One Patient's Positive Perspectives

Lupus Foundation of America lupus awareness poster

Someone you know has lupus!  A few years ago, the Lupus Foundation of America launched a wonderful awareness campaign using this slogan.   The statement was featured on a hauntingly beautiful poster of a young woman’s face, surrounded in a field of blue-green and butterflies.  The campaign very successfully raised awareness about lupus and the 1.5 million Americans who suffer with this chronic auto-immune disease.

I still display a copy of the attractive poster in my office at work.  Over the years, my own lupus awareness was gradually raised as I learned about people I knew who had lupus.  Eventually, my lupus awareness became very personal when I learned that I, too, had lupus.

Someone I knew had lupus

One of my childhood playmates was a little girl who grew up in the house next door.   We played hop-scotch, hula hoops and skated together around the neighborhood when we were young girls.  As a young married woman, she became mysteriously ill and developed disfiguring pigmented rashes on her face.  I hurt for her.  Julie has lupus.

Thirty years ago, my husband’s college friend was engaged to a lovely woman who suddenly became extremely ill with a painful disabling illness.  We have looked on at her health in frustration for years.  She has been unable to access appropriate medical treatment, and has suffered for nearly three decades.  All the while, never successfully managing her illness.  We prayed for her.  Liz has lupus.

A vibrant woman I knew received accommodation from her employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and was allowed to telecommute to work a portion of each work week.  This allowed her to better cope with overwhelming fatigue she often experienced.  Because of the success of her ADA accommodation, she was able to remain employed for many more years before eventually losing her long battle with chronic illness and cancer.  She became a professional role model for me.  Kathy had lupus.

Over the past few years a friend in my church struggled, first with the loss of her kidneys, then her transplanted kidney, and finally her life.  Her doctors never found a way to stop the progression of her severe chronic illness.  This amazing woman’s personal faith in God and unquenchable joy seemed to overcome all the challenges of her long battle with illness and organ failure.  She inspired and encouraged everyone who knew her.  Gaynel had lupus.

Someone you know has lupus!

Someone you know may have lupus.  Generally, the sooner lupus is diagnosed the more manageable it is.  It has been shown that earlier diagnosis and treatment reduces the overall severity and mortality rates of lupus patients.  Someone needs to tell people that they might have lupus.  More people need to know and be able to observe and identify the signs and symptoms of lupus in people around them.  Perhaps a well-informed family member or friend will know enough about lupus to notice they are at risk.  How else will people with lupus ever find out, unless they, or someone they know, is aware what to look for?

Everyone, and especially every woman, should realize that lupus is a very important women’s health issue.  Every person should be aware enough about lupus to guide her friend, family member, or even herself to seek medical advice and treatment if they have signs and symptoms of lupus.  We should know how to recognize these signs, so that we may warn people when we think they may have this potentially disabling and life-threatening disease.

Where might you meet someone with lupus?

I thought it would be interesting to bounce around some “real” numbers to compare to common situations and circumstances, to help illustrate the incidence and prevalence of lupus around us.  These comparisons may help underscore the importance of lupus awareness in our routine social settings.

Schools

Someone you know at school has lupus

Census figures put the average American household size between 3-4 people, and this tells us that the average school child may have one sibling and 4 cousins. This means that for every elementary school classroom of 30 students in America, at least one of the students in that class, one of her siblings, or one of her cousins has or will develop lupus.  (1:180)

Statistics about lupus also reveal that, among all the students attending any given school in America, one child out of every 5 classrooms (of 30 students) has or will develop lupus in her lifetime.  Additionally, for every 300 PTA Club members in that school, 2 of these members of that organization are likely to have lupus.  Do school nurses and teachers know what to look for?

Workplace

I have approximately 1,500 co-workers at my place of employment.  Statistics about the national incidence of lupus tell me that 9 of my co-workers are likely to have lupus.  I personally know of only two coworkers that have had lupus.  I wonder sometimes who the other 7 are, and if they even know or suspect they have lupus.  If they don’t know, they may have been struggling with illness like I did, without knowing what makes them so sick.  (1:150)

Church and community groups

The church where I worship has over 300 members, and many more frequent visitors to our local community fellowship.  Statistics can accurately help me predict that 2 members of my church are likely to have lupus.  This statistic gets very close and personal, when these 2 people are identified as me and someone else I know.  The other other person was my friend who recently died from lupus-caused kidney failure.

My own church is on a par with national averages for lupus in the general population.  It is questionable whether most pastors or other community organization leaders know enough about lupus to recognize it.  Would they recognize warning signs of lupus in a suffering member of their congregation or group?  Would they have adequate lupus awareness to be able to encourage women with signs of lupus to ask their doctors about the possibility of lupus?  (1:150)

460 fans in attendance were likely to have lupus

Sporting events

My husband is a great NASCAR fan, so I thought I would “run the numbers” for the throngs of people sitting in the grand stands when he recently attended a weekend race at Phoenix International Raceway.  Statistics let us deduce that out of the 70,000 in attendance at that racing event, over 460 of the fans were likely to have lupus!

Cities and towns

In the City of Phoenix where I reside, there are well over 1.5 million other people. The entire population of my city represents the total number of people in the United States that have lupus. Of these people who are my friends, neighbors and fellow citizens, statistics tell us that 10,000 other people living in my city also have lupus.

Because 90% of lupus patients are known to be women, we can estimate that approximately 9,000 women in Phoenix may have lupus.  Is there a high enough level of lupus awareness in my community, that they or someone who knows them would suspect that these women have lupus?  Is there someone around them who knows to encourage them to ask the right questions, and get the right answers that can result in their diagnosis and treatment?

Japanese disaster victims

3,000 displaced Japanese women with lupus

As I was considering all of these statistics, my thoughts turned to current events in Japan, and the estimated half-million people who have been recently displaced by its horrific earthquake and tsunami.  Statistics let us infer that at least 3,000 of these displaced people are likely to be women with lupus.

In addition to their homelessness, I cannot even begin to imagine the unthinkable plight of these unfortunate women with lupus.  These Japanese lupus patients are likely to be suffering greatly from medication shortages, inadequate shelter and rest, and extended exposure to damaging ultraviolet light from the sun.  These women are likely to experience many lupus problems as they go through this horrible disaster.  Some may even lose their lives because of impacts that stress they are experiencing may have on their lupus.

My heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to women with lupus who are going through this extremely stressful time in their lives.  I pray for their protection, their encouragement, and their continued faith and hope through this difficult ordeal.

What indicates a person might have lupus?

Why is lupus awareness so important? Family doctors surveyed nationally admit that they do not understand lupus well enough to recognize it easily in their patients.  People who know the signs and symptoms of lupus can encourage others to seek medical advice, or ask their doctors about their own risks of having lupus.  The evidence of appropriate diagnostic criteria helps doctors determine if a patient might have lupus.

Each case is unique and unpredictable.  It often  requires a doctor to observe their patient over an extended period of time to identify the multiple ways their patient is affected by lupus before a doctor eventually suspects lupus.  From patient to patient, and from time to time in the same patient, lupus frequently changes in its scope, severity and which body systems it will attack.  This makes it very difficult to diagnose.

Because lupus attacks varying body systems, and it is so systemic in nature, it is easily mistaken for other health problems related to these same body systems.  Typically, a patient waits multiple years and consults with several doctors before their lupus is accurately diagnosed.

Early diagnosis and treatment are known to slow the progression of the disease and increase life expectancy and reduce mortality.  Diagnosis is the first logical key to a patient receiving the treatment they need.

Additionally, lupus is a potentially disabling and life-threatening disease with at least two under-recognized high-risk complications.  It is very easy to understand why these manifestations of lupus are so import to women’s health.

  • Lupus is one of the major causes of kidney failure
  • Lupus is a significant cause of heart disease in women

Someday, a life helped by your increased lupus awareness might be very close to you.  It might even be your own!

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