How I love to celebrate my birthday! In case you missed one of the billboards I jokingly refer to placing, it’s today, October 10th and I am thrilled to be sixty-two years old. People often ask why my birthday is so important to me. It’s an easy explanation.
In 1980, I was diagnosed with lupus. Since there was no internet at the time and I had never heard of the disease, I talked my way into the University of South Florida Medical School library and read all about systemic lupus erythematosus. I was 25 at the time. I still remember how the text in the medical books blurred as I read through tears that the diagnosis brought with it an average life expectancy of five years. Five years! Newly married at the time, I had a whole life ahead of me all planned out in my mind – serious illness did not fit in.
I never shared with anyone what I read in the university library that day. I continued to live my life to the fullest, including the adoption of two beautiful girls. On my 30th birthday, I was hospitalized with pneumonia and bronchitis, which I was unable to fight off due to the lupus and the immunosuppressive drugs I was taking. On my 31st birthday, I was hospitalized with sepsis and sent home on a central line and 5 weeks of IV antibiotics. At the age of 55, I was hospitalized for life-threatening osteomyelitis in the bone in my cheek and again sent home on weeks of IV antibiotics.
And so I love my birthday as it’s an annual celebration of the fact that I’m still here, living and loving and able to engage in life. It’s really that simple. Last night, on the eve of my 62nd birthday, I attended the visitation before the funeral for Brittney McBath. Brittney was a beautiful, full of life 27-year-old woman who died from the complications of lupus. Lupus is a cruel disease, often striking young women in the prime of their lives. I am lucky to have pulled through each life-threatening infection over the years. Brittney was not so lucky and all of us in the lupus community who knew and loved her mourn our loss and ache for her family.
Today, on the day of Brittney’s funeral and in memory of her, I celebrate each of the days, months, and years I’ve been given. When I blow out the candles on my cake, I will wish for more medications and ultimately a cure for lupus. I will also thank each and every one of you for the gift of your love and support in my life. My life is deeper and more meaningful because of you.