Arthritis: A many-faceted disease

Written by Lucille Nolasco Published on .

  Contessa Mendoza-Benson

Have you ever experienced pain, swelling or joint stiffness that just refuse to go away? These are just a few of the common symptoms of arthritis disorders, often thought to be associated with growing old. According to the Arthritis Society, while it is true that many older people do have arthritis, it is not just a disease of the old. Some forms of arthritis affect children still in diapers, while thousands of people are stricken in the prime of their lives.

One such example is 43-year old Contessa Mendoza-Benson, a wife and a mother of three. About four years ago, Contessa was diagnosed with an auto-immune arthritis disease called psoriatic poly arthritis.

“I started to feel a lot of fatigue and my hands started to swell, from my knuckles to the tips of my fingers. They were so red and hot,” remembers Contessa.

At first, she dismissed it as simply tiredness from work. She has been working as a travel agent in Winnipeg for the past 23 years. When the symptoms intolerable, she decided to go to her doctor who arranged for an x-ray and blood work, which confirmed her condition. She was then referred to a rheumatologist.

“Living with arthritis is very painful. It was difficult for your motor skills. All of a sudden you can’t even pour cereal or lift a jug of milk for your child. It was a difficult position that I was in, because I was always a strong person, always into sports. But because of arthritis, I had to go back to my childhood and re-learn my motor skills again.”

Arthritis literally means “joint inflammation.” It is not a single disease. Arthritis refers to a group of more than 100 rheumatic diseases and other conditions that can cause pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints. Any part of the body can become inflamed or painful from arthritis. Some rheumatic conditions can result in debilitating, even life-threatening complications or may affect other parts of the body including the muscles, bones and internal organs.

According to Arthritis Society statistics, arthritis is the leading cause of disability in Canada and more than 600,000 Canadians afflicted with the disease are unable to work. Furthermore:

  • Osteoarthritis is the most common form of disease in adults, affecting one in 10 Canadians
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common inflammatory arthritis, affecting one in 100 Canadians
  • Juvenile arthritis is among the most common chronic childhood disorders, affecting one in 1,000 Canadian youth under the age of 15
  • Arthritis can strike anyone at anytime, regardless of age, physical condition or ethnic background
  • Sixty percent of people with arthritis are younger than 60.

But people with arthritis do not need to live in pain and in fear. The Arthritis Society of Manitoba, which represents the Manitoba and Nunavut division of the Arthritis Society of Canada, strives to be a one-stop source for arthritis information to empower people to gain knowledge and control of their disease. It is a charitable, non-profit organization that holds fundraising events to fulfil their mission in helping people living with arthritis. It is important to get the proper diagnosis and medication for your type of condition.

It was the Arthritis Society that helped Contessa.

“My doctor pointed me to their website. I went to their office and they welcomed me. I availed of the literature and programs they offer. I even attended some of the rehab programs and education they offer for free.”

Since then, Contessa joined the Arthritis Society and now serves on the Advisory Board for Manitoba and Nunavut. She is also a spokesperson for their Programs and Education Committee. As a volunteer, she facilitates workshops in the community to improve one’s understanding of pain management in arthritis and its treatments, introduces different methods to cope with chronic pain and encourage sufferers take an active role in their pain management. This education is also intended to teach family members, partners and friends how to help people with arthritis.

“It took a year to finally find the proper medication for my type of arthritis,” says Contessa. “And I am fortunate to have the support of my family and friends as I face and manage my condition.”

On Sunday, May 15th, the Arthritis Society invites everyone to their second annual Walk To Fight Arthritis fundraiser, in the quest to find a cure for arthritis.

To register or donate, visit

To find out more about The Arthritis Society, visit

  Join the Walk to Fight Arthritis, Sunday May 15, 2011 at Assiniboine Park. Walk starts at 10:00 am at the Lyric Theatre