Next Steps: Runner Diagnosed With Lupus Sets a New Goal
By Lisa Tillman
In July 2010, Dianne Friedl registered to run the Houston Marathon. Three months later she was diagnosed with lupus. Friedl, a 32-year-old attorney, attributed the symptoms she’d been experiencing to the exhaustion of being a new mom. Her son, Drew, had just turned 1. “I just didn’t feel good, but I couldn’t put my finger on it,” she remembers. Her symptoms began to affect her hands, feet, and legs. “My hands swelled up so much I couldn’t even open a bottle of water.”
Friedl was lucky to be diagnosed quickly. Her doctor prescribed CellCept,® Plaquenil,® and prednisone, but Friedl admits she stared at the pill bottles on her bathroom counter for two weeks before actually taking one. An accomplished athlete who played soccer in college, she describes it as an identity crisis. “I didn’t know who I was or what I was going to do,” she says. “I had always been this person who ran on a regular basis, very active and athletic, and I just couldn’t do it.”
Friedl is a litigation attorney, which requires very long hours. “I used to pull all-nighters, and now at 7:30 I’m having to force myself to have enough energy to feed my son and get to bed. You just lose yourself in that.”
A Decision to Make
Friedl did start the medications and began to feel better, but two months later, she experienced her first big lupus flare. Depressed, she had trouble getting out of bed. “I couldn’t squeeze the shampoo out of the bottle to wash my hair, and that was the lowest moment. I wanted my husband to come home, and I wanted to quit my job—I wanted to just quit. I wanted to say, ‘I have lupus, and I deserve to do all these things, and this is just not me.’” But, she knew, “If I let myself do that, it would make me even more miserable.”
During the flare, the deadline for the Houston Marathon came up. “You had to either defer or switch to the half-marathon, and I decided to run the half-marathon,” she says. “My husband said I was crazy, but I think he could tell I needed something. I needed to have a smile on my face.”
At this point, Friedl hadn’t told most of her friends about her lupus diagnosis. The marathon’s fundraising program provided a unique opportunity to do so. Friedl designated the Lupus Foundation of America’s (LFA’s) Texas Gulf Coast Chapter as the charity she was running for and, via Facebook, sent her friends the link to her fundraising page.
“I wanted to tell them why I had been such a bad friend lately, why I never went out anymore, or why I never had time. How do you tell them without them treating you differently? This was my way.”
Friedl’s symptoms prevented her from training the way she’d planned, but she ran at least once a week. “My goal was to run three or four times a week,” she remembers, “but after I would do those runs, my joints would stiffen up a lot. I did two eight-mile runs a couple weeks apart, and those days I was just done. On the days I did run, I slept the rest of the day.”
The Day Arrives
On Jan. 30, 2011, three months after learning she had lupus, Friedl ran the half-marathon. “It was the most fun day since my diagnosis,” she says. “I was running with everyone, and I was in front of a lot of people, and I was me again.”
Friedl ran the 13.1 miles in just two hours and 10 minutes, finishing in the top 30 percent of the 9,396 people who ran the half-marathon; of the 5,279 women who ran the half, she finished 1,104th, in the top 21 percent.
She had hoped to raise $500 for the LFA, but her efforts brought in almost double that amount. “That was amazing. That was a sign to me that lupus doesn’t have to be this negative thing in my life.”
Training for the half-marathon while living with lupus taught Friedl to listen to her body more. To make it easier on her joints, she tries to run on grass instead of concrete, and she takes extra precautions in the sun. She says having lupus “makes me more conscious about taking care of myself, drinking tons of water, and eating good foods.” The workouts also help her feel better about herself. “I’m lucky that my husband totally gets that. He is my number one supporter in terms of pushing me out the door to go for a run or to the gym, mostly because I think he enjoys the happy wife and mom who comes home,” she says.
Friedl also walked in the Walk for Lupus Now® this year in Houston and raised about $2,500. She still tries to run two or three times each week, but she’s learned her workouts can sometimes come at the expense of other activities and knows to plan around them. “It can’t be on a day that we need groceries or on a really nice day where I could take my son, Drew, and our dog, Roxy, to the park after work.”
All in all, Friedl believes that running has been a major part of keeping lupus from consuming her identity, and next year she hopes to run the full Houston marathon. “I have something to prove to myself: that life isn’t over, that I’m not going to just roll over and die, that I can do this.”