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Living with Lupus: The Sharon Campbell story

Published:Sunday | November 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Sharon Campbell and her three grandchildren, Amani (left), Amara and Amyrah Christie (in hand), pausing for a photo op before heading to church.
Sharon Campbell embraced by her loving husband, Glenville Campbell.
Campbell shows off her figure fighting and winning the battle against lupus.

Krysta Anderson, Gleaner Writer

We got a lot of responses on our Mignonette Richards-Stanford's story - Living with Lupus. Outlook has found yet another woman for whom the disease is not a death sentence. This week, we look at Sharon Campbell who not only 'beat' lupus, but went on to live a full life even after she lost a sister to the disease.

As a teacher, Sharon Campbell is known to many as smart, graceful, confident and optimistic. But those close and dear to her, are truly inspired by her determination and drive in the face of a deadly disease.

Lupus, unpredictable by nature, is an illness which tears down a person's immune system. And in 1985 when she noticed break-outs in her skin, weight loss, bald patches and weakness, Campbell suspected that she had the disease. After several misdiagnoses, she told the doctor that, based on her symptoms, she thought she had lupus. Three years later, it was confirmed.

With her husband by her side, Campbell took the news calmly. The doctor expected her to be hysterical, but Campbell was just relieved to know what was wrong with her and set about addressing it head-on.

Born and raised in the cool parish of Portland, she was one of 12 children for Arthur and Clarice McLeary. With three sisters already diagnosed with discord lupus (this affects the skin in the form of breakouts) while Campbell and another sister suffers from discord and systemic lupus (affecting the major organs of the body causing weight gain/loss, headaches, numbness and vision problems, among many others), it was clear that the disease had become their family trait. Beyond their DNA, this was an added bond.

However, a few years after her diagnosis, the disease claimed the life of one of her sisters. "My sister Donnette ended up in the hospital and I would often go to visit her. I reluctantly left one evening because she was very sick," she told Outlook.

Devastated by sister's death

When she returned the next morning, there was someone else in her sister's bed. "The ward sister came in, hugged me and proceeded to escort me out

of the room. It was there that I realised that my sister had passed and I immediately began screaming and crying," the good teacher lamented.

She was devastated by her sister's death. Her biggest worry following the news was how she was going to tell the rest of their family. Everyone started wondering whom they would lose next.

But Campbell was determined not to be the disease's next victim. She turned to the Lupus Foundation of Jamaica. The Foundation not only encouraged Campbell, but also encouraged the entire family's active involvement. "My husband and I became members of the Lupus Foundation of Jamaica, and he actually began attending meetings before I did, to find out more information," she confessed. With presentations by doctors and personal experiences, the Foundation encourages families to learn more about the disease in order to offer a patient better support at home.

Advised not to study

Now hopeful about her future, Campbell received her teaching diploma from the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE), and placing a plethora of teaching experience under her belt, she decided to take her education to the next level.

"My doctor told me point-blank that he strongly advised against my studying for my degree, because of the stress involved," Campbell revealed.

But she was confident that she would get through it and pursued her passion. Her doctor remained on standby and her lecturers made special arrangements for extensions, but she didn't need them.

With only one major flare-up along the way, she graduated from the University of the West Indies with her bachelor's degree in primary education, and was awarded the top student of her year in 2002. Her doctor noted significantly that she was the first of his patients to climb the academic ladder.

Now a grade six teacher at St Richard's Primary School, she takes great pride in nurturing her students with knowledge and encouraging them to reach for their goals through the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT).

During her treatment, she was on steroids - Prednisone- and Plaquenil. Now she is off her medications and is in remission. She credits her long-standing remission to a stress-free lifestyle and her faith. "I am weaker than the average person, but after a good night's sleep, I am ready to go. Sometimes I have no appetite and other times I have cravings. I just roll with the punches and lead a normal life.

Her advice to those living with lupus, "The fact that we all know it is stress-related means we should keep that at a minimum. Enjoy life and make the best of it. Keep optimistic, because sometimes you will feel down, but don't lose hope. For me, church, reading and shopping are my leisure activities. Whatever you find that you enjoy doing, just do it. And finally, become a part of the Lupus Foundation of Jamaica, the support is great, through the good and the bad."