Everyone has a signature. Gail’s has lots of adjectives. Accomplished hostess. Consummate networker. Passionate foodie (she’s never met a vegetable she can’t turn into a work of art). She is enjoyed for her warmth, laughter and easy Southern access into her beautiful, well-appointed home and life. It’s silly really, the number of things Gail Derreberry does well.
This friend is most remarkable for the spirit with which she’s facing rheumatoid arthritis. That wasn’t in the cards when she moved to Charleston eight years ago. She’s a beacon…hope that hard change can’t define us.
How was your week?
Interesting. I came to the conclusion that I need to pare down my involvement with two groups.
Yes. I’m really focused on eliminating stress in my life. That can be a ridiculous goal, but I need to try.
Tell me the story again of receiving the diagnosis.
I’d have to sit for hours because I couldn’t walk. I had terrible pain in my ankle. A friend who is a physical therapist remembered I’d fallen in a parking lot and encouraged me to get more x-rays to see if I had a break instead of a sprain. My orthopedist found a hairline fracture and gave me PT exercises. I couldn’t do them so I looped back to my friend. She came by to find me limping and my ankle red and swollen and suggested I see a rheumatologist. The doctor, believing it was lupus, gave me prednisone to get through the holidays. I was diagnosed with RA at a followup appointment on New Year’s Eve that year.
You’ve come a long way.
I’m much better today because of medication. I’ve learned to get eight hours of sleep at night and put my feet up during the day. I do water aerobics regularly. That’s a huge help. And I better pace myself.
There are things you can’t do?
RA began to restrict my activities immediately. I used to walk on the beach with our chocolate lab Riley. Today, I can walk a fourth of the distance I could before. And I have to be careful because sand is not a stable surface. I had bone fusion surgery in one foot last summer, so I can’t move it from side to side.
On a scale of 1-10, where is the pain?
It’s a 5 and moves toward 10 when I’m in trouble. It’s a juggling act. My body is immune-compromised so I have to be careful. I’ve learned to pay attention if something feels off because infection can happen so fast. And taking antibiotics for an infection means I can’t take the RA meds that manage pain.
RA hasn’t changed who you are?
Early on I felt so useless. I felt God say I love you for who you are, not what you do.
RA affects how you do the things you love.
Can we talk about before and after? How has RA affected friendships?
Before there were fewer boundaries for saying yes or no. There was spontaneity. If I was asked to do something, I almost always said yes. Now I look at my calendar to see what else is happening that day and what else I’m doing that week.
Lunch and a historical tour downtown with a friend recently took me under for two days. I have to plan ahead to prioritize the things I want to do.
I do a lot online. I shop with Cabi and have a consultant who makes suggestions. I invite friends over when she shows a new season. It’s efficient and fun. I tried a meal kit service, but we’ve moved away from that. When I’m really tired Bryan brings dinner home. When I cook I try to make double and put a meal in the freezer. I plan for grocery shopping on one day. I leave pantry items in the trunk and Bryan brings them in when he gets home. We have a freezer and refrigerator in the garage. I put the things I won’t use right away there so I don’t have to carry them into the house.
I can’t clean the entire house in one day and I’m not so organized that I do a room a day. I spread things out and take care of the things that need attention, like a dusty table. If I get glass cleaner out for one thing I’ll use it on all the other glass.
I’ve cut way back. My job requires me to meet with people. Before, I did that two to three times a day…now I might have two meetings a week. I’m blessed to be able to do that.
You’re the wife of the Charleston Metro Chamber president and CEO. That requires entertaining?
Bryan does a lot of things on his own during his hours. He’s sensitive. When we have dinner parties at home we invite two couples now rather than many, and friends pitch in. It’s really all about scaling based on frequency and size.
Gardening, before and after RA?
I enjoy container gardening today because it’s easier for me. I’m not nearly the perfectionist I used to be. And I’ve learned to be smarter. Last year when I was non-weight bearing I had to watch weeds grow. This summer we put weed barrier down everywhere.
Your chocolate lab Grace?
She just turned 4 and she’s 74 pounds of brute strength and not as well trained as Riley was. She does doggy daycare three days a week. On the days she’s home Bryan gets up early and exercises with her. By the time he leaves for work she’s exhausted. She has a really big heart. She knows when it’s time to be calm.
I’ve lost track of how many times in this conversation you’ve said you’ve learned something. Will you sum up the biggies?
Sleep and rest. Before, if I had something to do I stayed up and did it. You know…if it’s on the list, best check it off.
I’ve learned to try to be at peace with who I am and what I can do.
I’ve learned to let go of how I pictured life and be thankful for how life is. This GiGi can’t go down a waterslide. I couldn’t carry my grandchildren around when they were small, but we could sit and read. God provides blessings over the things I can’t do.
What you would say to someone experiencing a major life change?
It does not define you. One time Bryan looked at me and said…you’re a warrior, Gail. I never would have thought I’d want to be described that way.
With a chronic illness the little things are the battle…like unscrewing a jar lid or being able to hold a door open for a lengthy period of time. When someone notices that and says way to go it means a lot.
I’ll never think of you without remembering the time you introduced me to Graeter’s French Pot black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream. You’re a big spirit, big scoop kind of girl.
That makes me think of my dad. I was out of town with my mom. Bryan and my dad got ice cream cones. Bryan said, that was really good wasn’t it? My dad laughed and said, “Let’s go get another one.”