Nicknamed “Sparkle Plenty” as a child by her two half sisters because she always looked on the bright side, Christine decided that if she pretended she was fine, then maybe she would be. “I kept saying, ‘No, it has to be a tendon.’ I didn’t want to deal with the diagnosis. I had just married this wonderful, incredible dream man in April and my career was going gung-ho,” she says. 

She kept her disease a secret from everyone but her family and closest friends – not always an easy task, partly due to her symptoms and to side effects from the medications she took.

They offered relief but came with a price – thinning hair from one disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug, or DMARD, severe lung problems from another. Prednisone kept her up at night and made her edgy all day – and hungry, too. She quickly ballooned from a size 6 to a size 10.

Drawing on her experience as a fashion and style reporter – she’d built a decades-long career reporting on style and fashion for radio and TV – Christine improvised. She wore looser clothes to hide her increasing girth and changed her hairstyle to downplay her round face. When a stylist commented on her new sneaker wardrobe, Christine quipped that they were the latest craze. When a producer associated her round face with steroid use, Christine said she was taking steroids to fight a lung infection. To hide her swollen hands, she wore lacy, fingerless gloves to industry galas.

Sometimes her efforts failed. On March 27, 1995 – Oscar night – the pain in Christine’s feet was so debilitating that she and her husband left Hollywood’s Shrine Auditorium, where the awards show was being held, as movie stars and industry leaders were entering.

A Turning Point

What kept Christine going? Hope.

“My doctor kept telling me, ‘We have to keep you stable because so many new drugs are in the pipeline,’” says Christine.

In January 1997, she was accepted into a double-blinded, clinical trial at University of California, Los Angeles, for a new biologic. One big caveat: During the trial, all other medicines would be off-limits. For nine months she gave herself twice-monthly injections, not knowing if she was receiving placebo, a half-strength dosage of the drug or a full-strength dose. For six months, with her symptoms at bay, she thrived. Then seemingly overnight, her pain returned with a vengeance, her knuckles enlarged, her fingers slanted and her feet blew up. For the final three months of the trial, she cut back on work.

That September, when the study ended, she learned she’d been taking placebo; her good health had been a temporary response to all the other medicines leaving her body. But there was a bright spot: She was now eligible to receive that biologic – Enbrel, generic name etanercept – before FDA approval. In the fall of 1997, after just two injections, her symptoms eased, and she has been in remission ever since.

“For me the biologic has been a miracle,” she says. “I now have total control over my life.” Just before starting it, she had consulted a hand surgeon to see whether he could fix her damaged hands. “Sometimes, when you feel your life is spinning out of control, you have to grab onto something,” she says. But when the biologic stopped further damage, Christine changed her mind. “My hands aren’t terrible and the results from surgery would be so minimal I didn’t feel it would be worth the risk,” she says.

Reclaiming Her Life

Making peace with her hands hasn’t been the only about-face in Christine’s life. She is back down to a size 6. She has tossed all her heels – and that’s OK with her. The only reminder of the steroids she once took: osteoporosis, for which she takes a bone-building drug. That, along with extra calcium, vitamin D and strength training, have helped her regain some bone.