PatientsLikeMe is excited to announce a new partnership with “LupusChick,” Marisa Zeppieri-Caruana. She’s an influential blogger, advocate and advisor for the lupus and chronic condition community – and an all-around cool gal. Marisa grew up with various health issues and suffered serious injuries in April 2001 when she was run over as a pedestrian by a truck, driven by a drunken driver. During her rehabilitation, she suffered a small stroke and was also diagnosed with lupus (which can be triggered by trauma, like accidents and injuries).
Marisa launched her LupusChick blog in 2008, and it’s now a popular destination for reflections on life with chronic illness, recipes (she’s a juicer and a foodie!), wellness tips and more. She’s been featured in U.S. News & World Report, The Huffington Post, The Mighty, Eating Well, Elle, Glamour, and many other publications as a voice for people with chronic illness. She raised even more awareness of lupus when she reigned as Mrs. New York USA Universal 2015. We recently caught up with her about her experiences with lupus, her award-winning blog and her hopes for this new partnership with PatientsLikeMe.
What inspired you to launch LupusChick? Did you expect it would reach so many people and become your day job?
Between 2005 to 2008, I met many lupus patients and their family members or spouses through support group and awareness events and was surprised at how many of these men and women still felt alone. I believed they were looking to find a solid connection with other patients. As social media and the internet was really beginning to take off, I created LupusChick as a safe space for patients dealing with any chronic illness. It started from a small blog, reaching a few hundred people a month, to today where it is a nonprofit and major autoimmune community that reaches about 700,000 people per month. I think of it as my day/night/weekend job, as people reach out from all across the globe at all hours. It is everything I hoped it would be and more!
Could you share some of your lupus diagnosis story with us? How did you come to terms with your diagnosis after already going through so much?
I believe my story really started when I was young, as I had health issues since I was a baby. My symptoms came out full force, though, after being struck by a truck as a pedestrian. Some autoimmune symptoms are exposed through a trigger, and that incident seemed to be my trigger. I had to heal from that event as I had extensive injuries, and got sick on top of it. I can’t say it was my finest hour, but once I got through the frustration phase, I began to see that I was still here for a reason and I needed to transform all the “bad” into something good.
What do you like to do for fun? How has lupus affected these things?
I love to travel, meet new people and just be spontaneous. Lupus has changed a lot of those things for me but it hasn’t broken my spirit. My travel is much more planned, and I have to strategize time for rest, but it doesn’t stop me from having new adventures in life.
Which lifestyle habits or changes have helped you the most in managing lupus? How do you help others find lifestyle tips and tweaks that might work for them?
Changes I have made included learning how to say “no” and not overextending myself. At the end of the day, I am no good to anyone else if I have run myself ragged and put myself into a flare-up.
I’ve also made a variety of changes to my diet, as I deal with lupus and many allergy and food allergy issues. These changes have helped me manage some symptoms and have made an improvement in my energy level. I am always happy to share my tips with others, but I also recommend for people to find what works for them, especially when it comes to things like diet. One suggestion I do stress for chronic illness patients is journaling. Keeping track of my symptoms, food, stress, medicines, flares, activity levels and more provided incredible insight over time as to what causes my body to flare up.
Many people on PatientsLikeMe are managing invisible chronic conditions. What is the hardest part about managing a chronic illness that other people can’t see?
The reality is many of us are almost putting on a show, attempting to seem healthy and “normal” in order not to be judged and critiqued by others who don’t understand our illness. That in itself can be exhausting. I think if some people had a glimpse of what our lives are like on a daily basis – the fatigue, pain, doctor visits, IV treatments, medicines, needing help – they might have a different perspective on chronic illness. It might foster more compassion and, in our community, that would be incredible.
What does a tough day look like for you?
Tough days usually include fevers, pain, rashes, heart issues and severe fatigue. It can definitely get me down because I am a total Type A who has a million things I want to do. My mind never stops, but my body puts the brakes on many of my plans. There is a level of frustration that comes along with that. I try to keep in mind a new day is coming and remind myself that I have accomplished the things I have set my mind to, even if it has taken me longer than expected. That gives me hope for future goals.
What about a great day – what does that look like?
A great day means a lot of energy, little medicine and no IV treatment. It might look like me, my husband and our rescue dog hiking in upstate New York or kayaking on Lake Ontario. Because so much of my life seems to be me stuck in bed, I love to get outdoors whenever possible!
What are you looking forward to most in this partnership with PatientsLikeMe?
So many things, such as connecting with like-minded people, educating others about lupus (and various illnesses) and having the incredible resources of PatientsLikeMe at our fingertips to learn what has worked for other patients dealing with similar issues!
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