Why is my sister still alive?

My older sister is 6 years older than me and is living with an auto immune disorder called lupus. Lupus speaks of the body attacking itself. And African-American women are often victimized by it and women in the community where we were raised are especially vulnerable. I remember my sister as a young attractive mother and wife involved in many activities. She swam, skied, read, advocated for her sons and her community. She went back to college and earned a degree after she divorced her husband.

That is why the the fact she was struck by this so difficult to diagnose disease was so cruel. She had wanted to study law but her body literally gave out.  She had overcome childhood trauma and an unfaithful husband but she could not fix her body. It was painful to hear of her struggles to obtain an accurate diagnosis going from doctor to doctor. It must be understood that lupus weakens you over a period of years and almost leaves you exhausted. There were times when I was certain Chris would not outlive our mother, who will be 93 this month.

So, how did she do it? Was it primarily due to the long list of medications that have filled her over the past 40 years? I could point to one thing that I have learned from my work as a peer specialist. She has always been able to have a meaningful role in society. Chris founded a minority health coalition and maintained it for several years. She was a board member of Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME). She continued to play a significant role in her sons’ lives and nurtures her grandchildren. She still remains in contact with people she knew from elementary and high school. She gets out and enjoys the arts which have a thriving community. She eats well and bakes wonderful cookies which she shares. And she has our love: my mother and me.

These are all protective health factors. I think of these things because of some reading I am doing for a course called A World of Health. The first place to look is within our families to understand what keeps us alive and thriving.

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