By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
SOMETIMES Jennifer Drysden has to force herself to take a shower because of the extreme fatigue she experiences on a daily basis. Other times she struggles to engage in simple activities or experiences brief moments of memory loss. Living with a silent killer - lupus - she has been on an emotional roller coaster for the past seven years.
She was diagnosed with the lupus in 2007. It is a disease where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues and organs. As a result, various systems of the body such as joints, the brain, skin, heart and lungs are affected and unable to properly carry out their functions.
Jennifer who is a native of Jamaica was diagnosed with lupus in Barbados her temporary residence several years ago. She moved to the Bahamas a short time later.
Before being diagnosed with lupus, Jennifer only came close to the disease when she read a magazine article that shared the experience of a woman who had lupus. The woman mentioned in the article that she was experiencing pain even as she was being interviewed.
“I was thinking what kind of disease did that woman have that made her experience so much pain,” she told Tribune Health.
Jennifer was prompted to seek medical attention after having experience unusual pain and symptoms.
“I was feeling real tired not long after waking up. I wondered why
I was so tired. I was also experiencing shortness of breath. Even though I had asthma I knew that was not the asthma that was cutting my breath short. At one point I felt a lot of pain in my chest. It felt like someone took all of the car engines out of a junk yard and put them on my chest,” she said.
“Sometimes I would be very moody and extremely sad and not know why. People would tell me ‘oh you are moody, and you have a bad attitude’, and I would just go in my room lock my door and cry.”
Jennifer’s weight loss during the time was so drastic, everything she wore had to be tied at her waste. In addition to weight loss, she also developed sores and had a persistent rash across her nose and cheeks in the general shape of a butterfly.
“I was so scared because I loss that weight so drastically. I wondered if I had HIV/AIDS. A family member asked ‘Jennifer you have AIDS?’ because she even recognised that I lost a tremendous amount of weight,” she said.
Jennifer was referred to a dermatologist by a general practitioner. The dermatologist told her she needed to have a biopsy to determine the cause of the rash. She was told she either had sickle cell or lupus.
“I did not wait on the doctor to call me to let me know the results. I called him and he told me I had lupus. I remember punching the wall so hard when I got the results. I cried and cried. I called my sister and I told her I had lupus and that I did not think I was going to live. She told me to calm down because that was not the end for me,” she said.
Lupus is a difficult disease to diagnose because it manifests like other ailments. Doctors are not certain what causes lupus and other autoimmune diseases, but believe it results from both genetic and environmental stimuli.
Last year Jennifer’s niece died of the disease. Her niece was diagnosed with lupus several months before she was. However, she was not aware at the time the disease was genetic.
“She did not say anything about it being genetic to me because if she did I would have done several tests for the disease,” Jennifer said. “She was in a horrible state when she died. She wasn’t speaking or anything like that. When I found out I had lupus I was terrified and all I thought was that I was going to die,” she said.
Although everyday is a fight for Jennifer, she is determined to not allow her physical health overcome her. She also hopes to freely do all the things she once could before being diagnosed with lupus.
Jennifer also expressed a desire to see a lupus support group locally, where people who are impacted by the disease can share their experiences with others.
Local groups such as Lupus 242 and The Lupus ME? Foundation are committed to heightening awareness of lupus in the Bahamas. Each foundation provides information about the causes, effects and treatment of lupus.
May was Lupus awareness month, both foundations have held events to get the word out about lupus, the silent killer.