When Memory Fails and Hope Reigns

Photo by Kim Peters

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven… A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. -Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

A good friend asked about the time I lost my hair. I know when it started, when it ended, and not much in between. “You were in survival mode”, Lisa commented. Yes, I was.

At fifteen my mitral valve relapse was discovered during an EKG and echocardiogram. Every month brought endless tests during our Boston visits. Luckily my lungs, kidneys, and brain were unaffected. That’s the thing with lupus, the body attacks its own organs, it’s completely unpredictable.

Puffy, chipmunk cheeks were my nemesis, weight gain soon followed. My disease was under fire from high dose prednisone. My once slender, athletic body put on multiple pounds. But, it wasn’t enough.

Chemotherapy became an easy choice. It wasn’t until mom was left alone with my chart did we discover my aortic valve was similarly troubled. They weren’t pumping blood the way they should, a good amount was left behind, I learned this was less than ideal.

One Friday a month I traded school for the hospital. Mom and I had fun shopping before checking in. I never ate much during our restaurant lunches, knowing what was to come. The I.V. was the part I feared most, I tried to remain tough, but tears often flowed. I’m embarrassed to admit, they make me cry.

Mom had a tough time that first night. She looked at me on my bed, eyes drooping from the sedative, and shed her own tears. It wasn’t until I had my own children that I started to consider how she felt during this time. Her heart was broken too.

The sleepless night led to being wheeled out to our car the next morning and we’d begin the long journey home. Mom often wanted to stop at cute little shops on the way, I always too groggy. Monday, I’d return to school, having had the weekend to recover.

Chemo continued for a year and a half, though it was supposed to last for five, my heart began to heal itself. I remember bits and pieces from this time. I have diaries stashed away, little floral padded books with locks, I’ve been hesitant to revisit them. Reading the entries I feel might bring healing, I think it’s time.

What I do remember is the trust I had that things would get better. I held on to what I  knew during that time, my studies, sports and a few close friends. I was patient, believing my health would return, and thank God, it did.

We all have dark seasons in our lives. Times we wish time would pass in an instant instead of the sometimes years they last. Pleading for our burdens to be lifted, we can easily miss the lessons buried within them. It can help to know that you are being made stronger, wiser, and yes, even happier, because of what you’re going through.

I wouldn’t wish this frightening disease on anyone. I want you to know I’ve found peace in spite of it. I’ve learned to live with uncertainty knowing that no matter what, I will be okay. God is bigger than lupus and more powerful than any circumstance I may experience.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29:11

Sure, my memory may fail me, but hope never does.

Not Making Cheerleading Wasn’t the Worst

lupus butterfly

Stuck is a very real emotion. The small white office within the Pediatric Rheumatology wing at the New England Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts will be forever etched in my mind. There were no posters to cheer its young visitors, that sterile rubbing alcohol smell of a place. The Doctor’s desk barely fit, let alone my mom, dad and me, upon chairs huddled close. I held my breath at that moment, waiting for the words.

“We have the results and it’s as we expected, Laura has lupus,” Dr. Cher looked from my mom to my dad. I looked at her for a sign, of what I don’t know. My mom’s head was in her hands, and my dad turned to look at me. I didn’t cry, that wasn’t my first impulse, neither was breathing. She looked straight at me and mustered a smile, “We’re going to get aggressive with your meds and monitor you closely. The good news is your arthritis should be alleviated soon.”

My first alarm was not being able to catch a thrown basketball in P.E. No matter how hard I willed them, my hands would not open. I was embarrassed and tried to fake my way through the early morning class. When the rash appeared over my nose and cheeks, I started using foundation, figuring at 14 it was okay to wear makeup. The thing just turned purple and classmates started asking if I had a bad sunburn.

The pediatrician assumed my mom was placating her hypochondriac daughter during my first visit. “There’s nothing wrong with her,” he whispered to her, out of earshot. Sitting on the papered table, both my hands and face looked fine, normal. After some pestering on her part, mom’s suspicions were confirmed, something was awry. Positive ANA blood test = overactive immune system. It was time to take things seriously.

Vermont couldn’t discern the mystery ailment, so we travelled. I never really minded the 3 1/2 hour drive south. I got a day off school and a shopping spree before the appointments. I had my mom (and sometimes dad) to myself, sans two little brothers. It was my job to be my mom’s eyes when it was her turn behind the wheel, rural Michigan did not prepare this woman for city driving. It wasn’t until years later she improved.

When the news came, I couldn’t possibly predict what lupus would mean to me long-term. Right before that moment, I was more upset that I didn’t make high school cheerleading. I explained to my doctors- my hands didn’t work probably because of the fists I had to make while shouting and jumping up and down during tryouts. I had no idea what lupus was, only that I would always have it.

I was stuck, with a disease of which I had no idea the plans in store. There would always be a memory of the “pre-diseased” Laura, the “normal” person I had once been. For a long time, I longed for that girl. I felt she was a part of me, but was radically different, changed.

Someone once said that our greatest challenges become our greatest gifts, or maybe that’s my quote. It was the uncertainty that scared me most at that tender age, the feeling of being helpless in the face of circumstance. What I’ve learned since is that we are never trapped. There is always something you can do, right now, to improve your life.

For me, that was embracing the health I had left, and building upon it. This was a turning point, not downward, as I had first imagined, quite the opposite.

Why I don’t want to be a size 4

“You’re oh so beautiful, you don’t need anyone’s approval.” ~ Chasen

When I talk to clients about their fitness goals, more often than not they are all about looks: “I want to lose 35 pounds,” “I want to wear the clothes that no longer fit that are sitting in my closet,” “I want to be a size 4.” While each of these is worth striving toward, it’s the focus on appearance that can keep the same clients from getting what they want.

The concept to which I cling (while hard to teach) is looks are a side effect of fitness, an inevitable result that doesn’t deserve a whole lot of thought. Yes, I want you to look good, but more importantly, I want you to live “good”.

In Experience Life magazine, Jennifer Pharr Davis, endurance hiker shares: “It [hiking] made me feel beautiful and helped my self-esteem and self-confidence. That doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense because I was dirty and stinky and covered in bug bites, but for five months I didn’t wake up every morning and look in the mirror. I wasn’t worried about my appearance and so I began to see myself in a new way — and to think about beauty in a new way. I began to see my reflection through my interactions with other people on the trail. So if I was kind, if I smiled at someone when they needed a smile, then I felt beautiful. And I certainly had a new appreciation and respect for my body after it traveled over 2,000 miles by foot. All those realizations changed who I was as a person.”

You cannot recognize your inherent value when you are obsessed with your reflection. Look within, recognize that you are a miracle. Shift your focus to what truly matters.

I see so many people on a quest for beauty when they already have it. When you live from the knowledge that you are already gorgeous, you will create it on the outside without much effort. Wallowing in the false ideas that: there is something wrong with you, you don’t measure up, you need to improve… keeps you in a downward spiral of self-destruction and self-sabotage.

You care for what you value. Life is a beautiful gift, treat your body like the miracle it is. Take your journey to health slowly, it’s not about deprivation, it’s about indulging in the good stuff (food and exercise). Care more about the inside now, and you will begin to radiate.

I’m here to remind you, you are crazy beautiful, now and forever. Now go live it.


Laura Lisa

Eating for Satiety- Pass the Protein

Ah, protein. What to feel full with less? Get enough, but not too much! When you have the right amount of protein, you will feel full and energized, ready to tackle your day. Studies have shown that protein helps you feel more satisfied over its cousins, carbs and fats, though all three are necessary for a balanced diet.

That said, protein can be a wee bit over-rated in terms of requirements. Eating too much of this important nutrient (as with any excess calories) will lead fat storage on your lovely hips, waist and beyond. Even more, the higher fat and lower fiber intake associated with a high-protein diet can also lead to problems like heart disease and certain cancers. Ugh, no thanks!

How much of the good stuff do you need? The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for adults depends on your activity level: Sedentary: .4g/lb of body weight per day; Strength athlete: .5-.8g/lb; Endurance athlete: .5-.6g/lb. Get out your calculator! It may be less than you thought.

What should you be eating? I subscribe to a plant-based philosophy, so for me it’s vegan all the way baby. I am proud to have lots of lean muscle and low body fat. However, I admit, this lifestyle is not for everyone! The key to finding balance? Take a look at cultures throughout the world- most use meat and dairy to season their vegetable, legume and whole grain-laden plates. If you choose to eat animal-based protein, also add in a ton of plant stuff, your body will thank you.

My faves? Lentils, beans, soy and almond milk, tofu, nuts and nut butters. How does this translate into meals/snacks? Hummus with whole grain crackers, fruit smoothies with soymilk and almond butter, Spanish rice and beans, trail mix with nuts and dried fruit, lentil stew, scrambled tofu with veggies. Tell me your not salivating right now. I thought so.

Love your body by giving it just what it needs, nothing more, nothing less. Choose well and enjoy how you feel. Eat, and be full my friends. What are your favorite ways to get protein morning/noon/night?


Laura Lisa

P.S. For U.S. government recommendations, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/protein.html