Diagnosed with Lupus at age 18
Shanelle Gabriel was an active student and performer when a series of seemingly random symptoms led to a diagnosis of lupus. Learning to rest and slow down was almost as difficult for Shanelle as overcoming feelings of loneliness. Shanelle has partnered with her rheumatologist to fight the disease, and she is determined to teach others about lupus through art.
Shanelle’s Story: Not Your Average Student
In 2003, when Shanelle was a sophomore in college, she began to experience symptoms she couldn’t explain – including bad headaches, finger discoloration, and difficulty walking that often left her limping to class. A student who had always pushed herself to excel, Shanelle chose to ignore her symptoms, focusing on her studies instead, and made excuses for the pain. However, when she returned home over summer break and observed two bald patches in the middle of her scalp, Shanelle knew it was time to see a doctor.
Shanelle’s physician diagnosed her with lupus and referred her to a rheumatologist; the young student found herself fighting a mysterious disease. Lupus is a chronic disease that can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, lungs, nervous system, and/or other organs of the body. The most common symptoms include skin rashes and arthritis, often accompanied by fatigue and fever. In addition to her physical symptoms, Shanelle dealt with feelings of isolation due to her family’s lack of understanding of her condition, and this feeling of being unsupported made her wish more people were educated about lupus.
Living with a Rheumatic Disease: To Dance or Not To Dance
Eventually, Shanelle’s hair grew back, but ongoing joint and chest pain — and three hospitalizations —reminded her she was far from cured.
Over the years, Shanelle learned how to deal with her illness, but her intensive schedule as a dance performer meant occasionally missing doses of her medication and often left her exhausted. Ultimately, she had to make a choice between her health and her passion for dance; Shanelle made the decision to stop performing in her dance troupe and to focus on fighting lupus.
Shanelle’s Window of Opportunity: Lupus Inspires Art
Dance is not the only thing Shanelle has lost due to lupus. Because of her ‘pre-existing condition,’ Shanelle has been unable to find health insurance and is forced to make health care sacrifices, including making difficult decisions as to when to visit the doctor for urgent care. But, her determination to fight the disease that has robbed her of so many things has inspired her in new ways.
A singer, poet, and lyricist, Shanelle often makes her struggle with lupus a part of her art. She feels the need to share her story through art because she felt so alone when she was first diagnosed. Shanelle encourages other people to listen to their body because, “pain is usually a sign that something is wrong,” and she believes if more people understood lupus, they could not only be diagnosed earlier, but feel empowered to fight – rather than afraid of the future.
In spite of many struggles, and with the devoted care of her rheumatologist, Shanelle has embraced lupus, continues to make her voice heard on the stage and tries to, “live life as someone who loves life.”
Lupus changed a lot about Shanelle’s life, but it wasn’t successful in robbing her of inspiration and hope. Shanelle found a window of opportunity through her creativity and through working with a rheumatologist. Millions of others with rheumatic diseases can find their own window of opportunity – especially if they receive early and appropriate treatment from a rheumatologist.