BLOOMINGTON — "When people hear 'arthritis,' they think 'Oh, my grandparents had that. It's not so bad,'" said Dawn Paul.
"I want to help them understand."
Paul, 42, of Bloomington, has rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. She also has peripheral artery disease and suffered a stroke, which may be connected to her moderate-to-severe rheumatoid arthritis.
Those diagnoses mean she can't work out of the home and occasionally needs help from her husband and children.
"My goal is to get my pain under control so I can return to work, do more on my own, help others and raise awareness (about arthritis)," Paul said.
In late 2012, Paul began to have right knee pain and swelling. In March 2013, she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, which affects the joints, and rheumatoid arthritis, which affects the immune system.
"My own immune system was attacking my body. I was 38 years old and petrified," she recalled.
By June 2013, the arthritis began affecting her feet to the point that she had trouble walking.
"On a good day, I walk with a limp. On a bad day, I need to hold onto my husband's hand when I walk."
Her hands and elbows were next. Sometimes, she needs help opening jars, stirring food, even brushing her hair.
"I randomly drop things. Sometimes, I can't pick up a pot of water. I feel a little bit less of a woman."
On Aug. 3, 2015, she had a stroke with no bleed and no blood clot. "The neurologist said the arthritis caused inflammation in the small vessels of my brain long enough to cause a stroke," Paul said.
She takes 14 medicines, including for swelling, pain, to help her sleep and for anxiety and depression. She does physical therapy at OSF Rehabilitation Services.
"I know the pain won't go away but I want it to be more manageable," she said.
Last year, she participated in the Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis.
"I still can walk. I did it for those who can't.
"I was the last person on the course. I did it (3.1 miles) in an hour and eight minutes, but I finished. I was proud of myself. I cried because it meant a great deal to me."
She is planning to walk again this year and is the adult honoree.
"I'm spreading the word, educating people and raising money for research," Paul said. "My goal is that, one day, the Jingle Bell Run will celebrate a cure for arthritis."