Canadian Actress Megan Park Opens Up About Life With Rheumatoid Arthritis
Patient Perspective Megan Park, star on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, is not keeping her rheumatoid arthritis a secret.
Mediaplanet You were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) as a child. How did this affect you and how did you determine the diagnosis?
Megan Park I was so young, I don’t remember too much other than all of a sudden I wasn’t able to do things I could do before, such as walk up the stairs or run around with my friends. My mom said my knees were sometimes almost “hot to the touch”. I remember biting them because I didn’t even know how to explain what it felt like. My dad and mom were both very on top of it and knew something was wrong, and they were determined to figure out what it was. The diagnoses wasn’t a simple one either. There were many trips to the hospital and I saw many different doctors until I was finally diagnosed with RA.
MP Do you find that the people in your life understand the disease or do you think there is a lack of knowledge?
Megan Park I think the people close to me understand it. Especially my family. My older sister was always very protective of me growing up, quick to help me explain to new friends what was going on and why I couldn’t maybe run around as much at recess. My parents were really good at giving me the tools to be able to educate people in my life about it, and almost everyone has been incredibly understanding and empathetic. It took some time for my fiancé to fully understand it, it’s a silent illness that changes so much day-to-day, but I would say he has an excellent understanding of the disease now — it does take time for people to fully grasp it.
MP How do you balance your busy life as an actress with the daily demands of having RA?
Megan Park It’s honestly not always easy. I tire very easily but one of the benefits of being an actor is when you aren’t working, you have lots of down time. That is good for me to be able to rest and rejuvenate, but when you are working you are go, go, go! It’s a very ruthless schedule. I have to schedule my rest time, my eating times, I always think about my day like a marathon when I’m working. Although, I’m sure it’s a difficult schedule to manage for everyone I just can’t let it get on top of me because unlike other people my age, it’s not as easy or quick for me to bounce back.
MP What health care decisions can people with rheumatoid arthritis or related conditions make that will positively impact their overall quality of life?
Megan Park I think finding a health care professional that you can trust is important. Having someone you feel comfortable with, that you feel genuinely cares about your well-being and listens to you when you have a problem. That’s a good starting place. Also, keep a journal of when you feel good and when you feel bad, this will be helpful for your doctor but also for yourself.
It’s easy to all of a sudden have a bad week and not know why, but then you can look back in the journal and realize you were more active than usual that week and you didn’t get much sleep. If that is the case then you know you need to take it easy and catch up on sleep. I think also, learning to say “no” is important. Especially for young people living with RA or related conditions. For example, if you are having a flare-up but you really want to go on that weekend camping trip with all of your friends, but you know you will feel terrible all next week at work because of it, learning how to say “no” sometimes can help you stay on top of your disease.
Even though you may have to miss out on some activities, in the long run you will live a longer, happier, and healthier life if you are able to manage your time and body properly.
MP What treatments have you found success with in your own management of RA?
Megan Park I’ve had various treatments over the years ranging from daily medicine, to physiotherapy, to natural remedies. It varies for the time and the flare-up. I think it is best for people to be open to all avenues of healing and find what works best for them.
MP Did you ever have a hard time on set because of your condition?
Megan Park Yes. Many times I’ve had to fight through lots of pain and tiredness, but I’ve been very fortunate that it’s never hindered my work or stopped me from taking a job on. I’ve also gotten much better at taking care of myself on set the older I get and the more experiences I have.
“It took some time for my fiancé to fully understand it, it’s a silent illness that changes so much day-to-day...”
MP As a public figure, why is it important to speak up about your experience?
Megan Park I feel very fortunate to be able to share my story in hopes that it makes those living with RA or a similar disease feel less alone. Everyone close to me in my life has always known this about me but I finally felt it was the right time to share my experiences with the public. I feel proud and fortunate that I’ve been able to live the life I have now while managing my arthritis.
It’s also not commonly known as a disease that affects people my age so it’s unique to be able to say, “I know you think only your grandpa and grandma have arthritis but it actually affects people of all ages.” Most people don’t know that! It’s a great reminder that just by looking at someone, you don’t always know what they are dealing with on a daily basis. It is a good reminder to be compassionate.
MP What advice do you have for Canadians living with RA or other musculoskeletal conditions?
Megan Park My advice would be to treat your body every day as if you were an Olympian preparing for a long marathon. Take care of your body, listen to it, when it needs rest, rest! When you need to get moving, even if it’s just a walk around your living room, that’s a great step in the right direction! The better you get at managing your own health and body the longer and happier life you will lead!
MP What’s next for Megan Park?
Megan Park I’m getting married in three weeks and having a wonderful time working on a few new work projects. I’ve never felt so sure of the path I’m heading down as I do in 2015 and I’m feeling pretty happy and excited!