GULFPORT, MS - May is Lupus Awareness month: a time set aside to educate people about a serious disease that can affect anyone, but Lupus is most often diagnosed in young women between the ages of 15-44.
Two Coast women are facing the disease head-on; however, they're making the most of their lives. While working to cope with this difficult disease, these two Gulfport friends come from different generations and backgrounds. But, they share a common and unique bond.
"It's a battle, and it's good to have someone you can relate to."
Fifty-eight-year-old Wanda Bradshaw and thirty-one-year-old Carly Goldin both have Lupus. Bradshaw says the disease is "very tiresome, very fatiguing, very painful." Goldin agrees and remembers being scared at diagnosis.
"I was pretty petrified about what it meant to my future. How it would affect my ability to take care of my children," said Carly.
It's estimated that more than a million and a half people in the U.S. have Lupus.
Wanda was diagnosed 20 years ago. Carly was diagnosed two and a half years ago, just three weeks after the birth of her second son. She says those early days were especially difficult.
"The first few months of his life, I was having a hard time walking, and I could barely lift him out of his crib or put him back in his crib," Carly recalls.
While the cause isn't known, lupus is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake. This can lead to serious complications and damage to several parts of a patient's body.
Carly says the disease is always changing, but it affects her daily.
"It's extremely exhausting, hard to get out of bed sometimes. My lupus has attacked my vascular system," she said.
In fact, Carly had a flare up of her Raynaud's condition, which is connected to lupus. Her fingers and toes turned purple.
"This happens a lot. White means there's no oxygen. Purple means the oxygen circulation is low. So, I still have some."
Wanda and Carly have both had to make huge adjustments in their lives.
"We've got it, it's not going away. So, it's about figuring out life in a different way," Carly explained.
Raising their children, and for Wanda also enjoying grandchildren now, helps keep them focused on the positive. But Wanda says it's not easy.
"Every day is a struggle, but if you keep positive, and keep the faith, and keep on going, you'll get through. Don't give up the fight," Wanda shared.
There is no cure, but through research, treatments are becoming more effective. Both Wanda and Carly take numerous medications daily and visit specialists almost weekly. They say attitude is everything in fighting this disease.
And as far as long-term goals, Carly says, "I want to see my kids grow up strong and healthy and happy, and I want my kids to have memories of me not being sick but being happy and healthy and involved with their activities."
Wanda says while there's no cure yet, "There's hope. There's a brighter side. And we're warriors, and we're going to fight to the end."
Wanda and Carly both want others to be aware of this potentially devastating disease. Wanda is spearheading an inaugural walk this weekend.
The one-mile Lupus Awareness walk is free and open to the public on May 19th from 9 am to 12 pm at Poplarville's City Park.