Though she is not Brooks' doctor, Beg said the recent diagnosis could very well explain Brooks' chronic facial pain as well as her overall stiffness, wasting and suicidal thoughts.
Today, at 5 feet 5 inches tall, Brooks weighs just 90 pounds - 40 pounds less than in better days. She can't chew, or eat solid food, or get up or walk by herself. She needs someone with her 24 hours a day.
"I can't imagine living 20 more years like this," said Brooks, sitting in her mother's compact Winter Park, Fla., home.
"It's hard to watch someone you love be in pain and fade away," said Rager, who met Brooks in 2007. "But the way the medical system is set up, there's nothing we can do. She has to suffer every day from now until she dies."
Brooks traces the pain in her jaw back to 1999. She went to several dentists and cranio-facial experts. She tried acupuncture, pain medications, laser pain treatment and even brain surgery, during which a neurosurgeon moved some blood vessels pressing on a facial nerve.
Nothing has brought relief.
"We know that chronically ill patients who are also depressed have lower rates of compliance with their health plans, and poorer outcomes," said Dr. Julie Demetree, a psychiatrist at South Seminole Hospital, in Longwood, Fla.
Although doctors are paying more attention to the relationship between chronic pain and illness and suicide, "there's still room for improvement," she said.
Part of the solution is for doctors to listen more. "You can get a lot from a patient in a 20-minute visit without having to order tests," said Beg.
"Not every specialist is trained to treat depression, but all are trained to ask about it, and that's not done," she said.
Because Brooks is on Medicaid, the list of doctors she can see is short, and the wait for an appointment often long.
Last April a primary-care doctor referred Brooks to a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in arthritis. She finally got in to see him last week. He diagnosed her as having rheumatoid arthritis, but never asked about her mental health, said Michelle Brooks, who sat in on the visit.
Though Brooks still feels her situation is hopeless, Rager and her sister are hopeful that the new diagnosis and new treatment regimen, which includes steroids, will turn her around.
"If the diagnosis is correct - and today's blood tests are very accurate - and she gets proper treatment, I would expect her to get better," said Beg.
"I can't believe it's taken us so long to get here," said Rager. "If this really is the solution, think of all the suffering that could have been prevented."