Please get a Lupus screening

Columnist Asha McKinley. Photo courtesy: McKinley

I was as firm and direct as could be with the doctor putting an IV in my arm: “I’m not leaving this hospital until you guys give me a concrete answer as to why I’ve been feeling like this for three years now.”

It was late December 2017 during finals week while I was a junior in high school. That’s when I had first encounter with Lupus. First period started and I was already feeling a bit woozy and unbalanced.

As the test went on, I asked my English teacher if I could be excused. As soon as I walked out into the hallway I collapsed. I woke up in the hospital to doctors telling me the reason for this mishap was “dehydration.” That didn’t seem right to me but I let the professionals handle their job.

As time went on and I progressed into college, during basketball practice, my chest began to feel tight and I couldn’t breathe. I went to the school nurse the next day for a check-up and nothing seemed out of the ordinary to her, so she sent me back to continue on with practices as normal.

For a few months, my chest was still feeling tight and I couldn’t breathe doing certain things, so I decided to go back to the nurse to see how to fix it. She went through another check-up and stated that everything looked and sounded fine. She thought that I just had anxiety so she sent me on with ways of handling anxiety and breathing techniques. I looked more into anxiety and all the signs were there that I had it, but there was still something off and I couldn’t figure out what.

Months passed by and my body wasn’t feeling how it normally should. I was hurting more than usual, so after one of my “episodes” I went to the hospital. I decided that this was the time where I needed to put my foot down and demand answers. The hospital finally referred me to a gastroenterologist, Dr. Sandford. My gastro doctor was very nice and she was actually the one to recommend getting tested for Lupus, because it is more common than people think, especially in African American women.

The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million Americans, and at least 5 million people worldwide, have a form of Lupus.  Lupus affects 1 in 250 African American females in the United States, and we are more likely to develop more severe cases of lupus at a younger age than any other race.

After a couple of weeks on edge, the results came back. I did in fact have Lupus. I wasn’t shocked, I wasn’t angry and I didn’t cry. I was actually happy. Happy that after three years I finally had answers and could get the proper treatment I needed. I knew that whatever Lupus was that I would be fine because I had the strength of my family and I prayed day and night about it.

When I went back to Dr. Sandford, she gave me a pamphlet filled with facts and information. I was shocked to see half of the things on there because I didn’t actually know what Lupus was. According to the official Lupus site, “People with Lupus can experience significant symptoms, such as pain, extreme fatigue, hair loss, cognitive issues, and physical impairments that affect every facet of their lives. Many suffer from cardiovascular disease, strokes, disfiguring rashes, and painful joints. For others, there may be no visible symptoms.”

I encourage everyone to get a Lupus screening and get blood tested to see their ANA scans because Lupus looks different in every individual.