WHEN Lorayne Francomacaro traveled to Alexandria, Va., last month, she braced herself.
On her way to attend the 1998 American Juvenile Arthritis Organization's national conference, the Ellicott City resident said she expected to see "kids in wheelchairs, kids who don't look like normal kids."
Instead, she admitted, it was a very humbling experience to "just be" with others her age, many of whom had been living with juvenile arthritis for most of their lives.
Francomacaro, 23, a student in the early childhood education program at Towson University, began having symptoms of that type of arthritis two years ago.
First, there was the heel pain and swelling in her feet. Soon she couldn't walk, and her hands began aching.
She went from doctor to doctor as part of a "long process to get diagnosed." She found that she has psoriatic arthritis, a type which affects about 5 percent of those who suffer with arthritis.
More common forms of arthritis -- the word describes a group of diseases that affect the joints of one in seven Americans -- are osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.
Now Francomacaro thinks about medication as she plans her day.
The youngest of Jim and Patti Francomacaro's seven children, Lorayne Francomacaro walks slowly and struggles up and down steps.
Friends help her with everyday activities such as getting in and out of the back seat of a car.
Her young-adult roommates at the conference had faced different issues; their juvenile arthritis affected them dramatically from very early ages.
But the conferees shared similar concerns: Would they be able to have healthy adult relationships and families of their own?
Would anybody find them attractive?
Lorayne Francomacaro's daily routine parallels the lives of many who suffer with fibromyalgia, one of the other forms of arthritis.
Fibromyalgia most often attacks women in their prime, says Peg McLain, patient services coordinator for the Maryland Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation.
Judy Zaller of Columbia, who leads a fibromyalgia support group with Catonsville resident Vicki Burns, says that group members often "feel pain when nothing looks wrong."
Zaller says that sufferers can wake up feeling more tired out than when they went to bed.
Group participants talk with each other about how they cope with the physical and emotional challenges of the disease.
One group member was embarrassed to take a pillow into a movie theater to see "Titanic" -- but needed it in order to be able to sit in a chair through the long movie.
The group meets from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at the Miller Branch Library, 9421 Frederick Road, Ellicott City.
About 10 people attend the monthly meetings, sharing stories of their daily struggles and accomplishments.
For information, call Zaller at 410-730-0533.
Other arthritis support groups are being planned in our area.
For information, call McLain at 410-602-0160, Ext. 224.
The foundation also has free brochures on topics related to arthritis and a Web site: http: //www.arthritis.org/
Arthritic symptoms can be debilitating, and many have found that exercising in water alleviates the three main symptoms of the disease: joint pain, joint stiffness and swelling.
In our area, the Roger Carter Center and the Howard County YMCA offer such programs.
The Roger Carter Center has scheduled a "People with Arthritis Can Exercise" program from 3: 15 p.m. to 4: 15 p.m., starting Sept. 8.
The cost is $24 for 12 weeks.
The class will be taught by Lynn Glaeser.
Glaeser -- an Ellicott City resident who teaches exercise classes for seniors across the county -- recently completed training with the Arthritis Foundation.
In addition to the pool, the Roger Carter Center has a gym equipped with air-compressed equipment that offers gentle resistance to arm and leg movements.
Glaeser has been certified as a fitness instructor and can use the equipment in specially designed exercise programs for individuals.
Adults can buy fitness passes to work out at the gym. A pass for 25 visits costs $63.
The gym is open from 7 a.m. to 8: 30 p.m. and is available when classes are not meeting.
Call 410-313-2765 for information.
The Howard County YMCA offers several water aquatics programs, including one water aquatics class co-sponsored by the Maryland Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation. A physician's approval is required for that class.
YMCA members can attend the class for free; Arthritis Foundation members can attend twice a week for $18, or three times a week for $25.
Those who are not members of the YMCA or the Arthritis Foundation pay more.
Other YMCA classes include "Deep Water Jogging," "Swimfit," "Aquawalking," "Aquacize," "Aqua Combo" and "Aquatic Back Exercise."
These classes are free to YMCA members.
The YMCA offers a variety of membership plans. A senior membership costs $30 per month; a family membership is $52.75.
Call 410-465-4334 for information.
Ellicott City resident and volunteer instructor Audrey Pyle began teaching the Aqua Combo class eight years ago.
Many of her students have attended the class since it began, and have become fast friends.
Pyle was recently named Adult Volunteer of the Year by the YMCA.
When one of her group, a widow, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer recently, Pyle arranged rides and meals for her.
She accompanied her ailing friend to consultations, daylong chemotherapy sessions and blood-work check-ups.
Last week at the YMCA, instructor Linda Tirocchi led the Aquacize class in shallow-water exercises.
About 20 women followed Tirocchi's instructions as they worked with kick-boards and listened to a tape of the song "YMCA."
The women swayed from side to side with the boards over their heads.
They leaned on the boards and bicycled with their legs; they put the boards behind their knees and exercised their arms -- all the while joking and talking.
Tony Giro, a Kindercamp counselor, led a group of 4- and 5-year-olds out of the locker rooms and past the pool.
"Say, 'Hello, ladies,' " he said.
"Hello, ladies," the children said meekly.
They sat on the other side of the pool and waited for the women to finish their exercises.
The pool is well used, especially when summer camps are in session.
The YMCA recently received an award for its collaborative efforts with the Howard County Special Olympics of Maryland.
The "Y" gave free pool time to 20 children from the Special Olympics Swim Team so they could practice for their summer meet.
Peabody classes, instruction
The Peabody Prep fall catalog is now available, and the school is accepting registration for individual instruction and new classes.
Auditions for the Peabody Children's Chorus for children and young people ages 6-17 will be held at Patapsco Middle School on Aug. 27.
Last week's column neglected to mention five master gardeners from Ellicott City, Charlotte Clive, John Guercio, Lori Lease, Cindy Hirshberg and Louise Schuerholz, and one master gardener from Elkridge, Jeff Friedman.
Kudos to these gardeners!
Pub Date: 8/17/98