A Relentless Disease

Confirmation she had made the right career decision came in 2005, when she experienced intense pain in her left ankle. “It felt like someone was putting a hot poker in it,” she says. Her ankle joint had deteriorated so much that she needed ankle fusion surgery.

In early 2006, she and Cyrus moved to Florida, and in another stroke of good fortune, her employer agreed to let her telecommute. That May, the couple were married.

Then, despite the fusion surgery, her left ankle acted up again. Unwilling to have an ankle replacement, she visited specialists as far away as New York until she found one who recommended removing loose cartilage and bone spurs as a first step. Briana went for it in 2011. So far, “it’s working well,” she says.

Still, her arthritis continues its relentless march, affecting most of her joints. To date, Briana has endured 10 surgeries. “I can’t sit all day any more,” she says. In 2011, with her employer’s blessing, she scaled back her work hours and launched her own marketing and design business.

Fitness Pays Off

Briana receives an infusion of the biologic tocilizumab, or Actemra, monthly, self-injects the disease-modifying drug methotrexate weekly and takes prednisone, duloxetine, or Cymbalta, and celecoxib, or Celebrex, daily to help control pain and inflammation. But she still hurts. “If I stay active, I usually feel better,” she says.

She’s more active than most adults who don’t have a chronic disease. Briana does yoga and rides her Tennessee walking horse, Whiskey, three or four times a week and does non-impact gym workouts and swims twice a week.

Her commitment to yoga had an unexpected payoff when she emailed the owner of Stick-e, a company that manufacturers and sells yoga props, explaining how the props had helped her. The owner asked for photos of Briana, which turned into a modeling opportunity. This fall, pictures of the tall, svelte blonde will appear on the company’s website and some of its packaging.

Giving Back

Despite the demands of her career and disease, Briana volunteers for the Arthritis Foundation in West Palm Beach, serving on committees for the Arthritis Walk and annual Magic of Caring Children’s Fashion Show, in which children with JA model the clothes. The event raises money for Camp Funrise, a camp in Florida for children with arthritis and related conditions, which Briana has visited twice, sharing her experiences with JA.

It is typical of Briana to think about others, even as she comes to terms with her doctor’s recent advice not to have biological children. “When you’re told that, you have to focus on positive things,” says Briana. “I am very happy. I have amazing friends and family.” And, she says, with the positive attitude that has guided her life to this point, “We might have the opportunity to adopt a beautiful child who doesn’t have a home.”