Healthy Living

Tatum O'Neal Knows Rheumatoid Arthritis Personally

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Many know Tatum O'Neal from her acting career, but not as many know the struggle she has been through in regard to rheumatoid arthritis.

The struggle of getting people to understand

The trouble with illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis is that it can be hard for people who had never been through it to relate. Tatum was struggling because, even though she had a wonderful support system in her family and friends, she knew they didn't fully understand what she was going through. As a result, she reached out to the Arthritis Foundation to discuss the diagnosis she had received two years prior - rheumatoid arthritis with osteoarthritis. She wanted to talk to someone who truly understood the effects the disease has, and how to create connections with others who have it.

Reaching out

Eventually she met up with Marcy O'Koon Moss of the Arthritis Foundation, someone she had been turning to for support for some time. They strolled through Los Angeles and discussed her relationship with rheumatoid arthritis and how it had started slowly, then became intense all of a sudden. She explained that she was in what she referred to as a "low state," and was struggling to cope with the pain she had acquired from the many surgeries on her neck and back disc she had undergone in the last couple years. She also struggled with knee pains; one of them kept becoming enlarged and seemed to never heal after a meniscal repair surgery. However, the intensity of her discomfort increased, and she explained that the pain was changing in regard to its nature and location, and she was especially scared when she began to struggle to walk. She knew something was wrong.

One night, Tatum felt pain more intensely than ever before, and couldn't believe how swollen and aching her right hand was. Her rheumatologist informed her that she had rheumatoid arthritis and severe damage in her ankle, as revealed by an MRI.


To combat her pain, she started taking a biologic drug, took methotrexate, and had to self-administer shots in her stomach once a week.

However, she still found herself in the hospital with pneumonia three times in only four months not soon after. Her doctors were confused as to why she was having such a negative reaction until a pulmonologist noticed that it was her lungs that were having a problematic reaction to the methotrexate.

Tatum looks back to that frightening time in her life and says, "it's been a tough road. Very, very scary for my children and for all of us."

While there is no denying she has been through intense hardship, she was eventually able to find a new medical combination that was better suited for her that did not include methotrexate. She eventually told Marcy that her days had been "pretty perfect" recently, who was happy to hear the news after knowing what she had gone through previously.

No stranger to hardship

While Tatum had never had to fight something like rheumatoid arthritis before her diagnosis, she had always been strong and had experience tackling adversity. Tatum recognizes that in being a child of Hollywood she has had some benefits and has been offered many great things that others haven't, but wants others to know that it isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Growing up in that way also offers many difficulties, and requires a child to grow up quickly.

Tatum had a very successful acting career at a young age, and even received an Oscar for the role of Addie she played when she was a child with her father, Ryan O'Neal. She later starred in classics like Bad News Bears, Little Darlings, and International Velvet.

Marcy admits that she was a fan of O'Neal from a young age and, like many, figured that she only lived a joyous and luxurious lifestyle - that celebrities could not possibly be plagued by the troubles of "normal people." However, in 2004 Tatum released a book called A Paper Life that discussed her struggles with the neglect she faced in her childhood, and how she was constantly battling the emotional and physical abuse she suffered by the hands of various family members who were involved in drugs. It was not a surprise to some, therefore, that she too struggled with drug addiction as she grew up.

However, Tatum battled back, and was able to achieve sobriety. She admits that she has had drastic highs and lows throughout her life, some of which viewers were able to see in the 2011 reality show Ryan and Tatum: The O'Neals, which looked into their attempts to come together as a family after being estranged for 25 years.

As a result, Tatum knows that hardships are a part of life - and she is viewing rheumatoid arthritis as she would any of her other struggles.

Staying positive

Tatum explains, "my mental health is so important. I've had depression before. With RA, I always try to go to a place of hope ... I've got to get ahead of it. I've got to! I have a young spirit and I want to be able to do anything in the world that I want to do. I want a long, healthy life."

She certainly has exhibited a lot of willpower, and anyone who knows her well is confident that nothing can get in her way - not even rheumatoid arthritis. She keeps her body healthy by taking lots of supplements like probiotics, turmeric, and MSM. She also forces herself to constantly eat healthily, even when she finds the food disgusting, and stays away from sugar, meat, and anything fried when she can.

While she can no longer go for 7-mile runs with Madonna or do headstands in yoga classes, that doesn't mean she has given up on her fitness. She likes to do floor work, and focuses a lot on her core, which she believed has helped her tremendously.

For a while, she couldn't even walk very far due to the pain in her knee, but it is beginning to heal and she has been able to walk on her treadmill, which is a joy to her.

She explains a little more about her workouts, "I've worked out with trainers. They push you harder than you want to go. They don't understand the damage. I know how far I can go." So now, she is enjoying taking her fitness into her own hands - getting fit on her own terms.

Moving forward

Tatum knows that rheumatoid arthritis is not curable and could go into remission at any time, but she plans to stick around for her incredible children. She explains how much they mean to her, "my kids have been pretty great. They watch out for me."

Despite her amazing children, she is no stranger to an imperfect family situation. Her mother died in 1997 and she remains estranged from her father, who she does not believe is aware of her rheumatoid arthritis. But she explains how you can't let imperfect situations get in the way of your life. She says, "I had to restructure my friends and support system. You have to find a core group of family and friends to love you and stand by you."

Tatum shows that despite hardships, you can still be a part of all the joys of life.