Singer Joanna Dong on rheumatoid arthritis: Some days I feel helpless
Singer, 39, seeks to raise awareness after her arthritis diagnosis
Local singer Joanna Dong was reluctant to see a doctor when she started experiencing frequent joint pains last year.
When she eventually did so in February after the Chinese New Year festivities were over, the 39-year-old was diagnosed with seronegative rheumatoid arthritis (SRA), an autoimmune disease and a type of inflammatory arthritis that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints.
The jazz performer, who found mainstream fame after placing third on reality TV singing competition Sing! China in 2017, told The New Paper: "Some days I feel helpless because there is nothing I can change or do to stop the condition.
"Although it is mild right now, I get flare-ups and joint swelling that can last up to five days."
Dong, who is married, also experiences high levels of fatigue as a result of SRA.
" I used to think it was because I was pushing 40 and my energy levels were decreasing. But now I realise it is because my body has been battling this condition," she said.
While on some levels she finds it liberating to finally understand the reason behind her constant fatigue, she also feels disheartened that there is no cure for her chronic condition.
She takes low-dose steroids when necessary, such as when the pain is unbearable.
She said: "I always thought this affected only the elderly. But when I was diagnosed, I realised that there are many different types of arthritis that affect different age groups."
Dong, who also acts and hosts, believes that travel hosting work in rugged destinations or physically demanding aspects of her job will be tough on her when the Covid-19 pandemic ends.
However, she is taking the situation in her stride.
"Sometimes, the adrenaline keeps me going and I have high levels of energy when I perform. But it takes me longer than usual to recover after the performances," she said.
"I do feel undercurrents of anxiety because this condition might worsen as I age, but I am grateful that I have the resources to cope with it.
"Which is why I want to raise awareness as well as funds for people who have this condition, especially amid the pandemic."
Dong will be sharing her story and performing at the NAF A Night With Kumar And Friends Charity Show, a virtual fund-raiser by the National Arthritis Foundation (NAF).
The livestream show will be screened over Sistic Live on Aug 1 at 6pm and hosted by comedian Kumar.
According to Dr Anindita Santosa, a consultant at Changi General Hospital's department of rheumatology and NAF board member and chair of medical committee, there are more than 100 types of arthritis.
Ankylosing spondylitis is more common in men who will most likely start being symptomatic in their late teens and 20s, rheumatoid arthritis usually develops between the ages of 30 to 60 and osteoarthritis usually affects people above 50.
Dr Santosa told TNP: "The fact that we see younger patients with inflammatory arthritis is attributable to Singaporeans becoming more health-conscious and having better access to healthcare than say a decade ago.
"Having information on arthritis widely available online has also helped in bringing awareness to young people, who are more likely to browse the Internet anyway.
"This has likely resulted in them seeing a doctor for their symptoms, so they get diagnosed with arthritis early."
Although the reasons for women being more inclined to developing arthritis are unclear, it is thought that oestrogen, a female hormone, plays a part in autoimmunity.
Dr Santosa said: "Being open about one's diagnosis and journey is not easy, so it is heartening that some public figures (like Joanna) have become active advocates who lend their voices to arthritis sufferers and bring awareness to their condition."