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Living with Lupus; The Richards-Stanford story

Published:Tuesday | October 21, 2014 | 11:27 AM

Living with lupus

Mignonette Richards-Stanford's story

Mignonette Richards-Stanford, affectionately called Angela by her loved ones, seems to have cheated death. In the 1980s, she had a life-threatening scare with lupus, but chose to rise above it and defy all odds in order to live a full and happy life.

"I was told by our 'learned physician' in 1986, that my life expectancy would be 10 years, because of lupus," she explained to Outlook as she recalled celebrating her 61st birthday last month.

Lupus is a terribly unpredictable illness which affects the immune system. It may not be as high in the fatality pool, but it can be lethal. And the ordeal for those who discover that they have the disease is nothing short of life-changing.

After going back and forth with the doctors for about a year, she was told, upon discovery, that it was full blown, "I was misdiagnosed for a whole year as having rheumatoid arthritis, even though I had all the textbook symptoms of lupus," she revealed.

Her symptoms included: swollen joints in her hands and feet, an ulcer larger than a quarter in the roof of her mouth, rashes on her arms, legs, and other parts of her body, major hair loss, extreme fatigue to the point where it was hard to get out of bed and 104-degree fevers.

Just when she thought things could not get any worse, they informed her that she did not have just one form of lupus but two: discoid lupus, which affects mainly the skin and is not as dangerous and the SLE (systematic lupus erythematosis) which can affect every major organ in the body and also causes symptoms of chronic arthritis.

When the then 33-year-old medical transcriptionist learnt of her prognosis, devastation seeped into her pores. After digesting the bad news, however, she sought divine intervention and guidance, and found hope at the end of the tunnel through raising her children. "I decided that it was their opinion and not mine. My biggest concern was having four children who were dependent on me and didn't have any real support from my significant other, so the battle of wills started. I got down on my knees, had a long talk with God and asked him to keep me here long enough to raise my children because the thought of not being here to take care of them, to me, was beyond bearable. I really didn't worry about me too much. And as you can see, I got much more than I asked for," Richards-Stanford expressed. She is now a grandmother and her oldest child is 30 years old.

With every high moment, there are low ones and her roller coaster affair with lupus saw Richards-Stanford being hospitalised more times than she could remember. On six of those occasions, she tells Outlook that the doctors stood around her bed and basically had her sign papers because they said she was not going to make it.

"Every person is different and handles illness or situations in their own way. I never gave up on myself and I believe in the power of mind, body, and spirit. Therefore, if you continually tell yourself that you are sick and cannot function, then that is exactly how your life will be. I, personally, have never accepted it as the beginning and end of anything. It's hard to get up every morning and deal with the day, but that is where the will to survive, and survive well, comes in. I even like to think I do it with style and grace. People, in general, don't know I have lupus or the severity of it, unless I tell them. I believe in keeping my independence for as long as I can. That's just how I roll," she declared.

Stanford-Richards now spends her days gardening and devoting quality time to her six grandchildren. Both bring great joy to her life.

Her advice to those living with lupus: "Help yourself by not accepting the negativity and know that the human spirit is unstoppable. Overcome the obstacles because they will always be there. Pick yourself up every time you fall and keep it moving with grace and style. Most of all, lean on the Almighty, faith will carry you all the way."