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Big steps toward stomping out arthritis

Out of My Head

Posted: April 26, 2008 1:37 p.m.
Updated: June 27, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
The prevalence of arthritis and chronic joint symptoms is surging, affecting more than 45,000 in Santa Clarita alone and approximately 46 million (one in five) Americans.
- The Arthritis Foundation

When the (hopefully far-off) day arrives that Santa Clarita Valley auto dealer-socialite Cheri Fleming makes her heavenly debut, it won't be for selling Acuras, looking hot in a Margo gown, or even making her husband, Don, a better man.

Instead, the bubbly and petite blonde's glorious payback will be for all the good she's done helping people in need - much of it accomplished while suffering with her own pain.

In my ethics manual, that's genuine humanitarianism, and something God earnestly takes notice of.
Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her late 20s, Cheri has spent most of adulthood co-existing with tremendous discomfort, escalating joint and bone disfigurations, and other systemic (and serious) RA-associated health problems.

Despite that unending burden, Cheri always looks so happy and speaks in an upbeat manner. Her attitude is like a warm, sunny day, even when it's not a feel-good day for her personally.

I've recognized this because I have known Cheri for years, through social events, work, and local non-profits.

By way of our mutual membership on the American Cancer Society SCV Unit's Leadership Council (she is our unit president), I have closely observed her in action. Case in point: She "jumped back in the saddle"
last year shortly after suffering a stroke following neck/spine surgery (necessitated by her advancing RA). That first day back at a meeting, she enthusiastically spoke of how thrilling it was to be "upright" and able to tackle new charitable projects again.

Even before then, I witnessed her "coming out" about arthritis (for the first time publicly) while candidly talking about RA. She did this years ago for a health article I was writing, and then as a guest on my (and Candye Rucker's) former "Life Lessons" radio show - tears, sighs, smiles, encouragement for others, and all.

* * *

If you would like to exercise your own joints while supporting the Arthritis Foundation as it strives to improve lives of everyone living with arthritis, the perfect opportunity for doing so awaits you.
Chaired by Cheri and Don Fleming, the Fourth Annual Santa Clarita Arthritis Walk will be held Sunday morning at Bridgeport Community Park in Valencia.

The foundation's annual nationwide event, the walk raises awareness and funds to fight arthritis - our country's No. 1 cause of disability in people over 15 years of age.

Proceeds from the walk help men, women and children diagnosed with one or more of the numerous forms of arthritis (there are actually more than 100 forms of the disease).

Support is needed here - the Arthritis Foundation is the only nationwide, nonprofit health organization dedicated to helping people take greater control of arthritis, leading efforts to prevent, control and cure the disease. Through the work of more than 600,000 volunteers across the country, the foundation provides community-based public heal initiatives, advocates for changes in public policy and funds a nationwide arthritis research program. Since 1948, the foundation has invested more than $380 million in arthritis research supporting 2,200 scientists at 100 institutions.

* * *

Besides seeing Don and Cheri greeting everyone and "walking the walk," Assemblyman Cameron Smyth and Honorary Media Chairman CBS/KCAL 9 News Reporter Rick Chambers will be at the walk.

Also among attendees: Arthritis Walk Honoree 21-year-old Travis Shaffery, a Valencia High School grad and a Cal State Northridge University student who was hit with systemic juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age 10. (Currently, 300,000 children live with arthritis.) Since that somber diagnosis, Travis has endured immense RA-related health and mobility challenges necessitating joint replacements and other invasive procedures, and medication trials. Despite his tribulations, however, Shaffery remains positive, active and eager to support the Arthritis Foundation and those suffering with arthritis.

His caring parents, Joni Shaffery, Arthritis Walk Vice Chair, and father, John Shaffery of Pool and Shaffery LLP, will also be at his side. (Major event sponsors include: Valencia Acura, AT&T, Poole & Shaffery, Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, Comfort Keepers, and Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.) The walk also features entertainment, Corner Bakery baked goods, cookies from McDonald's, and coffee from Peet's Coffee & Tea. In addition, there will be a kid's zone with a bounce house, arts and crafts, and a balloon artist. Friendly dogs on leases are also welcome. (Note to dog owners: Doggie giveaways include toys and cool products.)

Last year our local Arthritis Walk raised $80,000, and this year the goal is $115,000, reports Arthritis Foundation Director of Development Gina Marotta. Together, Santa Clarita Valley, we can help the Arthritis Foundation reach that goal. If you haven't already signed up, you can merely show up Sunday morning and register.

You can also go online to www.scvarthritiswalk.org to register and donate in advance, Marotta said.

* * *

Cheri happily informs us that a recent rheumatologist visit revealed that her joints have not deteriorated since she began taking a relatively new anti-RA drug a few years ago.

Her tireless determination, activism, and optimism in the face of her own battle is something to be celebrated and emulated.

It is also a reminder that just because you have a condition, doesn't mean that the condition has you.

Bridgeport Community Park is located at 23670 Newhall Ranch Road in Valencia. Event registration begins at 8 a.m.; warm-up program gets under way at 9 a.m.; walk begins at 9:30 a.m. A festival, which includes refreshments, follows at about 10:30 a.m.(Note: Persons with arthritis can wear a blue "hero" hat). Participation is free. If you cannot walk in the event you, are still invited to come by and support the cause!

Diana Sevanian is a Santa Clarita resident and freelance writer. Her column reflects her own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.

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