More awareness is never a bad thing.

Today is World Lupus Awareness Day. I sometimes wonder if the proliferation of awareness days, weeks and months desensitize us, making us immune (no pun intended) to the message we are intended to receive.

While visiting last weekend, my mother saw tv sports commentators wearing green ribbons. She asked why they were wearing green ribbons? I replied for the Humboldt Bronchos hockey team. She knew that had been done, but was surprised they were still wearing those weeks after the accident. Having celiac disease, she commented that green ribbons are also worn for celiac awareness. I added my two cents: green is also for organ transplant awareness too. We are running out of colors, sadly not out of diseases or causes.

Since starting my blog, I’ve had the same thought while composing every post about Sjogren’s’s Syndrome – everyone who reads my blog knows about this already. But thanks to the world wide web, new readers continue to find me here and inevitably after each post a new reader e-mails me, or leaves a comment after a post saying they never heard of Sjogren’s before. Sometimes people thank me, because they have Sjogren’s themselves, or know someone who has it, or suspect that someone they know and love is suffering the symptoms but has yet been diagnosed. I am willing to gamble on reader fatigue if it means one more person in the world will become aware.

Beyond awareness, I hope my writing will also generate understanding. Awareness that a certain disease or cause exists is absolutely the first step. It is great to know today all over the world people will wear purple ribbons acknowledging it is World Lupus Day. I hope people ask the person wearing a ribbon why they are doing so; that they get a response creating an understanding of Lupus and its impact on the person wearing it, whether they are afflicted or wearing the ribbon for someone they know.

Several years ago my Rheumatologist believed I had Lupus, but as my symptoms evolved and blood tests were repeated over and over through the years, I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, Raynaud’s Syndrome, Autoimmune Hepatitis, and Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD) “with multiple symptoms of Lupus and Dermatomyositis” instead.

LUPUS overlap diseases

Although I meet the criteria for Lupus based on the characteristics used for diagnosis, because it has not affected my brain, lungs, heart or kidneys, and I have not tested positive for the definitive antibodies anti-DNA, rather only the more general ANA, my current Rheumatologist does not want to say I have Lupus. Instead I was diagnosed with UCTD, which is basically a catch-all disease category (hence the word undifferentiated) for people with symptoms of several connective tissue autoimmune diseases including Lupus.

To do my part on World Lupus Awareness Day here are the diagnostic criteria for Lupus as per the Canadian and American Rheumatology and Lupus Associations. A person must have at least four of the eleven criteria on the list. If you currently have four or more of these, or have had in the past, there is a strong chance you have Lupus.

1. Malar rash – a rash over the cheeks and nose, often in the shape of a butterfly
2. Discoid rash – a rash that appears as red, raised, disk-shaped patches
3. Photosensitivity – a reaction to sun or light that causes a skin rash to appear or get worse
4. Oral ulcers – sores appearing in the mouth
5. Arthritis – joint pain and swelling of two or more joints in which the bones around the joints do not become destroyed
6. Serositis – inflammation of the lining around the lungs (pleuritis) or inflammation of the lining around the heart that causes chest pain which is worse with deep breathing (pericarditis)
7. Kidney disorder – persistent protein or cellular casts in the urine
8. Neurological disorder – seizures or psychosis
9. Blood disorder – anemia (low red blood cell count), leukopenia (low white blood cell count), lymphopenia (low level of specific white blood cells), or thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)
10. Immunologic disorder –anti-DNA or anti-Sm or positive antiphospholipid antibodies
11. Abnormal antinuclear antibody (ANA)

(In case you are curious, # 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, and 11 have applied to me. Because I am currently taking a chemotherapy immune-suppressant drug for the AI Hepatitis, most of those symptoms have been lessened by the same drug, which is a very good thing.)

Remember if you see someone wearing a purple ribbon today, maybe take a moment to acknowledge it. Be aware and even better, try to understand the complexity of Lupus.
It is not an easy disease to diagnose; it is just as difficult to live with. Be patient, be kind.

Oh no, here we go again!

It is now May 1st. Sjogren’s Awareness Month is over with for another year. I’m so relieved that I don’t have to think about it anymore!

Yes, of course I am being sarcastic. Anyone who suffers with a chronic illness is well “aware” of the effects of the illness every month, week, day, and sometimes minute of the year. It is not just Sjogren’s patients who have to live with on-going symptoms, but many people who have autoimmune and other illnesses.

Type 1 diabetics cannot just “let it go” and not think about their bodies, symptoms, medications, and self-care. If a Type 1 Diabetic doesn’t monitor their blood sugar level the consequences can indeed be dire. It is essential they are vigilant in monitoring themselves several times a day.

May is Celiac Awareness Month, likewise for another autoimmune disease, Lupus, which is sometimes called a “sister disease” to Sjogren’s because they share so many similarities. In fact, this month in Canada, we recognize 38 different health conditions. Some have an awareness day, some a week, others devote the entire month to public education and awareness.

BrainCancer.org-Go-Gray-in-May

Gluten awareness

Mental Health Month

World Lupus Day

Celiac patients must be vigilant in ensuring they do not consume gluten. For them, eating gluten-free is not a fad or choice, but a medically essential task. Most people eat three meals a day, possibly some snacks. Imagine having to be concerned at every single meal if there might be gluten ingredients in your food, which could trigger horrible gastrointestinal symptoms as well as other systemic symptoms if accidently ingested.

I understand “awareness” months are really not for the people afflicted with any of these illnesses. Likewise caregivers of children, or adults who have chronic and / or terminal illnesses, including mental health issues, or lifelong conditions such as cerebral palsy or autism hardly need any reminder whatsoever of what is involved with having such a diagnosis, its effects on the individual as well as the people who care for them.

So though you may get “sick” of hearing about these various illnesses as we go through the year and they each take turns being condition of the month, remember that no one is more “sick and tired” of them than the person who has the condition. Remember a little understanding on your part can go a long way, someone you love will love you for it!