Back in February 2010, excruciating pain in my wrists and fingers prompted me to see a hand specialist. The doctor listened as I described my symptoms; she examined my hands and even took X-rays, but she couldn’t identify the problem. As a last-ditch effort, she suggested we run a blood test to rule out the possibility of rheumatoid arthritis. My immediate thought: There’s no way I have rheumatoid arthritis. I was a runner who exercised regularly; apart from my hands, I felt really good. But it didn’t matter how preposterous it sounded. Rheumatoid arthritis was on the doctor’s radar, and that’s all it took to really worry me. I assumed the worst, imagining myself in a condition where I couldn’t walk or use my hands. Everything changed during the week between the blood test and test results. I spoke with a friend who assured me that rheumatoid arthritis was not the images swirling around my mind. She told me the diagnosis doesn’t automatically confine you to a wheelchair. She helped me recognize I wasn’t powerless. I learned rheumatoid arthritis isn’t a disease you worry about; it’s a disease you take action against. For me, the first course of action was research. I scoured the internet, printing out articles and buying books. I looked up everything from exercises to worst-case scenarios. The more I learned, the less frightened I became. By the time the doctor delivered my positive test results, I was armed and ready. To this day, new discoveries continue to guide my actions. I know rheumatoid arthritis can affect your organs and often your eyesight. So I continue to raise the issue with my ophthalmologist. I know the pain and stiffness actually subsides with physical activity. So I make every effort to exercise, even when the idea of moving my joints is far from appealing. But, like my initial perception, the public opinion about rheumatoid arthritis remains outdated. If you’re struggling with a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, my advice is to educate yourself. You’ll soon realize the diagnosis isn’t what you think. A number of very effective treatment options are available now. You just have to be willing to try them. Sandra Edwards lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, Bob, and their mini schnauzer, Otto. She sits on the Leadership Council for the Arthritis Foundation’s Atlanta chapter.