Photo Credit: Courtesy of LaReeia Howard
For LaReeia Howard, 39, it all started with pain in her legs. It was so bad that she couldn’t sleep at night, which meant she was exhausted throughout the day. Pain medications didn’t help and her doctors didn’t know what was wrong. For a while, they thought it might be bursitis, but treating that only made things worse.
Howard’s husband Darryl and her young son Kerry were extremely helpful, especially before her diagnosis when they didn’t know for sure what was happening to her. They took charge and encouraged her to rest, while making meals and doing chores around the house. “It made my little boy grow up more,” she says of her son, who was six when LaReeia was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. “He was more responsible then than he is now at 13.”
Still, Howard did her best to keep the burden off of their shoulders. “Sometimes I was alright and sometimes I wasn’t,” she says. “The days I was alright, I’d iron my little boy’s clothes, and put five day’s worth on the dresser in case I was sick.” Of the bad days Howard says, “I’d get out of bed and I’d be lying on the couch and I’d be crying, because it hurt really, really bad. I tried not to disturb Darryl and my son.” But her husband would find her. “He’d fix me a pillow and he’d sit with me when I’d be hurting, and it helped.”
Since Howard and her twin sister, LaFreeia, had a history of developing the same medical conditions, it wasn’t a surprise to learn that they both experienced similar symptoms of pain and fatigue. They say it helped to have someone so close going through the same thing. Depending on who was feeling better, one sister would visit the other to offer support and help out around the house.
A new life
After about five years of symptoms, a rheumatologist finally diagnosed Howard with fibromyalgia and referred her to a neurologist for treatment. She felt great to finally have a diagnosis, she says, because she finally knew what was wrong with her. Eventually it was confirmed that her sister had fibromyalgia too.
Around the time she was diagnosed, Howard began working in a warehouse, loading trucks. It was strenuous work that required her to be on her feet all day. “It hurt constantly when I was working all day long.”
Water aerobics and stretching exercises eased her pain a little, but it was medication that really made the difference in Howard’s treatment. Now she can work around the house and take care of her family without the pain. Flare ups are rare, as well. “I’ll have a flare up when the weather gets cold—winter is the worst time for me—or if I stay up too late and I don’t get any sleep that night,” she says.
Her treatment plan has proven to be a successful blueprint for her sister, who has been able to follow Howard’s example. Their fibromyalgia symptoms have been so similar, that the treatments that work for Howard are often beneficial for her twin.
Now that Howard has her fibromyalgia under control, she encourages others to seek the diagnoses and treatments they need. “Fibromyalgia is a disease and a lot of people want to tell you it’s not and that there’s nothing wrong with you,” she says. “But you still need to go to the doctor, and if that doctor doesn’t want to accept that it is a disease, keep going until you find a doctor that will listen to you. That pain is real.”