At the young age of 19, Nikl Westilng’s lupus not diagnosed for a full ten years before that--was suddenly full-blown. “I was given about 2 to 4 months to live; because it had attacked my heart and kidneys by this point in time,” says Nikl. With treatment, she got chemotherapy and was saved. “And I was healthy until about 2 years ago, 2 ½ years ago, when it happened again, and this time it affected my kidneys and my heart and my stomach again. So I’ve been on chemotherapy treatments.”
Nikl, who is a model, continues on a slew of medicines, and is getting cardiac rehab and physical therapy… Still, while it can be controlled, lupus is a disease that has no cure. Dr. Jill Buyon, Director of the Lupus Clinic at the Hospital for Joint Diseases, says, “Lupus could be bad enough to kill a patient/ lupus could effect the brain so really the person no longer has the ability to think straight. We have now identified a very serious issue in lupus which is cardiovascular disease, so patients may be relatively well with their lupus but we have noted a higher risk of heart disease in women with lupus compared to the population.”
Lupus can start with symptoms so vague, it goes unnoticed, or gets blown off. It can be mild, affecting the skin, and the joints causing an arthitis. “Fatigue and sometimes hair loss and sometimes unexplained fevers and these may prompt going to a doctor who may then do blood tests looking for the auto anti-auto bodies that are characteristic of lupus,” says Dr. Buyon.
But as with nikl, it can affect any organ, any body system. And during this month of october, the mission is to raise awareness of this disease among women, and point out the huge steps researchers are making. “We are on the age of discovery so that is the good news. Hopefully at some point if we can identify the genes of lupus, the environmental factors and more of what really goes wrong.”
Nikl who is thankful she’s alive today, is doing her part in the effort. “I’m walking to find a cure for Lupus. Its my first walk for a cure. Nikl’s Pickles is my team, so I will be out there with all my pickles and walking down, that’s were the green shirts come from, so watch for us on TV.” The most common age for lupus to hit is from the mid-teens to the mid-40’s, although literally women of any age can be affected. A young woman with joint complaints or significant fatigue not explained by, say, a busy life, should be evaluated by a physician. There are several medications that can control the disease.
For more information on this and other health stories, visit "Lupus Foundation of America."