Lupus is very common in African American women. This autoimmune disease, which can attack any part of the body and cause pain and inflammation, can be difficult for a person to deal with, depending on the severity of their symptoms.
I had the opportunity to speak with LaDansa Ussery from North Carolina, a woman battling lupus, about her journey and her story is nothing short of inspiring.
“I was diagnosed with an autoimmune issue where my white blood count would go really low. It would go low to the point where when my blood ran through my veins, it was making bruises.”
LaDansa told me that she became aware of this issue when she went to get her yearly physical. Her doctor made her come back to the office three times for blood work because she thought the lab had made a mistake. On this third visit, her doctor informed her of the blood disorder as she held back tears.
LaDansa said she asked her, “Why are you crying? And she said because you do so much with your kids and at this point, you really got to watch yourself because you could have bleeding of the brain and drop dead.”
LaDansa was sent to a specialist to get more information about her blood disorder, but they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. At one point, they thought she had leukemia and she would go to their office once a week to check her blood stats.
After a long year of running tests and monitoring her health, another doctor thought that she may have lupus.
During this time period, LaDansa informed me that the butterfly emerged on her face, which is one of the tell-tale signs of lupus.
“The way the butterfly emerged on my face was a spot here, a spot there, and then all of a sudden, I woke up one day and it was just full-blown. I still didn’t know it was the butterfly, so I went to my dermatologist. I was going to the dermatologist because my hair was falling out and I had bruises on my body. At this point, I was about 42.”
Her dermatologist informed her that he had to perform a biopsy on her skin to run some tests, but he was certain that she had lupus. He then called his wife, who was also a doctor, to ask her what LaDansa could be doing to get her lupus under control.
Some of the recommendations to LaDansa included:
- Getting down to a healthy weight
- Reducing any stress in her life
- Taking potassium, calcium, and other supplements
“To this day, I’ve never seen her. I did send her a thank you card because it was the beginning of getting me healthy.”
Prior to being diagnosed with lupus, she only knew one other person with lupus, her husband’s niece. “I knew she had lupus but I didn’t know what the details were about lupus.”
Like many lupus patients, she’s heard about it but didn’t know the full scope of the autoimmune disease until she got it herself.
LaDansa continued to tell me that she’s been maintaining her lupus pretty well, and that she’s only had one major episode where her husband had to rush her to the hospital and they gave her morphine to help with her condition.
Although she’s doing better, there are symptoms that LaDansa still deals with on a regular basis.
She told me, “My joints ache, and I have some really rough mornings, but if I tell myself to get up and start moving, it will be ok. Winter is the worst time of the year for me. I hurt even more. But as long as I get up and I exercise a couple of times during the week, I have been ok. Once I sit still, I’m kind of done.”
LaDansa told me that other people she knows with lupus are taking lots of medication, whereas she only takes one medication twice a day. She said that she doesn’t want to get to that point because she sees the effects that all the medication has on them.
LaDansa had some great advice for those diagnosed with lupus. She says to don’t let the disease get you down and don’t let it be your main focus because it can engulf you if you let it. She also stressed the importance of having a support system in place, whether through family, friends, or support groups, and staying active.
“My family is a good supporter. My three kids are constantly on my back to make sure I’m moving. My husband and I ride motorcycles. He would put on my calendar days where we are out and about taking trips. We rode out to Texas for the fourth of July weekend, we rode to California, we rode to Niagara Falls, we’ll hit five states in seven days. I think the key for me is to keep moving.”
Now 54, LaDansa doesn’t have any plans of slowing down. She is looking forward to retirement, taking many more trips to see the world, and spending time with her five grandkids.
She laughingly said, “I got a lot to do. I don’t have time to let lupus get me, I need to get lupus.”
LaDansa’s approach to life is admirable, and she is surely a beacon of light to anyone who crosses her path. She’s an advocate for her life and works hard each day to overcome obstacles.
“They say I’m the rare bird, but I’m like, I can’t let it get me down.”