My Journey Beyond Illness

My Journey Beyond Illness



I can sit here and honestly tell you that fitness and a healthy lifestyle saved my life. Seeing me today, you could never assume I’ve lived the life I have. I turned 30 last December, a huge milestone. Even more so for me because at 29, my health turned around from hitting rock bottom – with doctors declaring my disease to be in total remission, five days before my 30th. It’s been a year of many blessings and achievements, but to fully appreciate and understand where I am, you must first know where I’ve been…

I’ve been battling and living with Lupus SLE and kidney disease since I was 13. Lupus is a life-long autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks any part of the body, from skin to joints to organs. It’s complex and difficult to diagnose because every case is so unique; for me, it progressed rapidly and at one point my kidneys were functioning at less than 20%.

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I underwent aggressive treatment for my kidneys: chemo, steroids, trial drugs and extended hospital stays. Lupus has other medical complications and some of mine have included: massive weight gain and malignant melanoma because of being over-medicated, acute pain that was unresponsive to treatment, and coming to terms with the fact that I’ll never carry my own children.

In 2009, I went into a flare so aggressive that all the medication I took was ineffective, and the damage to my kidneys was severe. I had gained 45 pounds of fluid over a few weeks’ time. The pain was unbearable and my breathing was so difficult that I was, yet again, hospitalized. It can break one’s spirit when doctors promote medicines as “healing agents”, only to have them not work as hoped – you have no control and feel lost – but I knew there had to be another way.

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I’m a good person, a person of faith, and I know that while everyone has some form of cross to bear in their lives (Lupus being mine), it was not going to rule my life. All of 2009-10, my life entailed various drug therapies, trial drugs and doctors who were confused by a lack of results.

After spending two years homebound or in the hospital, I turned to fitness – hoping it was the answer. Fitness was a whole new world and getting into it was not easy, but I forced myself because at 27 years old, I wanted to live! I knew a life of pain wasn’t the life I was supposed to have. I wanted to experience health – and no longer a life with pain.

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I started slow with spin classes – which I love! Eventually, I started weight training to build muscle to protect my organs and to give me the mental and physical strength in the event of another hospitalization. I did research, worked with trainers and met people who inspired me even more about the life of fitness.

Although I was feeling stronger, the disease was still aggressive and I had to do another 6 months of Chemo. However, I didn’t use Chemo as an excuse to slack – it only fueled my fire to live. I would go in for treatment, wake up at 5 the next morning, take anti-nausea meds, and spin at 5:45am because my goal was to live, and chemo wasn’t going to diminish my will.

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A 6 month migraine was the catalyst for me deciding to stop all drugs and find healing on my own. I am proud of that moment because it’s when I truly became an advocate for my health. I became very in tune with my diet, increased the intensity on my fitness regimen, and turned every thought into an affirmation.

I trained to compete, and have not only learned so much about myself, but it opened up the doors to a life of fitness that I’m extremely passionate about. The beauty of healthy living is the experience of reaching a “limit” and by pushing past it you realize “there are no limits, only limitations we put on ourselves“. For almost 2 years now I have gotten stronger every day and not relied on medications for my disease. I feel like I’m finally living a normal life, and I am in remission, with normal kidney function. What a beautiful testament to faith, fitness, and health! Anything is possible, you just have to believe it and take action!

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Completely changing my lifestyle has not only been the biggest blessing medically (from my quality of life to remission), but I’ve proven to myself how powerful my mind is. If I can give any advice to anyone suffering in some aspect of his or her life, whether physical or mental, it’s to remember what you’re fighting for. Even though life’s trials at times seem overpowering, there is hope! I believe a normal part of life includes moments of feeling discouraged about a situation. What matters is what you do with that feeling – do you let it consume you, or do you acknowledge it and take the steps needed to surpass it.

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I hope to share with people the principles I live by:

  1. HAVE FAITH – Have faith in what you are doing and in the path you’ve set out on.
  2. NEVER QUIT – Even when things seem unbearable and struggles seem never-ending, keep pushing for what you most desire in life. But more importantly, don’t ever give up on yourself!
  3. STAY STRONG – Every time you feel overwhelmed or hopeless, or think your situation is the worst, remember those whose struggles truly are unimaginable.
  4. BE THANKFUL – For the bad and the good, the struggles and the triumphs. Every experience, even the bad ones, are life lessons.  Appreciate the moment.
  5. SMILE – Even in the darkest of times, a smile does wonders for the soul. Not to mention that by smiling, you can brighten the day of a complete stranger just by sharing this simple kindness.

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I look back on the past 16 years, and although they’ve been extremely difficult and overwhelming, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I learned at a young age the meaning of struggle, but more importantly, I learned to overcome. I choose to find positives in situations because life is too short to have a negative attitude. Life, although full of ups and downs, is a beautiful gift. We all struggle, but how we overcome is what makes us who we are.

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