Category Archives: Women’s Health

One Night Only

Thursday I wrote about National Wear Red Day, an initiative to raise awareness for American Heart Month. Later that evening, the American Heart Association’s hosted the annual Heart Truth Red Dress Collection fashion show.

Held in conjunction with national sponsor Macy’s, the event promised a star-studded catwalk. Celebs would include Gina Torres, Kat Graham, Alicia Quarles, and Anika Noni Rose. Anika asked me to tune in if I could. I did, so I did.

The fashion show, streamed online, began fashionably late. The women sported gorgeous designer gowns, some of them strutting, dancing, and bouncing down the runway.

Although the online stream played some strange techno mix, I later discovered the live audience was treated to upbeat songs. Anika shimmied and sashayed to Dreamgirls hit One Night Only. I’ll admit bias, but she was my favorite with Bella Thorne not too far behind.

As some of the women appeared on the catwalk, messages projected behind them. The sayings included their names, their featured designer, and why they walk. I walk to empower women, for instance. Later on in the evening, Anika shared why she walks:

That was very sweet, and completely unexpected. Sending love to my mother, to Anika, and to everyone impacted by heart disease.

 

Go Red For Women

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 4.43.53 PMOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness month and it’s all pink all the time. Everything from your favorite football player to your favorite Yoplait can be spotted with a splash of pink.

Despite the importance of cancer awareness initiatives, it’s worth noting that heart disease is the number one killer of women. My mother is in that number. Over 10 years ago, she went to the emergency room complaining of chest pains and never made it home.

The official cause of death was a brain hemorrhage, which was an unfortunate complication of her heart attack. Although she’d been slowly working to reclaim her fitness, lower her cholesterol and free herself of nicotine, time wasn’t on her side. She died a few months before her 60th birthday.

February is best known for Valentine’s Day, but it’s also American Heart Month. February 7, 2014 is National Wear Red Day. Are you and your loved ones doing what you can to get heart healthy or stay that way?

My Lover Kissed My Belly

I wrote a piece for the Body Narratives, a project founded and curated by Hana Riaz. The project creates space for women of color to reclaim and share their experiences. It’s a beautiful platform, and I’m honored to have a piece included in this body of work.

Here’s Hana’s introduction:

Our bodies are often physically and emotionally tied, and yet the disconnect experienced, the gap between the two can often seem overwhelming, painful, difficult. In this moving and deeply honest piece, nicole d. collier talks about living with fibroids and the body as a site of trauma.

Read the piece here.

Lupus: Marla’s Story. Part 2.

You are your own best advocate.
Be proactive when dealing with issues regarding your health.
Ask questions and be informed.
~Marla

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder most often diagnosed in people 15-45 years old. Anyone can develop lupus, but women make up 90% of cases.  According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, lupus is most common in women of African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American descent. In this regard, Marla is representative of the 16,000 Americans who develop lupus annually.

In Part 1 of this brief series, Marla shared the long road from obscure symptoms, to crisis, hospitalization, and diagnosis.  In this installment, she discusses the ways her life has changed as a result and how she is supported on her journey.

Marla at a party in 2010
Marla at a party in 2010

My life has changed quite a bit.  I now take medication every day, which I hate.  Some medication I may have to be on for the rest of my life as a maintenance kind of thing.  Because lupus has no cure, all you can do is treat it and manage it.  Boooo!!! 

I was in denial at first about my diagnosis, but not because I couldn’t accept it.  Everything I would read would list these typical symptoms that I didn’t have.  It wasn’t until November of 2012 that it all became real. 

Out of nowhere, these itchy skin rashes popped up all over my legs and arms.  I had a constant reminder every day that I had lupus and I still have these rashes.  They have left hyperpigmentation that has yet to fade. 

I now have a sensitivity to the sun, and this is a common symptom.  So, I have to avoid the sun as much as possible. This summer, no shorts for me .  I have to wear sunscreen every day (yes, black people need to wear it too).  This has been extremely hard to deal with because I love the sun and now I’m afraid of it.  So now, in addition to the rheumatologist, I also see a dermatologist. (Really tired of all the “ologists”).  I’ve lost a little hair.  I am also experiencing more than usual fatigue, which is also a common symptom. 

Most recently, and I say this with a whisper, I’ve noticed a significant decrease in my libido. I don’t know why, but I’m thinking it’s a combination of the medication as well as the psychological trauma and stress of this journey. I haven’t spoken with my doctor about this yet, but I plan to.  I mean, I’m only 38.

The hardest thing I’ve had to deal with is the not knowing what could happen to my body next.  I didn’t know these rashes would appear, they just did.  Will I have the joint pain that is characteristic with lupus?  As a former professional dancer and I’m being candid here, I think that would devastate me.  I know that I would prevail, but that would be really hard. 

Marla (who made her own costume) as Puss in Boots in 2011
Marla (who made her own costume) as Puss in Boots in 2011

Family and friends have been amazing.  In addition to educating myself, I have had to educate them.  They can be of more help if they know some of what is going on.  Some of my friends have referred me to friends they know who have lupus.  Talking with them has been a tremendous help.

I have felt alone with this disease and still do sometimes.  Lupus manifests itself differently in each person.  For me, right now, it is affecting my skin.  So being able to relate to someone else has been instrumental in the processing of this journey.  

Friends and family members have also turned me on to alternative methods of healing.  I’ve incorporated acupuncture, adopted a gluten-free diet, and tried to reduce the stress (a major cause of having a flare-up).  Therapy – I know that we aren’t supposed to talk about that, but therapy helps.  Having someone not emotionally connected to you provides a different type of support.  I have also entertained the idea of joining a lupus support group.

What do you want people to know or understand about lupus?

I would like people to know that lupus is a quiet disease, kind of a mystery disease.  Most times, no one would know you are living with it.  The symptoms aren’t in your face.  For me, I can cover my arms and legs, so no one would know I have these rashes.  We have all said we are tired, we say it all the time.  But for someone with lupus, the fatigue can be extreme. Those who don’t have it or understand it may not take someone saying they are tired as seriously as they should.  It’s not laziness, it’s fatigue.

There is a quote by Maya Angelou that I love: 

You are not your lupus, and life continues.  You just might have to make some adjustments.  There are going to be bad times, but also good times.  It’s the looking forward to the good times that help you through the bad times. 

I have learned a lot about myself during this journey.  I learned how strong I am and how far I can be pushed and still succeed.  But at the same time, I learned that I didn’t have to be so strong, trying to get through this alone.  I learned how to ask for help.  And, I learned how to truly love myself.


Marla’s favorite lupus-related resources: 

  • Organizations/websites:
  • Android apps:
    • Lupus Connect (discussions, articles)
    • The Lupus App (track prescriptions, doctor’s appointments, symptoms)
    • EPA’s SunWise UV Index (for those with sun sensitivity, tool to know how strong sun is)

Marla’s walk for lupus research is October 19, 2013. Did you miss Part 1 of her story? Read it here.