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Thirty-One Faces of Hope: Aleta McLean

The lupus community includes people living with lupus, friends, family and supporters across Georgia. For Lupus Awareness Month, we would like to highlight some of our lupus heroes and champions. 


Aleta McLean, State and National Advocate

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Being diagnosed with Lupus has been an emotional roller coaster. The months leading up to my diagnosis were frustrating. Initially my hair started falling out. I was told it was stress related.  At the time, I was working two jobs, so I decided to quit my part-time job if it meant taking care of my health. A few months later, I began to become physically ill. I thought that I may have had the flu because my body ached, I was extremely tired and at the beginning of September, I had the chills when the temperature outside was in the 80’s. I went to the doctor thinking they would give me something and I would go home, but that didn’t happen. I had a fever, so they were trying to figure out why.  They did blood work, chest x-rays, and finally told me I had a bladder infection.  They gave me an injection and sent me home with an antibiotic.  Three days later my face began to swell and turn red. I then went to urgent care where they told me I had an allergic reaction to the medication I was given. I was then given a shot of cortisone and sent home and told to follow up with my primary care doctor. When I followed up with my primary care doctor whom I was meeting for the very first time, because I no longer had the pain, told me I should see an allergist because of my reaction. I made an appointment to follow up with my primary care doctor to receive a complete physical, but that appointment was a month away. So I went to back to work and continued business as usual.  Meanwhile, my face continued to become even more discolored and I continued to be extremely tired. 
 
I didn’t know anything about Lupus. I had no family history. I knew of one person that had Lupus but we were not close, so I had no idea how it impacts you. The more I learned about Lupus, is when I became scared. I was a single parent who lived alone with my 15 year old daughter. I have friends in Atlanta, but all of my family lives in Philadelphia. After being told there was no cure, and learning the side effects of the disease and the medications, I became worried.  I had so many questions: Will I be able to go back to work? I had been recently promoted, so will I be able to keep my position? If I can’t work, how will I be able to pay my bills? Will I have to move back to Philadelphia? How do I explain this to my child? All these questions, and not knowing the answers began to make me angry and even question my faith. I know it’s by the grace of God that I am here, but why me.  I had no previous medical conditions, I ate right, exercised and did not partake in any risky behaviors. This was my first severe life threatening event. I was used to always being the giver or the caretaker and I did not know how to be vulnerable, so I felt weak.  Between the emotional distress and the physical affects to my body and appearance. My self-esteem began to drop…when you lose your hope, you lose apart of yourself. I had to pray and rely heavily on my faith in God.  

I joined a support group “LACES” in Decatur. It wasn’t until I started attending support group meetings that I began to acknowledge and tell people that I had Lupus. It was there I began to feel encouraged about my story. To see and hear women who are 20 plus year survivors and then to see women who were just as scared, nervous and angry as I was, let me know I can do this.  It wasn’t actually until I started attending support group meetings that I began to acknowledge and tell people I had Lupus, previously, it was “my condition”. When I decided to do the Lupus Walk in May 2015, it was the first time I had informed people outside of close friends and family that I had Lupus. Attending support group meetings also encouraged me to become an advocate.  I now co-facilitate the LACES support group. When opportunities arose to be involved, I wanted to be there. I volunteer my time to educate others at health fairs, I attend Lupus Awareness Day at the GA state capitol. I even went to Lupus Advocacy Day in Washington DC. In 2016 I was asked to tell my story on the Georgia Senate floor for Lupus Awareness Day. Telling my story will free me from my pain and give someone else the courage to tell theirs. God takes us through certain things so that we may be a witness for others. My struggle is not for me, but so that I can be inspiration for someone else. I just want to make a difference and I advocate because my life depends on it.

- Aleta McLean