Jamie Shupak

Strict eating, sleeping and exercise regimens are Jamie Shupak's most cherished disciplines for managing her rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and busy life, which begins each weekday at 3:26 a.m.

With military precision, the 5-foot-1-inch, 110-pound 32-year-old faithfully does 200 abdominal crunches before showering, dressing and darting to a waiting cab that transports her to work at TV station NY1 in New York City. There, she does her hair and makeup while drinking a protein shake before she wakes up Big Apple commuters each weekday morning with her first traffic report at 5:08 a.m.

Jamie joined New York 1, in 2010. It’s not the hard-news reporting she had planned to do after graduating from the University of Maryland in 2003. But when she returned to her native Philadelphia after graduation, she had a more pressing reality to face: The searing, throbbing pain in her hands and wrists had grown excruciating, as if they were on fire. After months of doctor's appointments and tests, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at age 21. “It was shocking news,” says Jamie.

After learning there is no cure, she went on an odyssey of various treatments, with marginal success. “It was devastating, discouraging, isolating,” she says. “At one point I was [at the hospital for a biologic infusion], sitting next to patients receiving chemotherapy, wondering: ‘Will I end up in a wheelchair? Will I ever have children?’ I was 23. The burden of this condition seemed overwhelming.”

Over the next four years, her conditioned worsened. She had permanent damage in her wrists and fingers and a growing list of medications, including methotrexate and biologics. Each of them worked – for a while. But the pain would return.

She tried holistic treatments, but nothing seemed to make a difference.

Fatigue was also a constant companion. “It was exhaustion at a level I’ve never experienced,” says Jamie. “For someone in their 20s it put a huge damper on their lifestyle.” When everyone was out socializing, Jamie was at home. Crowds weren’t an option. The pain was intense enough that “if someone bumped into me I would find a corner to cry.” She couldn’t open doors and altered what she wore because getting dressed was a challenge.

“It was a mental thing, too,” Jamie explains. “I was petrified.” The ‘what ifs’ flooded her thoughts: What if I can’t have children? What if I’m in a wheelchair my whole life? “It’s a very realistic, frightening thing.”

Turning her health around

Jamie recalls vividly the night she reached her breaking point. It was December 31, 2006, her 25th birthday. Instead of celebrating with friends at midnight, she was in her hotel room, curled up in a ball, crying in pain. Her RA was out of control. She was willing to try anything – including the vegan diet suggested by her acupuncturist, which meant no meat, fish, dairy or eggs. The next day, she became a vegan. She also stopped drinking alcohol, which she discovered was a trigger for her arthritis pain.

Shortly after committing to the vegan lifestyle, “For the first time since being diagnosed with RA, I could make a fist without pain,” says Jamie. Although she was (and still is) taking the disease-modifying drug methotrexate, she says her new diet made a big difference.

“I felt like superwoman and even started running 3 to 5 miles a few days a week, [as well as] a half marathon. I still had pain, but everything was remarkably better,” she says.

Over the next two years she reintroduced fish, eggs and a moderate amount of alcohol – but she is still committed to eating healthfully.

Cleaning up her diet wasn’t the only change that improved her symptoms. By the fall of 2010, Jamie was forced to face another hurdle when she learned of her former fiancé’s infidelity. The couple had been engaged for two years and had dated since their freshmen year in college.