At some point in our journey, we will all face a moment or an experience that changes our lives forever. For some, this can be a defining moment that often splits life into two parts- before the event, and after the event.
My moment came in my early 20s on a humid spring evening in downtown Fort Lauderdale. I was a carefree artist, studying nursing in college and taking care of my grandmother full-time. I stepped out onto a road I had been on hundreds of times before to cross the street and the unthinkable happened. I was hit by a drunk driver in a pick- up truck that was traveling around 50 mph .
You might be thinking that was the exact moment my life changed—and you wouldn’t be wrong—but the truth is, it was really over that following year that almost every single aspect of my life was going to be reshaped into a new path. You see, I think back on this event today as a trigger. Yes, my injuries were quite serious, most internal, and I spent a good year in recovery to get back on my feet. But the damage to my body also became the trigger for an underlying autoimmune disease to burst forth.
While the damage from being hit was healing, I had an entirely different trauma that was about to unleash in my life. As I recovered in the hospital, I started to experience high fevers, rashes, pain, and suddenly some small strokes. Many tests were run, specialists seen, and within a few weeks, a diagnosis of systemic lupus was given.
I was clueless about this disease and didn’t know one person with it. Naively, I assumed I would be given medicine that would heal it and sent on my way to get back to rebuilding my life.
I had no idea what I was going to be up against.
Today, I think back to that 23-year-old woman and there is so much I would love to tell her so that she could bypass so much of the pain, frustration, and challenges that come with an incurable and chronic illness. Yet at the same time, it was persevering through the journey of the past 20 years since my diagnosis that has built me into the warrior I am today.
It took me a few years to get somewhat of a handle on how lupus affected my body—I experienced over 30 hospitalizations, five small strokes, a blood clot, a brain aneurysm, chemo, vasculitis, and numerous other complications from the disease. Using my love and curiosity for the human body and what it can recover from, I started researching and trying any and every treatment possible—whether pharmaceutical, alternative, or complementary—and journaled extensively about what worked and what did not. I finally reached a point where I felt like I could live—and even possibly thrive—despite what lupus was throwing at me.
After regaining some independence, I was ready to take it to the next level and this is how my nonprofit, LupusChick, was born. Today we reach almost a half a million people a month. These are people across the globe who have all types of autoimmune and chronic illnesses, not just lupus. We are a community filled with inspiration, hope, motivation, and transparency. We don’t hide the bad days, but we also are vocal and supportive about not letting one another get stuck in that place. We aim to showcase the incredible chronic illness warriors who are leaving their mark on this world in the face of incredible health odds. In addition to a college scholarship fund (we just awarded our 13th scholarship), our story was featured in Lady Gaga’s anthology, Channel Kindness.
And, literally 20 years from the day I was hit, one of my greatest goals and desires came through—my memoir of my journey back from the brink of death was published by Broadleaf Books. Chronically Fabulous is a combination of memoir, self-help, and how-to, and is a battle plan of sorts for anyone dealing with trauma, illness, or just a difficult life season. It is a message of hope to let others out there know you are heard, you aren’t forgotten, and your purpose in life is not extinguished because of an illness or catastrophic life experience.
I believe we all have a unique and exceptional purpose in our life, and while I originally thought mine would be in nursing, I now help countless people recover but in a different way. It’s been a wild and challenging ride, but I am grateful that I was given another chance at life 20 years ago, and it is my mission to leave the greatest impact when I am gone.