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Providing Answers, Support and Hope in Georgia
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Thirty-One Faces of Hope: Mildred McCoy

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. 

Mildred McCoy

It was spring, pollen counts were high, flowers were blooming, Georgia temperature was rising, and all should have been right with the world. Unfortunately, that was not case in my household. My husband had just received our son’s kidney, my daughter was beginning her first year of college and I was sick every day.  Oh, how my joints ached! It was my entire body! My feet and hands are swollen and painful.  I felt like I had a fever all the time; however, I could not even stand to walk down the freezer aisle in the grocery store for fear of freezing to death. I knew what my problem was because I was a “certified counselor”. I was just stressed! I knew it because my hair was falling out. I needed to just settle down and rest more after having experienced the kidney transplant with my husband and with getting my daughter enrolled in college. Besides, I had just begun my new job as an assistant principal. So, that was it. Stress!

I told myself that it was just stress every day right up until the morning I could not get out of bed. That day, I went to see the doctor. He diagnosed me right away with pneumonia and sent me home with medications. I felt better until about a month later when I was still unable to move about without extreme pain. I went to see the doctor, again. This time, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes pain all over the body, sleep problems, fatigue, and often emotional and mental distress. That sounded correct. I was prescribed medication and sent home again. At this point, I had resolved that my issue was more emotional than physical and thought perhaps I should seek psychological support. However, my body was still attacking itself and I was suffering from the damage it caused. I had no other choice than to seek medical assistance. One evening when I was suffering, I went in for emergency medical treatment. A young Physician’s Assistant who treated me asked if I had been tested for lupus. My answer to him was “no”. I did not even know what lupus was. Thus began my journey. My first step was to find out what was lupus. If I have it, then how did I get it and the most important question was is there a cure.

The next month, I started with the Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test with my primary care physician. After much personal research, I found that a positive test for the presence of these antibodies produced by my immune system indicates a stimulated immune system. I received three positive ANA test results and was finally diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or lupus. I was referred to a local rheumatologist. Then, my quest for the right medications began immediately. As I remember, I have taken Plaquenil, Relafen, Prednisone, Meloxicam, Methotrexate, Cimzia injections, and cortisone injections over a period of seven years. During that time, I was constantly fatigued. I had skin rashes regularly. I even had shingles one time. Thinking back, one of the worst conditions was the frequent eye infections due to inflammation. I am willing to bet you that I was diagnosed with conjunctivitis at least once a month. All the while, people never really understood my disease. Many of my lupus symptoms were not obvious, yet every day was overwhelming, especially when I had flare ups. Gradually, I began to feel better for longer periods of time between lupus flare ups and horrible bouts with kidney stones. All the while, people in my circles would make comments about how well I looked. My, how I hated hearing that when most of the time I was feeling so poorly. 

Finally, in 2008, during one of my regular visits to the rheumatologist, he gave me the wonderful news. According to him, my lupus appeared to be “sleeping”! He assured me that that only means that I am at the point of being almost symptoms or pain free. This does not mean that I no longer need to take medications. I still have regular visit with my rheumatologist, and I do not forget to take my medicines daily. I wash it all down with a tall glass of prayer. I thank God for where I am on my lupus journey today. I know that while we have made many medical strides with treating the symptoms, currently there is no cure for lupus. I have resolved that I am in this fight for the long haul. 

So, it was spring, again and the pollen counts are high, flowers are blooming, Georgia temperature is rising, and all is better with the world.  Today, I am a strong advocate for lupus awareness and participate in local and state activities with the Lupus Foundation of America, Georgia Chapter. I share my story and advocate for lupus education, awareness, and research in any way that I can. I have participated in the Atlanta Walk to End Lupus Now for the past 8 years. My family and I created a team and have fundraised over the years. This fall, we are planning to join the Atlanta Team for the virtual Walk to End Lupus Now experience taking place on October 16, 2021.