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Sometimes I can't walk but I want to keep on performing; ME AND MY HEALTH.. HEAVENLI DENTON.

Byline: Warren Manger

Rejoining The Honeyz for ITV2's The Big Reunion, Heavenli Denton, 38, hoped it would give the trio a second shot at fame. But in rehearsals, Heavenli, who lives in Portugal with husband James and their four kids, Daisy-Mae, 10, Jayden, eight, Honey, four and Zachary, two, was told she had rheumatoid arthritis.

"The pains in my left ankle started a year ago. I was a keen runner, but sometimes I wouldn't be able to run again for days because of the pain.

At first, I wasn't worried, it would come and go.

It gradually got worse and my ankle would swell up. Sometimes I took painkillers but it was sporadic - I thought it was just tendonitis. I had a blood test done but I kind of forgot about it.

On The Big Reunion, it was hurting a lot, but I was concentrating on such a big change in my life that I didn't pay it too much attention.

I knew that the show at the Hammersmith Apollo was coming up and how important it was.

I was worried my ankle would inhibit my movements and I didn't want to let the girls down, so I thought if I had a quick cortisone injection it would help.

In February, I took a lunch break from tour rehearsals and went to see a specialist for the injection. The results of my blood test had come through.

I was so shocked when the doctor told me that I actually had rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic disease that was affecting my whole autoimmune system.

If I'd known I was getting my test results I would've taken someone with me. I remember him explaining what it was, but it was all a blur.

The moment he mentioned the words "chronic disease" I went into a worried daze.

I didn't know anything about it, so I just panicked.

The worst thing was having to return to the rehearsal studio afterwards to continue practising with the girls.

On the way, I phoned my husband. He was miles away, at home in the Algarve, but he tried to calm me down.

When I arrived, the film crew asked if I was OK and that was it, I just burst out crying.

Later that afternoon, I did a make-up free shoot for Heat and I remember thinking "I must look so puffy around my eyes because of all the crying". Amusingly, they used my head shot on their next cover.

As I tried to come to terms with the news, I went on every website I could find, read books and gathered as many details as I could.

There were just so many unknowns. No one could tell me why this had happened or how bad it was. My first thought was, I have four children to look after - you fear the worst.

The doctor prescribed me the medication methotrexatebut some medication methotrexate, but some people I spoke to said their hair started falling out and it made them really irritable. I also read about more serious side effects.

I decided to tackle the disease with natural remedies and exercise. I'm hoping with a positive frame of mind I will be able to tackle my arthritis the drug-free way.

Basically, my blood is very acidic, so I do as much as I can to make my body more alkaline.

I have had to change my diet considerably and cut out foods that aggravate the inflammation in the joints. I stopped eating tomatoes and potatoes, as well as some fruits. I can still eat apples and bananas, but I avoid citrus fruit.

I also drink cider vinegar and honey three times a day when I can, have black molasses three times a day, a pint of water with bicarbonate of soda when I remember and a couple of Epsom salt baths a week.

Drinking vinegar probably sounds strange as it's acidic but it has the opposite effect when it's digested into the body - it turns the blood quite alkaline.

During the live shows, I was in discomfort, but I was determined not to let it stand in my way.

On stage, we had to descend the stairs in six-inch heels.

It was difficult to pull my suitcase on and off the tour coach and into a new room every night. But I had injections, so the actual pain was quite mild.

When I went home after the Hammersmith show, the pain did get bad.

It also started to move around my body, and is now more evident in my right wrist.

At the time, we were toilet-training my youngest, Zachary, and I was having real problems trying to change his nappy. The pain was excruciating.

In the end, my mum had to come over and stay for a couple of weeks to help out.

Since then it has been so far, so good. My diet along with the swimming, cycling and running seems to be keeping a flare-up at bay.

I still get good days and bad days. There are times when I can't walk down the stairs.

Daily tasks you take for granted like lifting a full kettle and doing up my bra strap can be ever so painful.

My husband also tends to lock the handbrake really tight after he drives the car. Sometimes I'm there for five minutes with both hands struggling to take it off.

The most upsetting thing is that sometimes I have difficulty lifting up Zachary to give him a cuddle. Because my right wrist is so sore, I have to try to use my left arm.

But I really think that having my four children around me keeps me busy and it makes me do things I otherwise might have stopped doing.

I now make myself run nine miles, three times a week, and hope to build up to running the London Marathon next year if I can get a place.

I'd love to run it for an arthritis charity to make people more aware that it's not just something old people get - there are younger people struggling with this.

I know so far I have been lucky, but the likelihood is it will get worse. Arthritic pains can become a crippling condition, but I am determined not to let them hold me back in any way.

We haven't told the children the ins and outs. They just know sometimes mummy has pains.

It is a daily struggle but it has even given me more drive to achieve success with The Honeyz.

The girls know about the condition and have been supportive, but it's not a subject that we've really needed to discuss since the diagnosis as I've never let it get in the way."

As told to Warren Manger


What the expert says about arthritis

Jo Cumming, head of information and helplines at Arthritis Care says:

"Rheumatoid arthritis is different to osteoarthritis, which is the more common condition.

"It is a disease where the immune system gets overstimulated and causes inflammation, swelling and damage to the joints. It can also affect the internal organs if it becomes more severe.

"There are 800,000 people in the UK with rheumatoid arthritis. It is usually diagnosed after 16 so even young people can suffer from it.

"Occasionally, they will suffer flare-ups when their immune system gets overactive. This can last for days or even weeks at a time. When the joints swell up they become hot and painful. It is debilitating and so excruciating it often leads to profound fatigue.

"Researchers are currently working to find out why people suffer from it and are looking at whether there are genetic factors.

"This is important work because if they can pinpoint the cause they will be much nearer to finding a cure.

"In the meantime, there are already much better painkillers and medication to reduce the swelling.

"There are also new drugs available to regulate the disease and charities who offer people support to live much better lives with the condition."

For a free pack on rheumatoid arthritis, call the Arthritis Care helpline on 0808 800 4050.

It was difficult to pull my case on and off the coach


FAMILY: Heavenli with Jayden

HEYDAY: With Celena Cherry and Naima Belkhiati

REUNION: In rehearsals for the show
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 1, 2013
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