This weeks Feature Friday has got to be one of the most incredible women we have been lucky enough to come into contact with. This young lady was diagnosed with a serious disease at a very young age. You may have heard of this disease through commercials as you are watching your favorite sitcom. Its time to hit the pause button, learn a little something, and bring awareness to Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Anna took her diagnosis and did something great with it, she gave it a voice. We are here to help share her story and bring awareness to this community. Without further ado, meet Anna Legassie!
GL: Please tell us a little background on yourself —-who is Anna? Where you grew up? What your childhood was like? Anything you might want to share with us.
AL: I live in Boston with my partner and our adopted Chocolate Lab, Penny. I grew up 20 minutes south of here with my parents and my two younger sisters. Me and my sisters are incredibly close, and you might also say that together we’re a force to be reckoned with. We’ve been told that being in the same room with all three of us at once requires taking Excedrin Migraine! We were lucky to spend our summers growing up on Cape Cod which is where my love affair with the ocean started. When I’m not at the beach I love yoga, gardening, wine and vinyl. I work in management consulting, but given the opportunity to do it all over again, I would’ve gone to culinary school!
GL: Please share with us the moment you learned of your RA diagnosis and how that affected your life.
AL: I was only 11 when I was diagnosed, and so it’s hard to remember the exact moment. What I do remember though is being in the hospital, and a doctor came in during rounds with a huge group of medical students and presented my case. I understood then that this wasn’t what they were expecting to find, and that my life would never be the same.
GL: How would you describe Rheumatoid Arthritis to someone that is unfamiliar with the disease?
AL: I always differentiate between Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), because people assume they’re the same thing i.e. what old people have. Both are degenerative diseases, but where they differ is that RA is an autoimmune disease which causes a malfunction of the immune system. This malfunction means that your immune system doesn’t just attack bad cells (the flu, a cold, etc.) it also attacks the lining of the joints causing swelling and inflammation – and it doesn’t stop there. It can also attack internal organs including the heart, liver and spleen. For me this has manifested in damage to my heart and lungs.
GL: Your story “Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis” is so moving. Where have you found your motivation to fight on?
AL: In addition to my sisters, I now have three little nieces. I want to be someone my nieces can look up to. When they’re older I want them to understand that their Nona didn’t allow her illness to dictate how she lived her life.
GL: What advice would you give to someone who has just been given the diagnosis that they have RA?
AL: Something that no one tells you when you’re diagnosed is that it’s natural to grieve the loss of who you were before your diagnosis. We reserve grief and mourning for death, but the loss of good health feels tantamount to the death of a part of yourself. Grieving is cathartic and allows you to move on and embrace all that you’re still able to do – all the things that still make you who you you.
GL: How were you able to separate yourself and your own identity from “the girl with RA?”
AL: I was diagnosed while I was in middle school which completely upended my social experience from then until graduation. Going to college was the first time since being diagnosed that I was able to explore what my life was like without RA. It’s not that my RA went away (obviously), but I got to introduce myself without all the baggage of my illness. It was incredibly freeing to be separate of RA – even if only for a short time.
GL: In regards to your diet, what has made a difference in the way your feel?
AL: I’ve drastically cut down on processed foods, refined sugars and alcohol. I jokingly call myself a “weekday vegan”, and I eat as clean as possible during the week. I also rely on healthy whole foods to mitigate the side effects of a lot of my medications. For example – lots of green smoothies when I’m unable to eat much otherwise!
GL: Tell us two truths and a lie
AL: I know every single word to Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire. I’ve never eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I won second place in a bikini contest while still wearing jeans.
GL: How does it make you feel to know you are inspiring and motivating to women all over the world?
AL: The idea of being inspiring is incredibly humbling. I actually find it a little overwhelming, and I’m never quite sure how to respond. I’m just trying to live my best life, and to challenge that status quo of what RA patients are told they’re capable of. I’ve been told “you can’t” or “you shouldn’t” or “you won’t” so many times over the years, and I’m just not trying to hear it anymore.
GL: What is your favorite workout?
AL: All things kettlebells! I love that I can get a great HIIT workout and build my endurance without a lot of impact to my joints. It’s a way of embracing the things my body can still do – and do well!
GL: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be? Let your imagination run wild.
AL: One of my favorite books is Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour where he travels the world in search of the perfect meal. I want to do what he did and eat my way through places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Morocco, Russia, France, etc.
GL: What is your favorite Disney character and why?
AL: Mulan! She was the first Disney princess to flip the “damsel in distress” narrative on its head, and I love that she was motivated by protecting her family.
GL: Give us some pointers on how we can help bring awareness to the RA community.
AL: The fact that you’re featuring me here on your blog is huge, because I’m reaching a totally different audience than I usually do. My story has been widely shared among the patient community, but it doesn’t always make its way to more mainstream channels. Anytime that you can share someone’s patient story with your followers is a huge win for the community!
GL: If we took a look at your Spotify, what would be the 3 most played songs?
AL: Amy Winehouse – Valerie, Stevie Wonder – Superstitious and The Black Keys – Strange Desire
GL: Share with us your current #1 bucket list item!
AL: Running the Boston Marathon will always be at the top of that list. I have no idea if it will ever be a possibility because of my hip replacements, but I’m not ready to give up on it yet!
Follow Anna and her fight against RA on social media!