Amy Cotton is a champion for people living with arthritis and a two-time Olympian in the sport of Judo. The Nova Scotia native was diagnosed with Still’s disease at age 17. She remembers feeling muscle aches and fatigue, the symptoms of arthritis, as early as age 13.
Adult Still’s disease is a rare form of arthritis which is characterized by high fevers, inflammation of the joints, and a salmon-coloured rash on the skin. In children, this disease is known as systemic onset juvenile rheumatoid arthritis; when it occurs in people over age 15, it is known as adult Still’s disease.
Adult Still’s disease affects men and women in approximately equal numbers. Though it can occur in adults of all ages, it tends to strike two age groups most commonly: those from age 15 – 25, and those from age 36 – 46. A fairly rare form of arthritis, adult Still’s disease affects approximately 1 in 100,000 adults.
In an interview with the Chronicle Herald, Cotton said, “I would go through bouts of achiness and tiredness and fevers and chills and no energy. Some days, I would sleep for almost 24 hours.”
Cotton credits her mom with helping her get a diagnosis. “I was lucky because I had my mom, who is a nurse. She would take me to the hospital and push the doctors to run the tests and that type of thing. I think it helped, because if I didn’t have my mom doing that, it might not have been diagnosed until later.” She experienced years of flare-ups before her doctors finally settled on the diagnosis of arthritis.
Cotton loved judo and was not about to let her arthritis pain stop her from participating in the sport. She found the mental strength to push on despite the constant pain, weight loss and lack of energy. Her career highlights include 10 Canadian championship medals (three gold, four silver, and three bronze), a bronze medal at the 2003 Pan American Games, dozens of international medals, a World Cup medal in 2001, and participating in two Olympic games.
Since retiring from Judo in 2014, Cotton’s arthritis has improved as a result of medication and changes to her diet. She now participates in advocacy work for the Arthritis Society in Nova Scotia. She wants people to know that arthritis is not an old person’s disease. In the interview with the Chronicle Herald, she added, “There’s a lot of children that are getting this disease, and people don’t see that or think that that’s possible. More people than you think have this disease.”
Finally, Cotton wants people living with arthritis to know that they are not alone and should not suffer in silence. To quote the Olympian, there is “help out there for everybody”.