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Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Miss Washington’s Journey to Miss USA

I never thought that I would have arthritis it’s an old person’s disease is what I thought. I was never ever educated about it. Hi, my name is Alex Carlson-Helo. I am 23 years old, and I am your current Miss Washington USA, 2017. I started dancing at 18 months old, and I fell in love with it I enjoyed being on stage and performing in front of people, and by the time I was 13 years old, I was dancing professionally for the WNBA Seattle Storm. I was at a dance competition and this lady approached me, and she said “you should do pageants.” I liked the challenge of thinking about doing something new, so I decided to go for the big shot and I competed for Miss Washington Teen USA, in the Miss Universe organization, and I went on my first try. Growing up as a competitive dancer, I was always on the go and able to practice for hours on end, and I knew something was wrong when, at dance rehearsals, I could barely last the whole practice.

I wasn’t able to last through my workouts. My back started hurting, my hips started hurting and that’s when I knew, you know, something’s not right. I thought she was just–it was over use and I was telling her “toughen up honey” you know, “it’s okay take some more ibuprofen.” She was just saying “no, mom no this is different, this is a different symptom now than just being sore from Dance.” I probably saw, I would say, seven doctors before I found someone that listened to me. You know, I was sent to a psychiatrist because they thought it was all in my head.

My left leg was completely paralyzed, I wasn’t able to move it at all. I ended up having a stay in the hospital. One of the hardest moments was when she was in the hospital and the doctors came in and said “we don’t know if you’re going to walk again.” I don’t think I stepped up to the plate completely at that moment. I kind of fell apart. I gave myself the two choices. One choice was the sit there and cry, and feel sorry for myself, but the other one was okay I need to be positive and if you tell me I can’t do something I’m going to come back and do it ten times better I worked so incredibly hard in physical therapy to be able to start wiggling my toes, to bend my knee, to stand up.

I was on my walker then I was on crutches then I was on a cane. You just learn to adapt. The term “invisible illness” truly means that you cannot see what’s going on inside of my body. You can’t see anything unless you look at my x-rays and then you’ll see all all the damage that has been done to my body by arthritis. (Alex Carlson-Helo) When I was crowned, I was gasping for air because I truly didn’t believe it. (Alex, you are the 2017 Miss Washington USA, and you’re going to Miss USA) Two years ago, when I was sitting in a hospital bed, if you would have told me that I have a crown and a sash, and that I could stand in high heels, let alone walk on a stage in high heels, it’s crazy for me to think about and I feel very blessed every day that I get to wake up.

Whether it be a bad day or a good day, I feel thankful that I’m alive that I’m breathing. I am super excited to compete at Miss USA it’s like the day before Christmas, and I know that when I do get up on the Miss USA stage, it’s much more than me and my story it’s everyone that has supported me in the journey I want to be Miss USA to inspire people I want to be able to advocate for those who have chronic invisible illnesses, and prove to people and to explain to people that no matter what obstacle you have in your life, whether it’s learning to walk again, or some other life experience that is in your way, that you can still accomplish your dreams.

As found on Youtube

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