For years, Melissa was used to hearing friends and her doctor say the reason why she was often tired and sore was because she had active children. Maybe she had arthritis. Maybe she had a little anxiety or depression sometimes, and that’s why she didn’t feel well.
But when severe muscle and joint pain began to affect her job five years ago, she went to her doctor at the time and insisted they figure out what was going on. She knew what she was experiencing wasn’t normal joint pain and fatigue. The doctor did some preliminary blood work, saw a few results that weren’t normal, and sent her to a rheumatologist for more specific blood work. The tests came back positive for all of the markers of lupus, a disease that predominantly affects women in which the immune system attacks healthy tissues throughout the body and causes frequent pain and fatigue.
“Like most people, I didn’t know what lupus was. My doctor just handed me a pamphlet and sent me on my way, and told me I needed to see a therapist. But when you hear that you have an autoimmune disease, and it’s a lifelong disease, you have so many questions."
Through friends and internet research, Melissa found Dr. Susan Manzi at the Allegheny Health Network Autoimmunity Institute at West Penn Hospital.
“She changed everything. The first time I met her, I had never been so sick. I was malnourished, my body was shutting down, and the lupus was attacking everything. But as sick as I was, leaving that office after I met her I was thinking, ‘I’m going to get better.’ They have all the doctors there that you could possibly need for lupus, so you can see them all in one place.”
Melissa has been seeing Dr. Manzi for five years. While there haven’t been very many medications developed to treat lupus, together Melissa and her doctors have worked closely to manage her symptoms.
“Finding a doctor that I can feel comfortable with and the relationship I have with her are so important. I feel the best that I’ve felt in a really long time.”
Melissa has also become a firm believer that women owe it to themselves not to ignore signs that something isn’t right with their health.
“As women, as mothers, we’re always taking care of everybody else. We’re making sure everybody has what they need, and is going where they need to be. And our health and the importance of what’s going on with us tend to take a backseat. If you know that you’re not feeling right, don’t let anybody tell you that it’s in your head. Pay attention to those symptoms. Your body’s trying to tell you something. You can get the help that is available to you, and you can start to feel like yourself again.”
Learn more about the Autoimmunity Institute.