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Everything happens for a reason

Lupus fighter says she’s optimistic in the face of her diagnosis
  • Tomeka Moss, 21, who has been diagnosed with lupus said when the butterfly rash first showed up on her face she did not think anything of it. She just covered it with her hair. But when it spread to her nose she sought medical attention. Now she just wants to educate people about the disease.

Guardian Lifestyles Editor

Published: May 07, 2013

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No two cases of lupus are exactly alike. Signs and symptoms may come on suddenly or develop slowly, they may be mild or severe and may be temporary or permanent. Most people with lupus have mild disease, characterized by episodes called flares, when signs and symptoms get worse for a while, then improve or even disappear completely for a time.

Signs and symptoms of lupus depend on the body symptoms affected by the disease. Symptoms include fatigue and fever; joint pain, stiffness and swelling; butterfly-shaped rash on the face that covers the cheeks and bridge of the nose; skin lesions that appear or worsen with sun exposure; fingers and toes that turn white or blue when exposed to cold or during stressful periods; shortness of breath; chest pain; dry eyes; headaches; confusion or memory loss.

In 2011 at the age of 20, Tomeka Moss, a native of Grand Bahama noticed a rash on the side of her face. She paid no attention to it really, other than to cover it with her hair to avoid probing eyes and questions. But when the rash spread to her nose, she figured she was having an allergic reaction to something and sought medical assistance.

Noticing the distinct butterfly-shaped rash, medical personnel questioned Tomeka about her symptoms — whether she was experiencing joint pains — other than the rash she wasn’t experiencing any pain. It wasn’t until after the spring semester at The College of The Bahamas that she returned home for summer break and the fatigue set in. She developed a fever and developed the joint pain. Her hands were swollen. After a battery of tests, Tomeka was diagnosed with lupus.

Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. It can be difficult to diagnose because its signs and symptoms often mimic those of other ailments. The most distinctive sign of lupus is the facial rash that resembles the wings of a butterfly unfolding across both cheeks. Some people are born with a tendency toward developing lupus, which may be triggered by infections, certain drugs or even sunlight. While there’s no cure fur lupus, treatments can help control symptoms.

When Tomeka was given a lupus diagnosis, she said people around her took it harder than she did. The biochemistry major, a college senior, said she was at least happy to know what it was.

“I figured everything happens for a reason and this is what I’m dealing with, I might as well just be optimistic about it and find a way to deal with it,” she said.

“It didn’t even bother me much. It was just that I wasn’t used to having anything on my skin. So to see it (rash) on the side of my face, I was wondering what it was and I was concerned. But I could always cover the rash with my hair, so it wasn’t much of a bother. But when it came out on the side of my nose … I was like okay, something’s going on.”

She has not suffered any severe symptoms as yet, but some potential triggers include sunlight – exposure to the sun may bring on lupus skin lesions or trigger an internal response in susceptible people. Lupus can also be triggered by certain types of medications.

“God forbid. I just finished a semester and I walked to school, but joint pains I don’t have.”

Factors that may increase a person’s risk of lupus include sex — lupus is more common in women; age — although lupus affects people of all ages, it’s most often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40, and race – lupus is more common in blacks, Hispanics and Asians.

Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many areas of the body including kidneys, brain, blood and blood vessels, lungs and heart.

Since her diagnosis, Tomeka said she ensures that she gets frequent checkups to ensure that everything is good and to decrease any types of flare-ups.

She also said she tries to eat well.

“I would avoid processed foods and would mainly eat natural, organic, whole wheat foods. I don’t indulge in fried, greasy foods. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables because they’re high in antioxidants that are supposed to be good. And I try to exercise on a regular basis doing yoga to help with flexibility and help with the joints,” she said.

Tomeka is a member of Lupus 242 that fights to create awareness about the disease. She said she joined because she had to be active in the organization that’s creating awareness among the populace because many don’t know what the disease is.

“They think it’s contagious. I did have a rash over my body and a lot of people didn’t know it was. I just wanted to create that awareness and impact individuals who may be experiencing the same symptoms and don’t know what it is. I believe everything happens for a reason and so I think I should be active in something that’s creating that awareness among people because a lot of people don’t know what it is.”

Tomeka said there is a lupus group in Grand Bahama as well, and that the members of Lupus 242 are very supportive.

“I want people to not only know what the disease is. I want them to not point fingers, but to actually gain understanding of what it is. It is difficult living with this, but it is good to know that there are people who understand what you’re going through,” she said.

Lupus 242 kicked off its Awareness Month by worshipping at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church.

The nonprofit group started in 2012 to provide support to people living with the chronic, autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation, fatigue and pain.

The group has a series of events planned for the month including P.O.P. (Put On Purple) for Lupus on Friday, May 10; Hope Floats (Balloon Release event in memory of the people lost to lupus) on Monday, May 20 and a tea party on Sunday, May 26 at St. Matthew’s Parish Hall.

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