One thought went through Brooke Bupperts mind when she was diagnosed in April 2005 with lupus: She knew a girl who died of the disease.
A nursing student at the University of Maryland when the telltale symptoms of lupus joint pain and swelling, trouble breathing led Buppert to see a physician, she soon found out that having lupus was not a death sentence. These days, Buppert not only is active and healthy, but she and lifelong friend Stasia Thomas are raising money for lupus research and awareness.
Buppert, 29, has spent the past 2 1/2 years at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, where she works three 12-hour shifts a week as an RN at the Joint and Spine Center. Through a combination of stress management, exercise, watching what she eats and medication, Buppert says she has not had a flare-up of symptoms since 2005. But she remembers what it was like to wake up in agonizing pain, and she has put those memories to a positive use.
When I was diagnosed with lupus, I feel it helped me become a better nurse, Buppert says. You never know what its like for a patient until you experience it. Its helped me understand pain more, which I deal with at work every day. We have a lot of spine surgical patients who have dealt with pain for years and now are resorting to surgery.
I still dont think Ive been anywhere near the chronic pain these people have dealt with, but it does help. It makes you a stronger person, a better person.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, about 1.5 million people in the U.S. have lupus, and 90 percent are women. Females of childbearing age (14 to 45 years old) are most often affected.
Since Buppert was diagnosed, she and Thomas, a Baltimore attorney, have raised money for lupus research and awareness through a variety of walks.
Last year, Thomas approached Buppert with a new fundraising idea: She would raise money for the SLE Lupus Foundation by running in the New York City Marathon.
Thomas completed the marathon Nov. 1 in just under 4 hours about 20 minutes off of her best marathon time and raised $3,615.
The whole point was I was raising money for the SLE Lupus Foundation, so I wasnt too concerned with my time, Thomas says. Unfortunately, we dont know a lot about [lupus]. Thats one of the reasons why I think its important to raise awareness and to encourage research and to raise money for research.
Lupus first impacted Thomas when she was in high school after a friend, Sally Nyborg, died within two months of being diagnosed with the disease.
Buppert did not attend the same school, but she knew Nyborg. That was one of the scary things when I found out I had [lupus], Buppert says. I only knew that a girl died when she was 15 or 16.
When Buppert told Thomas she was diagnosed with lupus, Thomas was scared and shocked, but quickly realized her friend wasnt going to let lupus beat her.
I didnt think, Brookes a goner, Thomas says. I thought, Brookes going to fight through this, and shes going to be OK. Its a minor setback for Brooke.
Thomas says Bupperts approach to having the disease listening to her doctor and maintaining a positive attitude has been key to Bupperts ability to remain so healthy.
Lupus is a very scary thing, and Ive witnessed how it can wreak havoc very fast, Thomas says. But with Brooke, I think shes managed it and shown everyone around her that it isnt something that is going to cause her to have to miss out on anything. Hopefully, shell have a long, happy life.
On Jan. 20, Buppert gave birth to her first child, a 7-pound girl named Piper Kirby. Buppert says lupus will not have a major effect on her as long as she maintains the healthy lifestyle she leads.
One of the most valuable things I learned was to take care of myself, Buppert says. Its not hard to say, Im not going to stress out as much. Its easy to say it, but its not easy to do it.
Tom Clegg is a member of the editorial team at Nursing Spectrum.