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Estelle Leblanc Allard, living with rheumatoid arthritis

Though Estelle Leblanc Allard's official diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) was made 36 years ago, the 69-year-old is convinced she has had the disease for more than 60 years. "I had pains from when I was six years old, and missed a lot of school, but the nurses just said it was my growth that was hurting my bones."

She was officially diagnosed at age 33, but by then it wasn't news to her. The diagnosis did inspire her to learn more about the disease, and she read everything she could so she could enjoy her two small children. Though she took anti-inflammatory medications, at that time she found a new diet was best at relieving her pain.

“I use the voice inside me to keep me strong.”

Estelle had two dramatic episodes of relief from her disease, both when she was removed from her traditional surroundings. The first was when her husband was transferred to North Africa for two years. She had no pain at all, though it returned when she came home to Quebec. A few years later, the same thing happened when she moved to James Bay, where she was able to enjoy hunting and fishing without pain.

After that, however, her RA became more active and, despite trying many medications, she didn't get relief. In 2007, her mother died at age 95. "It seemed as if she took my RA with her, because since then it has been under control."

In 2009 she was able to fulfill a lifelong dream and complete the 33-day Compostelle Pilgrimage in Spain, without any RA pain. She believes it is important and very helpful to always have projects in mind and to believe that you can accomplish them.

"Life gives us a toolbox to help us out during the difficult times," Estelle says. "It's important to open that box and use the tools inside. We have to make our own path through life's difficulties. I decided to use the voice inside me to keep me strong."

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