In 2004, Jan Favero Chambers of Logan, Utah, woke from a hysterectomy in the worst pain she had ever experienced: “I felt as if my whole body was plugged into an electric socket.”
For the next 16 months, the of five children ages 12 and up, lay in a fetal position on her bed, except for visits to specialists—neurologist, gastroenterologist, psychologist—until finally her family doctor sent her to a rheumatologist. You have fibromyalgia, he told her. A condition characterized by body-wide pain and fatigue that affects five million Americans, fibromyalgia (aka fibro) is typically treated with exercise, stress relief and medications like antidepressants and anticonvulsants.
Many doctors believe that genetics, trauma and stress play a role in causing fibro by increasing the sensitivity of the central nervous system. Jan, now 57, believes she had symptoms for years, the result, she thinks, of multiple car accidents, culminating in increased spinal stress during her hysterectomy.
Jan, whose case was extreme, fought back through chiropractic and orthopedic treatments designed to reduce the muscular knots in her back and realign her spine, reducing compression in her neck and spinal cord. She added stretching exercises to lengthen muscles, helping correct pressure-inducing posture. She also began working out daily on a treadmill, increasing from two minutes at 2.5 miles per hour to 22 minutes at almost twice that speed.
As important, in 2007, she started training as a fibro pain advocate through the National Fibromyalgia Association’s Leaders Against Pain program.
“I came home from training and founded the first Utah Fibromyalgia Association,” Jan says. “I needed to talk to other people with fibromyalgia. The first meeting was just me, nine people and the balloons” decorating the room.
She was on a roll: In November, 2008, she founded the Center for Understanding ,Research and Education of Fibromyalgia (CURE FM), now the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association.
“Knowing what pain did to me and my family, I could not go back to a job that didn’t help people in pain,” says the former part-time office manager. “I’m like a kid learning to read: You can’t go back on that.”