself too hard, I’ll get sick. "But when I look back over the past 12 years, I can see how far I’ve come. And I want others to know that regardless of how much has been lost as a result of these illnesses; with patience, persistence and continual work to find out what makes a difference for you personally, life with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can improve, just don’t give up!”

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