Daniel Vance - Disabilities

In 1997, Nicole Francis of Port St. Lucie, Florida, was experiencing fatigue and joint pain, and a doctor began treating her eyes for conjunctivitis and later, iritis. Soon, she learned she had lupus.

The Lupus Foundation of America website defines lupus as a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood, kidneys, and brain. Persons affected can experience a fever over 100 degrees, hair loss, sensitivity to the sun, skin rashes, arthritis, fatigue, anemia or chest pain. Though having no known cause or cure, lupus usually can be managed. It affects about 1.5 million Americans, mostly women. Lupus symptoms come and go in episodes known as “flares,” which vary according to the type of lupus and the individual.

“When I first found out, I was 21 and in my third year of (college),” said 32-year-old Francis in a telephone interview. “I brushed the symptoms aside at first as fatigue. I had been overstressed because of school papers being due and the semester ending. I was married with a three-year-old daughter. Life was hectic.”

She went on to graduate from college. Through using medication, she was able to manage the lupus fairly well until 2004, the year she and her family moved from Illinois to Florida because of a job promotion.

“Then the disease started causing trouble again,” she said. “Two years ago I had to stop working after having problems with inflamed kidneys, fatigue, extreme joint pain and swelling. I also had a lot of digestive problems, which caused dramatic weight loss. While having a flair, the food I eat often comes right back up.”

In March 2007, during an especially serious flare affecting her kidneys, her husband had to bathe, dress, and carry her everywhere. Her 14-year-old daughter had to do the family cooking and care for her younger brother. To help control the disease, she regularly takes three different medications.

The disease frustrates her. “For one, I’d rather be working,” she said. “It was heartbreaking having to leave my job. I want to go back to work, but can’t right now because I would be more of a liability than an asset. The disease is so unpredictable.”

She advises people with lupus to “try and stay positive. It’s important to smile and laugh. Laughter is the greatest medicine for anything.”