In Memory of Catherine - Diagnosed at age 45
I met Catherine when she was 18 and I was 21, for just about 5 minutes. 34 years later we connected through a mutual friend who thought we wrote similar emails. After six days of correspondence I left my home and traveled 300 miles to meet her in the flesh. I never left.
After about 2 months, one summer day we were out tending garden when suddenly it seemed like Catherine had just drunk a half a bottle of vodka. She was incoherent and moved unsafely. That was my terrifying introduction to lupus fog. At that point, Catherine had already been fighting the disease for well over ten years. After trying various regimens, she finally had a pretty good handle on self-care through diet and yoga. But from time to time the Wolf would attack, causing joint pain, swelling and fogs.
About 3 years later Catherine was diagnosed with stage four rectal cancer and suffered through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. She had a remission of several months and the cancer came back and she pretty much had chemo for the rest of her life, suffering all the side effects and fighting lupus all along the way. But, other than a few medical professionals, no one ever talked about lupus. What is there to say? What is there to do? And each case is unique and mysterious. In taking care of Catherine I learned to be on guard, to sometimes argue against stressful circumstances that I knew would result in worsening symptoms, to watch for swelling and the butterfly rash that sometimes erupted on her face, to be demonstrative of my love and affection in an attempt to help her body fight lupus.
Finally, early this year, Catherine was hospitalized for a bowel obstruction which was successfully resolved, but she never left the hospital. The stress and sleep deprivation of being there fed lupus what it loves. After years of fighting cancer, her body depleted, lupus finally ate her up. It doesn't say cancer on the death certificate. Instead, it reads "respiratory failure, complications of lupus". I will never recover from witnessing those last twenty days. But I wouldn't have been any place else. We both fought it to the end, exchanging slight but loving smiles as our goodbye.