Cat Gibbons is a 49-year-old woman from Connecticut who was diagnosed almost 10 years ago, just shy of her 40th birthday, with Scleroderma. Cat’s diagnosis came after years of symptoms that went misdiagnosed. Cat’s doctor, convinced that the symptoms she suffered from were the result of Lyme disease, was in true shock when her diagnosis with Scleroderma was finally discovered. Most surprising about Cat’s diagnosis, however, is that her mother died from Scleroderma at the age of 46 in 1974.
Cat says, “ There is not a lot of information regarding my mother’s diagnosis and subsequent death (a mere 4 months after her diagnosis). I believe she may have had symptoms prior to diagnosis, (however), she and my dad thought she had severe arthritis.”
At the age of 20, when Cat’s fingers started turning pure white, red and blue, she was diagnosed with Raynaud’s phenomenon, but thought nothing of mentioning her mother’s diagnosis and death as she did not know there was any correlation between Raynaud’s phenomenon and Scleroderma.
A year after the birth of her son, Luke, Cat got married at the age of 25. Unfortunately, the marriage only lasted 4 years and Cat then became a single mother. Throughout her twenties and thirties Cat was very active as an avid skier, even racing in the winter, and swimming in the summer. Cat says “During the two years prior to my diagnosis, I was dealing with a great deal of pain in my knees. I also had tremendous and painful issues with my esophagus, thinking all the time that it was just heartburn. Every time I skied, swam or hiked I would spend the nights dealing with burning pain in my knees. My knees ended up having ugly and painful bumps under the skin and on top of my knee caps.”
After seeing her primary care physician for her worsening and painful symptoms, she was recommended to see a physical therapist. Unfortunately, this therapy seemed to get her nowhere. It wasn’t until one day, upon retuning home from work, Cat stepped out of her car, heading for her front door, and found she could not walk. Cat says, “ I had to crawl to the door of my house.” It wasn’t until then that her doctor had her sent for x-rays and after learning of her mother’s history had her blood work tested as well, which returned a positive ANA result confirming that Cat did indeed have an autoimmune disease. Upon her follow up appointment, the doctor confirmed that this disease was Scleroderma and that the bumps on her knees were calcium deposits (a common symptom for many Scleroderma patients).
Following her diagnosis with Scleroderma, Cat has since been diagnosed (three years ago) with Fibromyalgia and just six months ago with Lupus as well.
Now that Cat is dealing with Scleroderma, Fibromyalgia, and Lupus, her symptoms and challenges on a day-to-day basis have become all the more complex as well.
For many Scleroderma patients, as was the case for Cat, it can take years to reach a true diagnosis of Scleroderma. This process is not only frustrating but can also play a major role in the patient’s prognosis as well as the treatment options available to these patients.
It is my hope that in sharing stories such as Cat’s we can not only create more awareness for Scleroderma but also that we can help highlight the importance of awareness in relation to early diagnosis. The earlier a patient is diagnosed with Scleroderma, the sooner they can connect with a Scleroderma specialist who can set them on a path to the best and most effective treatments.
Please continue to follow our blog and help us spread each and every unique patient story as we move closer and closer to a greater level of awareness for this disease.