Physical work makes Sara feel good
Sara was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) within two months of the appearance of her first symptoms. She believes this early diagnosis is why she feels well today. Her physically active job as a baker, combined with prioritizing recovery days, has many benefits.
29-year-old Sara Fjärrstrand lives in Sala, Sweden. She works as a baker at a bakery she has been part of running from the start. She has competed in the Swedish Bakery Championships, Nordic Championships, and Bakery World Cup qualification.
“It was during our last competition period that I was diagnosed,” says Sara. “I don't know whether stress was the triggering factor or whether it was just bad luck that it came up at that time.”
The health centre suspected a wear and tear injury
The year was 2019. Sara's hands were very sore. At first, she thought it was due to skiing, that she had gripped her poles incorrectly. But when the pain didn't go away, she turned to the health centre. She was prescribed painkillers and mobility exercises by an occupational therapist, who believed it was work-related wear and tear.
“But something was not right. The pain was symmetrical, and when I pointed this out I was asked to take blood tests. When the results came back, I was sent to the rheumatologist. There, they gave me the diagnosis rheumatoid arthritis. It all happened very quickly—from seeking treatment to getting my diagnosis it took less than two months.”
Sara wasn't particularly surprised she had a rheumatic disease, as it runs in her family.
“But I got tears in my eyes and thought ‘well, what can I do about it?’”
It took time to find the proper medication
Sara was put on medication straight away, but the first thing she tried wasn’t good for her. She tells Elsa about her experience:
“In parallel with starting my treatment, I was going to Paris to compete in the Bakery World Cup qualification. It was a tough time. I was working full-time in the bakery and training with the national baking team in Stockholm at the weekends. I didn't rest at all, but I didn't realize at the time how tired I was.”
“Once I got to Paris, everything went wrong. I was nervous and eating and drinking badly. I collapsed and ended up in the emergency room, which meant I had to abandon the competition,” she continues.
“In retrospect, it doesn't feel so bad,” she says, even though she describes herself as “the worst competitor.” Back in Sweden, she had new blood tests taken, and the rheumatologist decided to discontinue the treatment.
“The summer passed, and I felt really good. We went all the way up Kebnekaise (Sweden’s highest mountain), and I didn't feel my illness at all. In the autumn, however, I got worse again and tried a new drug, which led to another change in medication. The current treatment has worked very well for almost a year now.”
The advantages of not having time to sit down at work
The job works well, although Sara's diagnosis does impose some limitations. She says it's about finding simple, practical adaptations that don’t really matter to anyone else, but make things work for the team:
“My colleagues and I have agreed that I will let them know when I need help or need to change tasks. During the high season for the Swedish “semlor”, the work gets very monotonous, so I spread the cream instead of the hard almond paste.”
“I find the job has lots of benefits since I am physically active during my working hours. Sometimes I actually feel worse after a weekend when I've been sitting down a lot and not been as active,” Sara admits.
Skipping junk food—prioritising recovery
Sara is feeling very healthy right now. She shares the small changes she has made at home, like trying to eat more fish and vegetarian food:
“I find that junk food like steak and bearnaise sauce makes me feel worse. My partner also feels more energetic with our new habits”.
She is careful to prioritize what she calls her recovery days.
“On days like those, I stay at home just puttering around, going for a walk, maybe watching a movie—I make sure just to be myself and not have to talk to anyone. I need to be alone and clear my head. It's also been good to move into a house and be able to be in the garden. I can't think about anything else than what I'm doing here and now—maybe weeding or planting something. It becomes a kind of active mindfulness.
A chronic diagnosis isn’t the end
Football is another important part of Sara's life. She likes both the exercise itself, and the fact that it is social.
“My body can feel worse right after a match, but I still feel it's worth it. I want to show others who may also be struggling with health that ‘things don’t have to be bad just because you have a chronic diagnosis.’ For me, it certainly didn't take long to find my way through this. I understand that sometimes it can take longer. But life’s not over just because you get a rheumatic disease.”