Take the Next Step
Rebecca Stanionis is the owner and operator of Next Step Health, LLC. Specializing in the management of chronic illness, she offers personalized assistance, support, guidance and motivation for those affected by chronic health conditions.
Rebecca holds a Master of Science in speech language pathology from Duquesne University, a health and wellness coach certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) and is an ACE certified personal trainer.
My chronic illness journey began with the arrival of my first child, a son who was born with severe health issues. I spent many long days and nights caring for him at home and taking him to medical appointments, and eventually left my career as a speech language pathologist in order to devote more time to his care.
During this difficult phase of life, I felt lost and afraid and didn’t cope as well as I probably should have. I didn’t exercise my stress away or talk to a professional as many of my loved ones suggested. Instead, I poured every ounce of my being into caring for my child, not once worrying about my own diet, sleep habits or overall health.
Around the age of 2, my son’s health problems slowly began to resolve, and just when I thought a “normal” life was within reach, my body began to turn on itself. First came severe fatigue, then swollen and painful joints. These were followed by excruciating rashes and an overall feeling of malaise. Months of my own medical appointments and tests revealed a shocking diagnosis: I was suffering from an autoimmune form of arthritis.
Having an answer was great, but it felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. At just twenty-seven years old, I thought I was too young for arthritis! However, I quickly discovered that arthritis, like any chronic illness, does not discriminate and affects people of all ages, races, genders and walks of life.
A few years passed, and with them came two more children. My arthritis symptoms had gone into remission while I was pregnant, and I thought I might be in the clear for good. But after the birth of my third child, the pain came back with a vengeance.
As the newly awakened pain spiraled me down a path I’d been on before, I knew I had to do something, anything. I could not and would not live with pain, inflammation and other symptoms calling the shots. I also knew I didn’t want to be stuck on immunosuppressive drugs or to be a human guinea pig subject to endless medical trial and error, so instead of going with traditional, integrative medicine for treatment, I began seeing a functional medicine doctor.
Together, we experimented with lifestyle changes, starting with diet. I tried dining as a raw vegan, then eating according to the McDougall and Gerson plans, then juice fasting. It took trying several other diet plans before I found the nutritional changes that worked best for me. I also added a gentle exercise routine, stress reduction techniques and dietary supplements into my life, all of which supported autoimmune arthritis management and my overall wellness goals.
The improvements I saw were nothing short of miraculous. My pain and fatigue were at a minimum, and I was starting to feel like me again when life threw up another roadblock: my second son was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, an autism spectrum disorder.
In the moment, my son’s diagnosis felt like a cruel joke. I’d just gone through years of health concerns with my firstborn, then with my own body. Now I was staring down the barrel of another scary familial health crisis and starting to feel the weight of it on my shoulders. However, self-pity and despair never helped to solve a problem, so I began doing something productive with that energy – researching.
The more I learned, the more confident I became in how to manage my son’s disorder. Just as it had been with my arthritis, implementing holistic changes to my son’s life delivered big results. With every change to his routine, lifestyle and diet, more improvements to his behavior and speech appeared. It was wonderful to see him doing so well!
Just as my son began to thrive, I was once again blindsided by my own health. Suddenly, I became incredibly ill with horrific nerve, joint and muscle pain, vision problems and a high fever. The doctors ran tests but said it was likely an arthritis flare. For 4 long weeks I lived in agony, until I learned that what I was experiencing was not an arthritis flare, but a severe case of Lyme disease instead.
I was devastated to hear my diagnosis. After fighting so hard for my own well-being and that of my family, it felt like starting over again. This time however, I jumped right into researching and learning all I could about infectious disease and treating it by natural means. I incorporated new dietary changes, supplements, exercise and the advice of my functional medicine physician to my daily routine and once again overcame a chronic condition.
Before I knew it, I was regularly counseling friends and family on various diets and alternative therapies for chronic illnesses. It was as if my suffering had purpose, that through my experiences I could make a huge difference in the lives of others. I felt a longing in my soul to continue this work, and I enrolled at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) to become a certified health coach.
Throughout my healing journey, I struggled with feelings of isolation, hopelessness, confusion and fear. What I needed more than anything was someone to talk to, someone who could relate to my experiences and help me understand the conflicting information that I found through doctors and research. That’s why I decided to become that person for someone else, and Next Step Health was born.
Because I live with and manage my own chronic illnesses and the conditions of family members, I know that it takes a network of support to navigate life with chronic health concerns. It is my opinion that there is no better motivation, perspective or knowledge than that of someone who has actually experienced chronic disease and its management, which is why I invite you to take the Next Step with me.