Imagine being a basketballer one day and being seriously ill needing assistance one day later. This was the reality for Carol King who realized something was seriously wrong with her. Little did she know that what she had was lupus.
Lupus primarily affects black women of child-bearing age, and is 14 times more common in women than men. It is an auto-immune disease where the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks healthy tissue. This results in symptoms such as inflammation, swelling and damage to joints, skin, kidneys, blood, the heart, and lungs.
The most common signs and symptoms include achy and/or swollen joints, unexplained fever, prolonged or extreme fatigue, skin rash, ankle swelling and fluid accumulation, pain in the chest when breathing deeply and a butterfly shaped rash across the cheeks and nose.
King revealed how her life changed overnight.
“I was at university at the time in London and I became very suddenly ill. I used to be a basketball player and I used to jog into university and then basically I could not walk at all and I dropped my bag and I needed help to get into the university,” she said.
“So, it was literally overnight. After that, I was taken home by my dad and we discussed what it could be and I was told that it might be a passing illness. Unfortunately, I was still sick six months later. I needed a lot of help to do everything. I was very ill so that is the beginning of the illness,” she said.
At age 23 came the dreaded diagnosis and while she had to adjust to the reality, Carol admitted that she felt a sense of relief in finally knowing what was wrong with her.
“It took about three years for me to get diagnosed and I was lucky enough to have a really fantastic doctor who made some investigations and found out that I had lupus. I was actually happy when I was told this because at last I knew what was wrong with me and I think that once you have knowledge, you are able to move forward in life,” she said.
King did not treat her diagnosis as a death sentence though it wasn’t easy. She was determined that she would move forward one day at a time.
“It is not easy. I wouldn’t lie about that but it does get better with support and help and getting a good doctor behind you is essential,” she said.
She is also inspired to keep fighting by her supportive family, friends and her beloved husband Mike King whom she met shortly after her diagnosis.
“I was lucky to meet my husband who knew all about my illness and we were friends first and we were able to know and get to grips with the illness,” she said.
She later found additional support through the Hope Foundation. Carol says the foundation is quietly doing impressive work helping people living with lupus and other connective tissue diseases and illnesses to cope.
“We just want to support them as much as possible because they are doing great work here in Barbados,” she said.
King, who is now 40 years old, considers it a blessing since the disorder historically caused people to die young. Today, with careful treatment, 80 to 90 per cent of people can expect to live a normal lifespan.
“I just had my 40th birthday and I consider that a triumph because a lot of people are not lucky enough to make that. I think in today’s world now, we are lucky enough to have great lupus care and it’s important to make sure that you speak up about your condition and don’t be ashamed and go for the help you need,” she said.
She advises fellow lupus sufferers not to give up or withdraw from life and recommends that they turn to the Hope Foundation for help.
The Hope Foundation provides help on lupus, sickle cell anaemia and arthritis.