Dominique Easley knows how to use his brawn on the football field to benefit the New England Patriots. A former University of Florida Gridiron star, Easley was listed as the No. 1 defensive tackle in the nation in 2010, later entering the National Football League player draft in 2014, where he was selected by the Patriots in the first round. He began the 2015 season as one of the Patriots’ starting defensive tackles and ended the season with 15 tackles and 2 sacks. While cultivating his starting role with the patriots over the last year, Easley has also been channeling a different kind of strength off the field. Through Easley’s awareness, the NFL defensive tackle is raising funds and awareness for fibromyalgia, a disease that became personal for Easley in 2011.

eDESTINEE’S DIAGNOSIS

Destinee Easley, Dominique’s sister, is a studious, bubbly 16-year-old who enjoys hanging out with her friends. However, following her diagnosis of fibromyalgia five years ago, the teenager’s day-to-day activities began to be governed by her illness. After watching his sister tackle her own formidable opponent of chronic pain and fatigue, Easley decided he would use his high profile to promote research efforts to find a cure. “At first, we didn’t know what was happening with Destinee,” Easley says, recalling the beginning of the events that would eventually lead to his sister’s diagnosis. “She came to one of my college games and started feeling really bad and then passed out. After that, it was doctor visit after doctor visit.”

Destinee recalls the afternoon when she first became aware that something was wrong.

“It was 2011,and I was at Dominique’s football game in Florida, and I started feeling really hot and very dizzy,” she says. “This went on for two weeks, and one doctor said it was a sinus infection, but it never went away. The dizziness started first, and then my legs started to feel like spaghetti and I started having pain in my legs, arms and back. The doctors gave me medicine, but it didn’t help and no one knew what was going on.”

Like many people with fibromyalgia, Destinee soon found there were no easy fixes for her condition. The prescribed medications didn’t alleviate her pain, and she didn’t want to continue to increase dosage amounts or the number of medications she was taking, a confluence of circumstances that left her with limited options.

“I hate taking medicine and I don’t want to take it all of the time,” Destinee says. “So I started looking into holistic therapies. My family also changed our eating habits and now we are eating organic foods, drinking tea. I exercise as much as I can, but I can’t say that the pain is gone. I still have it every day. It never goes away.”

Destinee says it is difficult for people to understand how debilitating fibromyalgia can be if they don’t know anything about the disease. Unlike some chronic pain conditions that have obvious physical causes, fibromyalgia is an invisible illness.

“This isn’t a disease you can see,” Destinee says. “I’m a happy per-son, so I’m usually smiling, and it’s hard for some people to believe what I go through. But just because you don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

eeeeA BROTHER’S PERSPECTIVE

During the time since his sister’s initial diagnosis at age 12, Dominique transitioned from college football to the NFL and his role with the Patriots. He says that his sister’s struggle during the same time period prompted him to launch Easley’s Awareness (www.easleysawareness.com), adding that her courage in dealing with her fibromyalgia is an ongoing inspiration to him.

“There are some times when she can’t walk to go to school,” Do-minique says. “She’s not able to be a kid and just enjoy the normal things. And she tells me that people didn’t believe her when she was first sick, which is what a lot of people with fibromyalgia experience. People think they’re trying to get out of things because they can’t prove they are sick.”

easley1As a professional athlete, father of two sons and enthusiastic fan of physical recreation, Easley instinctively incorporates activities like bowling, meet-and-greet dinners and Champs Camp to raise funds for fibromyalgia research. Easley says he hopes his public persona will lead people to the Easley’s Awareness website and will encourage fibromyalgia sufferers to reach out to others for support.

“Since we’ve been talking about Destinee’s struggle, more people have come to us with their stories,” says Dominique. “The website is a way for people to share their ideas about things that help them feel better and find places to go for help.”

easley9A PERSONALIZED APPROACH TO FIBRO TREATMENT

Like others who live with chronic pain, Destinee is learning to become an advocate for herself. Working with the Centers for Integrative Medicine and Healing in Providence, Rhode Island, she has developed a holistic treatment strategy. Using both Eastern and Western medicine modalities, the Centers’ approach complements Destinee’s personal approach to dealing with her chronic pain.

“Some days, I’m good, and then the next day, I’m hit with a ton of pain,” she says. “On those days, I’ll take 800mg of ibuprofen and I use a lot of vitamins as well—vitamin D, B complex, fish oil, probiotics. And I also try not to think negative thoughts and to be as positive as I can. It gets really hard at times, and sometimes, I want to give up, but being around people who support me helps a lot.”

The Easley’s Awareness website also overviews fibromyalgia, highlighting that 50 percent of fibromyalgia patients suffer from sensitivity to odors, noise, bright lights, medications and various foods, and that fibromyalgia often co-occurs (up to 25 to 65 percent) with other rheumatic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE),and ankylosing spondylitis(AS). The complex combination of physical challenges presented by fibromyalgia affects many patients with the disorder, but Destinee says that some of the corresponding social challenges are equally difficult.

easley10“For me, one of the most difficult parts as a teenager is social,” she explains. “It’s hard to do things like go to the mall or the movies and that depresses me at times. I’m not able to have a regular teenager’s life, but my friends support me. If I feel bad, they’ll come to my house, lie on my bed with me and make me laugh.

“I’m also really fortunate to have an amazingly supportive mom and dad, and family and friends,” Destinee continues. “My mom quit her job to take care of me, and although we have always been a close family, when a child goes through something, it changes things. We’ve always liked to hang out with each other, and we’re always laughing, and that kind of positive environment really helps.”

Destinee says that Dominique’s launch of Easley’s Awareness has made the already tight family even closer. She adds that the website has prompted other fibromyalgia patients of a similar age to reach out to her.

“Fibromyalgia has become more common in teenagers,” Destinee says. “Since my brother did this, I’ve come into contact with a lot of young people dealing with the same things as me.”

FIBRO AWARENESS FOR PATIENTS OF ALL AGES

According to Easley’s Awareness, more than 15 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and 90 percent of those diagnosed are female. The site states that fibromyalgia is the second- leading cause of musculoskeletal disease, following osteoarthritis, and 60 percent of the people diagnosed with fibromyalgia are between the ages of 30 and 40. Both Dominique and Destinee hope that sharing her story will enable other people suffering from fibromyalgia to find resources for relief as well as prompt continued research into the causes of the disorder and effective treatment strategies.

easley11“When someone hasn’t been through pain, they can’t really understand it,” Dominique says. “There are a lot of ups and downs. With Easley’s Awareness, we hope we can help find a cure and help people find better ways of living with the disease until that cure happens.” And while the Easley’s Awareness education and fundraising effort is a joint passion between brother and sister, the sibling relationship has always been, and will continue to be, a source of strength for Destinee.

“When I initially found out about what Dominique was doing, I just said ‘Wow!’” Destinee recalls. “But we’ve always looked out for each other. Along with my oldest brother and my parents, we’re all close. We’ve got each other’s backs. That means a lot. When you’re dealing with something like fibromyalgia, you have to be around people who support you.” {PP}