I was in my thirties when I found my true calling in life, and it was pain that showed me the way. Though I've always had a love of natural healing and plant lore, my story really takes off about six years ago, when I began having increasingly strong pain in my hands and wrists. I worked an office job at the time, and wrote my discomfort off as typical wrist pain and carpal tunnel symptoms that are, sadly, fairly standard for office workers. I bought wrist braces and got on with it. A couple of years later, the pain in my right hand grew severe, especially along the center finger. I also suffered chronic swollen lymph nodes, and occasional strong pains on my right side, which would come after I ate. I thought that it was heartburn. When my hand finally swelled and I could hardly move it, I went to my family physician. That lead to a trip to a sports physician, x-rays, and a diagnosis of trigger finger in my right hand. I was sent home with a prescription for an anti-inflammatory, and tips for pain management. When the swollen lymph nodes in my underarm area sent me back to my physician, I went home with a round of antibiotics, which did shrink that particular node. The heartburn that I thought I had was painful when it occurred, but since it didn't occur all that often, no one was too worried.
A further two years later, and my health had worsened. The lymph nodes in my underarm area would swell regularly, usually monthly. I now knew that my "heartburn" was actually gallbladder attacks, and, boy, were they getting bad and more frequent. The pain in my hands and wrists had spread to nearly all of my joints. Getting up in the morning to go to work became an agony. I literally hobbled from my bed to the bathroom, because my aching joints could hardly support me. The simplest of tasks (combing my hair, pulling up the zipper of my jeans) became such painful endeavors, that sometimes, they just didn't happen. At work, typing became a two-fingered affair. It was all that I could do. My hands were claws. I could hardly eat without triggering gallbladder pain. Some of the home remedies that I tried, such as apple cider vinegar, were too little, too late for me. Every single day found me in constant pain, trying to hide how severe it was from my family, friends, and co-workers. I was 36 years old.
When a gallbladder attack was severe enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room, my usually laid back husband DEMANDED that I see a doctor about all of it. He was certainly right. It was time to acknowledge that I could not handle my health without guidance. I went back to see my family physician. That office sent me to a surgeon, who removed my stone-filled gallbladder. I read that this surgery is the most common surgery in the United States. This bothered me, but the pain was so severe, and the x-rays showed that a stone was working its way into the bile duct. I felt that I had no choice but to have the surgery.
The surgery made the gallbladder pain go away, but it didn't help my digestion much. Also, the pain in my joints was worsening. It was already bad. Now, it was worse. Searching the interwebs "diagnosed" me with everything from growing pains (?!) to arthritis to being a zombie. Back to the doctor. Then another specialist, this time a rheumatologist. More x-rays and more tests confirmed that though there was no history of arthritis in my family, I had rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune disorder that causes pain and damage to the joints.
The anti-inflammatory drugs that I was given broke me out in rashes. The steroid packs were great for temporary pain relief, but I knew that they were a bad habit to get into. I was told that I would have to take immunosuppresant drugs to control my out of control immune system. This would be methotrexate, a cancer drug. Though I would be taking far smaller doses of it than an oncologist would prescribe for a cancer patient, I would still have to have my liver checked regularly to monitor the damage that WOULD happen. I would still experience some of the side effects that cancer patients on chemotherapy endure. It would be a balancing exercise to ensure that the medicine was strong enough to work, but not too strong to overdamage my liver. I might go into remission, the rheumatologist informed me, but that was unlikely. Usually, treating RA was about immune suppression and pain management.
The trouble was, my natural healing roots and sense of reason were kicking in. After sitting in a crowded waiting room for over an hour, watching a mom get exasperated with her very young daughter because she had taken a sip from her mother's drink (thereby exposing the mom to germs that her system may or may not handle well), I asked the rheumatologist to tell me what caused this. What had I done to bring this on? It made no sense to me that this disease was just an unlucky roll of the dice that could've happened to anyone. It also made no sense to me that all of the various illnesses and symptoms that I had experienced were completely unconnected. There had to have been triggers. What were they, and what could I do naturally to fight this illness?
My rheumatologist had practiced in her profession for over a decade. She had to have noticed some trends. I was an open-minded patient. Whatever she advised in the way of natural healing, I was willing to do. She told me that there was no other way to fight rheumatoid arthritis than to take the meds, but eating more fruits and vegetables was always a good idea. WTF?! My husband and I left that office and never returned.
Instead, I embarked on a quest to handle my disease naturally. I visited a naturopathic doctor, and got some really good advice. I added a chiropractor and massage therapist to my "personal health team," and used nutrition and herbal remedies to first assist with the pain that I felt, and then to address the root causes of my condition. I leaned on my love of plant based medicine. I learned that all of my medical issues in the past were signs, warnings of what was to come, but no one connected them, least of all me. It took me about a year to get the arthritis to fully retract, but today, I am almost 100% free of the arthritis pain. I am still healing from the issues that lead to the arthritis in the first place, but I KNOW that I am on the right path. And as I walked that path from sickness to healing, I found my calling.
When I was going through the worst of my troubles, there was no one like me in my region (Texoma/North Texas), no one willing to work with me to balance natural healing with the allopathic treatments that my Western doctors advocated, no one willing to coach me and help me through the elimination diets, the tests, the pain, the unbelievable amount of confusing information on the web. I knew that I had to become what we all need: a natural healer, willing to work with both the healthy and the sick, to assist them to the best of my ability in their journeys to health, as naturally and holistically as possible.
It took me another couple of years to prepare my life and family for opening up a private practice (big transition for us), but once Prairie Hawk Botanica was launched, I knew that it was absolutely right. Today I spend my time immersed in study (one never stops learning), working one-on-one with clients in person or via Skype, writing, and staging workshops in my local region. It took years of pain, wisdom, and a real leap of faith to get here, but it was necessary. I wouldn't change a day.
Editor's note: Information contained in this article is not meant to be a diagnosis for any medical condition or serve as medical treatment or medical advice of any kind. You own yourself, and are solely responsible for the safety of you and your children. Neither Prairie Hawk Botanica nor Jennifer Capestany will be responsible for injury.