Sharon Waldrop is the founder and director of the Fibromyalgia Association of Michigan (FAM). FAM grew out of Mrs. Waldrop’s Fibromyalgia Support & Education Group at St. John Macomb Oakland Hospital in Warren (Detroit suburb), Michigan. In 1997 Mrs. Waldrop founded the support group under the guidance of the Arthritis Foundation. In 2003 she incorporated the group into a non-profit called the Fibromyalgia Association of Michigan (FAM). Mrs. Waldrop donates her time to the volunteer-run organization. She is a co-founder and executive committee advisor for the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association’s Leaders Against Pain Coalition, is one of four fibromyalgia patient advocates internationally in OMERACT (OMERACT is an international, informally organized network aimed at improving outcome measurement in rheumatology), and she is a volunteer for the Arthritis Foundation’s Speaker’s Bureau.
Since her diagnosis of Fibromyalgia (FM) in 1996, she has learned support and education are the keys for coping with FM. Hence, she formed the support group in 1997. The support and education group has served over 1000 people with FM and their loved ones since its inception. The group also works to raise awareness of FM in the community and state. These awareness programs led to the incorporation of FAM.
Beginning in 2001, the support group has received proclamations from the State of Michigan recognizing May 12 as Michigan Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. The group celebrates the day by hosting programs for patients and those affected by FM. In May 2010 the group hosted the first Advocacy Day for FM at Michigan’s Capitol Building in Lansing. More than 100 legislators attended and more than 50 people with FM attended from across Michigan and from three other states.
Mrs. Waldrop is especially proud of her work achievements because there was a time she thought she might never work again. Fibromyalgia forced Mrs. Waldrop to resign as marketing manager from a wire and cable corporation in 1996 when she was 24. Mrs. Waldrop’s symptoms spiraled and she was left bed-ridden. Her body felt like it was covered in invisible burns and bruises. Wearing clothing was painful. She tried everything to keep her job including intensive rehabilitation during short-term disability. After achieving a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Wayne State University, and becoming a marketing manager by her mid-twenties, resigning was difficult. Mrs. Waldrop thought FM was the end of her career in public relations. It proved to be just the beginning of a new career.
In addition to starting her group, Mrs. Waldrop held three jobs over the years since she resigned from the wire and cable company. She learned she can work part-time with flexible hours. Her last job before she left the paid workforce to stay home with her kids was Juvenile Arthritis Initiative Project Coordinator for the Arthritis Foundation, Michigan Chapter. She implemented statewide programs to raise awareness of juvenile arthritis among patients, physicians and the public.
Coincidentally just prior to starting the juvenile arthritis (JA) project she discovered she had juvenile arthritis too. For years doctors tried to find the reason Mrs. Waldrop’s jaw had completely deteriorated by the age of 20 leaving her with severe TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder). Nuclear bone scans proved it was the result of undiagnosed JA.
Having a very supportive family also enables Mrs. Waldrop to work as she cannot always keep up with household tasks. FM has forced her to give up some of her favorite hobbies: she used to rollerblade, bike or do aerobics/weight training six days a week. Exercise now consists of a FM exercise video tape-program, walking, and keeping up with her five and seven-year-old boys.
Mrs. Waldrop enjoys being a stay-at-home Mom especially because Mrs. Waldrop thought Fibromyalgia might rob her of this joy. While it certainly has its challenges, motherhood is the best thing that has happened for Mrs. Waldrop. She says her two boys Cooper and Jack give her inspiration to try harder and get up and get moving even when it is difficult.
Many times the challenges of FM were overwhelming and Mrs. Waldrop feared her life was destroyed. She thought she would never have the career she wanted, a husband, the ability to participate in any form of exercise – let alone the ability to perform basic life functions like walking or cooking. Living with FM is a daily challenge, but she says she is very happy with her life – “I am married to my best friend, have two beautiful and amazing boys, I have a very rewarding career, and FM has taught me to be a stronger person, appreciate every minute of life, and put my faith in God.”