Last week, the 2018 Arthritis United Conference took place over a long weekend in Washington, D.C., bringing together approximately 200 attendees from across the country and globe through a virtual, live-streamed experience to learn, connect and grow together.
The weekend featured notable keynote speakers, medical experts, educational breakout sessions and volunteer-led panels covering a variety of topics for adults living with arthritis and related rheumatic conditions as well as loved ones. For the first time, seven selected sessions were also live-streamed through an online, interactive forum for those that were not able to attend in person.
After a casual meet and greet on Friday night where old and new friends were able to meet and connect and a sound healing and meditation session, attendees were greeted by Kevin Purcell, Senior Director, Arthritis Support Network at Saturday morning’s opening session. Arthritis Foundation President and CEO, Ann M. Palmer, then spoke about the organization’s commitment to people with arthritis, and how important the patient voice is to the organization. Ann also shared some exciting upcoming initiatives to look forward to and further opportunities to engage with others on a similar journey.
Patient, advocate and humorist David Jacobson gave an inspiring keynote about humor and effectively finding the funny in a variety of situations. The rest of Saturday’s activities included educational breakout sessions for both patients and loved one-focused sessions, ending the evening with happy hour and a gentle chair yoga session. Sunday’s general session featured keynote writer and performer Dasha Kelly Hamilton, who talked about inspiring creative strategies, and was followed by peer-led roundtables that covered topics ranging from spirituality, traveling and diet. Before closing the weekend, the Arthritis Foundation Advocacy and Access team hosted three different breakouts on various advocacy topics, including using social media effectively and building relationships with lawmakers.
Lindsay Palmer, 34, of St. Joseph, Missouri, attended the Arthritis United Conference for the second time, also serving on this year’s planning committee and leading a roundtable discussion on self-advocacy. Diagnosed with seronegative polyarticular juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at 16, osteoarthritis at 28 and more recently fibromyalgia and chronic bursitis, Lindsay has lived with arthritis more than half her life. But Lindsay has taken an active role in her health care and getting actively involved with many Arthritis Foundation roles including a board member for her local Walk to Cure Arthritis and becoming an Arthritis Support Network Leader.
Lindsay’s favorite session during the conference was Arthritis Friendly Diets with Dr. Lona Sandon. Lindsay says, “the nutrition presentation was amazing! Dr. Sandon was well-versed on her subject, down to earth and very engaging. She had the whole room gasping and giggling while providing useful information.”
She continues, “She dispelled a lot of food myths that are trendy right now and she made me feel better about my own approach to nutrition when I was feeling like I failed at a very difficult diet recommended by my primary care doctor. I was then able to talk more realistically with my doctor at my next visit. I liked that I was able to apply what I learned at the conference immediately, with my doctor four days after returning home.”
Beyond the sessions, Lindsay noted, “I loved meeting so many people who I have spoken with on the phone or heard on a conference call but never seen or met in person. That includes staff, volunteers, and other people with arthritis. It’s amazing to have an instant connection with someone and to put the face with the name. I loved seeing the people I met last year, too. We greeted each other with hugs and laughter like we were friends all our lives. There’s a kismet at the conference unlike anything I have ever experienced.”
When asked what advice she would give to those interested in attending Arthritis United, Lindsay says, “Do it! It will change your life. I thought people were exaggerating when they told me that. It really is true. It has been the most fulfilling event I have ever attended. It is educational and social, so it truly enriches life with arthritis. There are scholarships available and people who need roommates. If money is the thing deterring you, don’t let it. There are options to lessen that burden.”
Ready to join the Arthritis United Conference in 2019? Be sure to follow the Arthritis United group page on Facebook or the Arthritis Support Network for news and announcements about the 2019 Arthritis United Conference coming soon!