Lupus at sweet sixteen, but not yet diagnosed. You don’t know this yet, but in a few years you will be a young wife and mother, and will finally be diagnosed with lupus. However, you will continue to have mysterious symptoms for another ten years before a doctor finally asks the right questions, and runs the correct blood tests to find the answer to why you are so sick.
In the meantime, please just keep trusting God on the days you feel bad. It is not in your head, you are not a hypochondriac, and some day you will have an answer and proper treatment. Until then, keep focusing on your blessings and hold onto the joy of the Lord in the midst of your rough times. The signs of lupus have already been present for most of your life, but the family doctor you have seen since you were five doesn’t know what to look for. He has repeatedly tested you for rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, knowing that your mom’s mother had both, in his attempts to try to find an answer to explain why you have had so many health problems.
Even when you had kidney problems and protein in your urine, he never figured out your recurring childhood “kidney infections” were really lupus. Someday you will understand and need to forgive him for what he doesn’t know.
Remember when you were five, and your knees and joints became swollen and stiff for weeks, and they tested you over and over for rheumatoid arthritis? It hurt so much to get up and down out of a chair that you cried, and cried? They were trying to find lupus, but didn’t know what to do to find it. Not very long after that, you went through months of falling asleep in exhaustion in the middle of the afternoon, and the doctor put you on the diabetes diet, thinking it was blood sugar problems, even though you tested negative for diabetes. They just didn’t yet suspect lupus!
Then, there was that summer when you were a couple of years older, you started getting round puffy red rashes the size of pennies on your face, arms and neck. This was a sign of your lupus, too, but the doctor only could describe it as a sun allergy. He didn’t know to look for lupus. Later on, you got more round red rashes on your forearms, and your mother thought they were ringworm. Then you had deep red swollen patches of rash a couple of years after that all over your neck. Still, probably more cutaneous lupus discoid rashes.
Later, remember another time when you were unusually exhausted for months, and your mom explained to you that the doctor had done blood tests that revealed you were extremely anemic? Then, you took sustained release iron tablets for several years before your hemoglobin levels stabilized. This might have been caused by lupus attacking your blood cells, but we will never know, because they didn’t test for lupus.
Later, in the summer after grade school, there were high fevers that made you hallucinate. The doctors at the hospital never suspected lupus, even after searching in vain for a virus or bacteria they thought was causing the fevers. Still, no lupus diagnosis. Afterward, you felt bone-tired fatigue for weeks, and in your school pictures from 7th grade you had deep dark circles under your normally sparkling eyes. Remember how you hid those awful pictures, because they made you feel like you looked like an old sick woman?
Then, a couple of years ago in middle school, they had another opportunity to find your lupus, but missed that, too. Your sudden severe case of painful pleurisy in your lungs in the eighth grade should have been a clue for your doctor to suspect lupus.
All the migraines you have had since you were a little girl, and the painful mouth and nose ulcers you have had every few weeks from the time you were five or younger were signs and symptoms of lupus. I hate to tell you that you will have to continue having those oral and nasal ulcers for the rest of your life, every time your lupus gets ready to flare. They will become your early warning sign of another major flare ahead.
In a few years, a doctor will even try testing your recurring nose ulcers for cancer, but will again overlook having the biopsy tested for lupus. I am so sorry to tell you that it will take a few more years and a couple more doctors before one finally figures out that the ulcers are a sign and symptom of your lupus that will eventually be diagnosed correctly. It is going to take about ten more years.
In a couple of years, during your senior year of high school, you will be very sick from October until March. Your legs will ache, your vocal chords will tighten up and you will have fevers and lung infections. You will miss most of your school classes that fall and winter, and have a six-month long bout with what you doctor will dub a “pneumonic viral syndrome.” During those months you take scores of antibiotics and other drugs, but continue to get sicker and sicker. You will have no memory of Thanksgiving or Christmas from that year, and the rest of the time will be a foggy blur in your memory. During those months you will first experience symptoms of peripheral neuropathy pain and nerve irritation in your legs, and you will lose your voice to laryngitis for several months. The inability to sing will sadden your young heart and be one of your few lingering memories from that long season of illness.
During your second year of college you will experience a long lupus flare that attacks your central nervous system, and have difficulty for the first time remembering what you study. Midway through the school year, you will experience days of intense confusion and sometimes get lost on campus looking for your classes, and even forget your best friends’ names. Your forgetfulness will have some rough impacts on several friendships, and neither you nor your friends or family will understand why. This will be a lonely scary time, but when you call out to God to be your anchor, He will remain faithful and give you courage and strength to tough it out.
Don’t be afraid of the uncertain years ahead, for in due time you will be one of the lucky ones. In your fourth year of college you will meet and marry a wonderful man who suffers from asthma and epilepsy, and because he faces his own health challenges, compassionately understands you are facing an as yet unidentified health foe. You will both share a deep love of God and music, and two solo singers will blend their lives into an amazing duet. Before you marry, you talk about understanding when each other have the “gray days” when you feel off par, and know you will be able to encourage each other through them.
Shortly after your two children are born, an answer will soon be in sight. You will have some spinal injuries in a major car accident when you fly into the windshield, head first, and then go through three years of physical therapy. In the aftermath of that injury, you body will have a hard time recovering. Arthritis, tendon and muscle inflammation will become out of control, and eventually, you will have intense pain and immobility. Some days, your knees will be too painful and weak to climb the stairs to your apartment, and your husband will carry you up the stairs.
Then, for days at a time, your hands, legs and feet will have so much swelling and intense pain that you end up sobbing by the end of shopping for groceries. As the pain gets worse, you are eventually walking like an old woman, hobbling in stiffness and pain with every step. You and your doctor will not at first understand why all this is happening, along with recurring bouts of round skin rashes, more pleurisy, sinus infections and other cycling issues that will come along the way. Finally, your doctor will look at you one day and say, “you are too young for this,” and you will in wholehearted agreement exclaim, “I AM too young for this!” In a moment of insight and inspiration, your doctor orders some blood tests that you have never had done before.
A few days later, in excitement and near glee he will call you in to his office to talk! You will hear the words, “if I am right, you will be doing hand springs in a few months.” He won’t tell you what he found, but will send you to a rheumatologist he highly respects. There will be many, many more tests and eventually you will begin receiving medications to treat you for lupus.
From that point on, your life will not be all smooth sailing, but you will always after that know that you are battling lupus. Your doctors will make many choices along the way that maximize your health and keep you functioning. You will be able to avoid disability and work a long successful career in law and government, and have a wonderful and fulfilling life. You will live to see many decades of marriage, grandchildren and much more beyond.
Lupus will cause you many challenges in the years ahead of you, but it will not defeat you. Your life will be at times a lupus adventure. You will become strong and will be a victor, and lupus will just be a part of your life’s journey, unwelcome, but not in control. Your faith and joy will not fail, you will rejoice in the blessings of life.