A True Arthritis Survivor

Author Melinda Winner has overcome several debilitating diseases to achieve her dreams of being a successful writer and cook, having published two cook books and won many prestigious competitions as well as appearing on the Food Network.

The Pittsburgh native attended culinary school as well as film and television production school in North Carolina in her early thirties. Winner worked as an art department coordinator and then as an art director for several years until returning to her true love: food service. However, Winner feared her ambitions had come to a permanent halt after being diagnosed.

Winner was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at 25, although she believes she may have had it as a young teen as well. Over the next several years she was diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome in her left hand, arm and both feet, followed by fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and degenerative disk disease.

An arthritis advocate, Winner met with members of congress to discuss reinstating the consultation codes so patients can see a specialist. She also asked congress to support the arthritis prevention, control and cure act of 2009 and the preventive health care Medicare fracture prevention and osteoporosis testing.

Q:  Could you describe your experiences when you were first diagnosed with RA?

A:  When I was first diagnosed I thought it was no big deal. I thought it was just an ache and a pain that I could handle. I was wrong. Because I did not take the meds, I have a lot of deformity. My disease progressed quickly. Then I felt sorry for myself and gained over 100 pounds. Then I got mad, I began to research, and knowledge is power. I lost the weight by cutting fats, snacks and breads. I began walking short and slow at first and then faster and longer as time went on. That was 16 years ago and I kept the weight off. I was on almost every drug out there for RA and my other forms of arthritis and nothing worked, until Enbrel. I have been on Enbrel for about four to five years, it worked wonderfully and I have my quality of life back. I would like to stress the importance of early diagnosis and treatment. If I had listened to my physicians I would not have as much damage as I do.

Q:  Your MySpace page says you have “five forms of arthritis and a birth injury.” Could you explain this further?

A:  The birth injury is to my right arm. When born I weighed in at well over 12 pounds. My Mother was a diabetic; they are notorious for large babies. My shoulder was crushed as I passed through the birth canal causing severe nerve damage. I have no feeling in my right arm or hand. My right arm is shorter and I cannot lift it any higher than my waist and cannot extend it out forward or backward.

Q:  After being diagnosed, would you have ever thought that you would become a published author, despite having RA?

A:  No, I actually thought at first this was it for me, so much pain and deformity and I already had the birth injury. I simply thought this was the end of the line for me. Who would hire me? I was worthless. Again wrong, that’s what I get for thinking. Actually, having RA had made me a better person. I am more compassionate and caring. I value life. Dedicating my life to helping others like myself transition and learn how to regain their independence in the kitchen and just enjoy life has been a blessing. I have met the most wonderful people with loving and giving hearts despite their illness and pain, true arthritis survivors.   I am honored just to have met them.

"A Complete Guide to Cooking With Arthritis" is available for purchase on Amazon for $17.93. The Kindle edition is $9.99.

Q:  What inspired you to write both of your cookbooks?

A:  The first was a group of construction workers in Mississippi helping after the Katrina disaster. I made them gourmet lunches and delivered them daily. They would tell me all of the time: you should write a book, so I did: “Yankee Cooking with Southern Charm” (I was born in the North but live in the South). I loved both styles of cuisine. After writing the first one I knew I wanted to write another but was not sure what kind.

The more people I met that had arthritis, chronic pain and/or injury that were settling for pre-cut and pre-packaged foods and were experiencing great deals of pain and swelling as I was made me realize that just because we were sick we didn’t have to settle for instant foods that were making our health worse. So I began to experiment with different foods. So many other folks asked me how I could make breads and cakes from scratch while in pain. Then it hit me. I had been preparing foods my entire life incorporating almost every part of my body. Hence my second book: “A Complete Illustrated Guide to Cooking with Arthritis.” It not only has recipes from everyday to gourmet but also color photos with step by step directions how to prepare the recipes using items found in the home and other parts of the body, not just the hands.

Q:  How is your second cookbook different from your first?

A:  The first is simply great recipes and the second is a first of its kind, a self help cookbook for those who have arthritis, chronic pain or injury. It also contains a culinary resource guide, terms section, my personal story and tips for living with arthritis. This book also comes with a free audio download version. The recipes are different, such as red cabbage cake, Moroccan potato salad, Bayou view sludge cake, etc.

"Key Lime Bunts" Yummy!

Q:  What kinds of recipes will readers find in your cookbooks?

A:  Everything from every day to gourmet. Breads, cakes, pies, barbeque sauces, red cabbage cake, Moroccan potato salad, Bayou view sludge cake, stuffed chicken egg plant parm, potato salads with chicken, bacon and cheese, stuffed portabella mushroom caps. Many sea food recipes.

Q:  What is an example of some of the tips readers with arthritis or another disability will find in “An Illustrated Guide to Cooking with Arthritis”?

A:  How to slice apples, squash, pears and potatoes using the forearms. How to transfer water, move laundry and trash cans using a plant stand. How to arrange the kitchen to ease on pain. How to prepare spices and herbs for later use using an ice cube tray. How to make a loaf of bread from scratch without kneading by hand, roll out pie and tart crusts without using the hands.

Q:  What was your favorite part in creating your cookbooks?

A:  Getting to share all of the new creations with my friends, family and neighbors, and of course, the tasting for myself.

Q:  What was your biggest challenge (RA-wise) in creating your cookbooks?

A:  Typing! My hands were purple and some days I just could not type because they were so swollen. Finding a publisher was not really easy either. I must have sent off 30 book proposals before hearing back from one with a yes. The stress of waiting to hear took a toll on my RA.

Q:  Is another cookbook in the works?

A:  Not really a cookbook. My next book is a collection of inspiring stories from many arthritis survivors. How they have triumphed over pain and of course their favorite recipe will be added at the end of their story. I am a true foodie.

Q:  When you’re not cooking, what do you like to do in your free time?

A:   Travel, spending days at the beach with my family, horseback riding when the pain allows and boating and chatting with friends.

Q:  What is your philosophy on living a life with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

A:  You live until you die and what you do in between is your choice. Meaning God gave us one life, so live it. I believe whole heartily, no matter what your age or condition, it is never too late to become what you might have been.

Winner hosts the Arthritis Survivor’s Network on Facebook, a page dedicated to creating a community for arthritis patients, spreading arthritis awareness, and, of course, sharing recipes.  Both of Winner’s cookbooks are available on Amazon.

Check out the My Bum Thumb Facebook page!


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Laurie
    Apr 09, 2010 @ 19:33:54

    What a great post, Cari! Thanks for introducing me to this amazing woman! 🙂 Laurie


  2. Melinda
    Apr 28, 2010 @ 05:02:08

    Hi Cari ! Thank you for a great story. You are an amazing writer. I have no doubt that someday soon you will be writing for a major paper or network. I am so impressed with your writing. All I can say is Thank you and WOW !


  3. terry painter
    Apr 28, 2010 @ 06:10:51

    Melinda is my sister and from a very early age she never cesed to amaze me. I am very proud of her and her accomplishments. Go Girl. love terry


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