When Andrea James and her mother, Linda, were on a road trip traveling back from Canada, Andrea started to feel bad. She was experiencing various symptoms, from vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and mouth sores. She also had no appetite and was extremely tired.
Linda, a nurse by trade, knew Andrea needed medical attention, so she drove 15 hours straight to get home.
Within a week, her doctors had a diagnosis: Andrea had lupus, an autoimmune disease that attacks the body’s organs and tissues from the inside out. The condition is unpredictable, often misunderstood, and challenging to live with and treat.
Andrea’s lupus progressed quickly. Her doctors immediately prescribed steroids and a host of other medications to help control the symptoms. But her diagnosis wasn’t that simple and it required and still requires the support of the entire family.
Unfortunately, that is the case with most Lupus Warriors. Andrea had also developed lupus nephritis, which occurs when lupus autoantibodies affect structures in your kidneys that filter out waste. The condition can cause the kidneys to become inflamed and impair their function.
After learning she had lupus, Andrea knew she had a choice: to feel sorry for herself and be a victim of a cruel disease or learn to live with and enjoy life to the fullest.
Andrea chose the latter, despite having to live with many uncomfortable symptoms, including joint pain, anxiety, and an inability to handle the cold. According to Linda, Andrea “takes her meds and goes on.”
By all accounts, this is an accurate statement. The 25-year-old owns Weddings by Andrea in Conroe, a successful wedding planner business, and works at Bentwater Country Club as an event coordinator. This summer, she is walking down the aisle to marry the man of her dreams.
“She doesn’t complain and is a real trooper,” said Linda. “I’m extremely proud of her and how she has handled the diagnosis and managed the condition to the best of her ability. Some days she really surprises me with how resilient she is.”
Since her original diagnosis, she’s remained on every medicine prescribed except prednisone and now takes more. Once a year, she visits the nephrologist to check on her kidneys, and every six months, she sees the immunologist.
She and Linda have also gotten involved with the Lupus Foundation of America – Texas Lone Star Chapter and participated in several walks. They look forward to the day when they can help the Gulf Coast Chapter by coordinating a walk in The Woodlands/Conroe area, so they can become more active in raising awareness.
“With lupus, there is always something – some strange ailment or symptom that comes along with the condition. We need to do more so that people know exactly what Lupus Warriors endure,” said Linda. “Andrea’s condition opened our eyes to the number of health disparities among people with lupus who are not as fortunate as she is to get the healthcare they deserve.”
Anne-Marie Blacketer, CEO of the Lupus Foundation of America – Texas Gulf Coast Chapter, could not agree more.
“With the support of the lupus community, including Lupus Warriors like Andrea, we can and will make a difference for people living with this devasting and life-changing disease. We encourage everyone to share the facts and information about lupus to help increase awareness so that one day we can find a cure,” she said.
May is Lupus Awareness Month. To learn more about the disease and how to get involved locally, visit the Chapter’s website at lupus.org/texasgulfcoast.
“I do what I can to care for myself and listen to the doctors. I haven’t let lupus stand in the way of my hopes and plans,” said Andrea. She went on to explain that she becomes shy when talking about her lupus and doesn’t “want to be seen as a victim."
“In hindsight, Andrea’s diagnosis made sense. Earlier, she had developed a butterfly rash across her face – a tell-tale sign of lupus. Even so, the diagnosis took us by surprise because there is no known history of the disease in her family,” said Linda.