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Taking it All in Stride

Kellie Poe describes herself as energetic, adventurous, and always on the move. So, when she learned she had lupus and needed to “slow down,” it didn’t sit right with her.

“I was getting ready to go to grad school to study abroad and was looking forward to getting ready to start an exciting new chapter of my life when I received my diagnosis,” said Kellie. “When my doctor told me that I had to ‘slow down,’ it was almost like being stripped of my identity, and it was frustrating.”

For years before her diagnosis, Kellie suffered from uncontrollable pain in her arms and wrists and episodes of uncomfortable vomiting. When she was diagnosed in January 2018, it was somewhat of a relief to know there was a reason for her symptoms.

“One of the main characteristics of lupus is that it can take several years to diagnose – sometimes as many as six,” said Kellie. “I was fortunate that in my case, it only took a couple of years.”

When she learned she had an autoimmune disease, she began delving into her family history and discovered that several of her family members had lupus, including her grandmother and aunt. Through this process, she learned the importance of talking to your family about genetic traits and diseases carried down from generation to generation.

“I’ve learned that it’s vital to talk to your family about the prevalence of chronic illnesses and how they can impact others in your genetic line,” said Kellie. “I also learned that it’s essential to connect with others who share similar experiences, so you know you are not fighting alone.”

Since receiving her diagnosis, Kellie has learned to be gentle with herself and has created a new definition of happiness, one she imparts to her patients in her role as a Clinical Mental Health Counselor.

“I’ve learned that happiness is about recognizing what you have and being grateful for every moment. For me, it’s about being able to do the things I have loved to do despite my diagnosis. Yes, I have slowed down, but I’ve learned to appreciate the life I lead and find balance within,” said Kellie. “Everyone – no matter what their circumstances have something – some burden they are carrying. You just have to learn to adjust.”

Despite her lupus diagnosis, Kellie completed grad school at Prairie View A&M University, as the graduate of her class last spring. She said it was a challenge but was grateful to all of her professors, who supported and encouraged her in achieving her goals.

In addition to her work as a clinical mental health counselor, Kellie stays busy with her nonprofit organization, Black Millennials Mental Health, which focuses on providing mental health coaching to and education to the Black community. The organization serves as a safe space to explore the mental health experiences and disparities perpetuated
across generations for people of color – one of her passions. 

When she’s not working or spearheading initiatives for her nonprofit, Kellie is active with the Lupus Foundation of America – Teas Gulf Coast where she volunteers as a mentor to other lupus patients. 

“I tell them they need to get comfortable with the idea of taking care of themselves in a new way and that no one is going to advocate for them better than they can,” she said.  

Kellie also is instrumental in helping to raise awareness of lupus and funds in hopes of one day finding a cure.

“Giving back to my community gives me joy, and I’m glad to be able to serve in this way,” said Kellie. “We need people to understand what lupus is and how it impacts patients and their families – sometimes throughout multiple generations like in mine.”

Occasionally, Kellie will experience lupus flare-ups, which can be debilitating. She says her skin, ankles, hands, and feet all become inflamed, making it difficult to carry on with daily activities, including driving. Nevertheless, she’s learned how to manage these episodes with medications, rest, yoga, and meditation activities.

As for the future, Kellie’s next goal is to obtain her doctorate in clinical mental health to continue to grow her nonprofit and help more people achieve mental well-being.

In many ways, Kellie’s lupus journey is just beginning. She feels blessed to have the support of her mother and advocates in the Lupus Foundation by her side, encouraging her every step of the way.

Even though lupus has changed how Kellie has lived her life somehow, she says she loves the person she has become and looks forward to the future with a sense of optimism and deep gratitude for her experience, and all those she has encountered along the way.

“Living with a chronic illness is challenging, but I never ask for pity,” she said. “All I ask is for people to take time to learn about lupus and other autoimmune disorders so they can learn and appreciate what we as Lupus Warriors endure.”

Ms. Kellie Poe, MS