Photo: Toni Braxton. Source: ABC News.
Sometime in September 2017, fans and admirers of Popstar Selena Gomez found out that she underwent a kidney transplant because of her worsening lupus condition. One of her best friends, Francia Raisa, willingly donated her kidney to Selena. Selena's celebrity gave her a platform to raise awareness about Lupus and inspire others to support research on this chronic, complex autoimmune condition.
In the same year, Selena Gomez also received the ‘Woman of the Year’ award to honor her contribution to the music industry and for uplifting the position of women in society. The candor Gomez displayed when speaking about her struggle lupus—a health issue that affects 1.5 million Americans, 90% female—created buzz in the lupus community. For example, Lupus Research Alliance President and CEO Kenneth M. Farber explained that when Selena speaks about Lupus, or an article is written where she is quoted, they get more calls seeking information in one day, than they would normally get in a month. It's the power of her celebrity but also the power of her authenticity.
Gomez is continuing to do her part to raise awareness about Lupus. In a Vogue article, she said: “It’s important to educate yourself. A lot of people are scared of knowing. For me, I was terrified. When I found out I needed a kidney transplant, I almost said I didn’t want to know the details, because it’s so frightening.” Gomez continued: “It’s actually more important to know what it means to tackle something that, if you’re educated in, it won’t seem as scary.” For Gomez, it’s about open communication and being a part of the conversation. She suggests talking to other people you respect and admire, and not just friends about it.
In a recent interview, long time Lupus Warrior and Singer Toni Braxton states just how much she admires Selena Gomez's bravery in the face of lupus.
Toni Braxton on lupus and on admiring Selena
Toni Michelle Braxton is a successful American actress, singer, songwriter, producer, and TV personality. In her early career, she performed with her sisters but went solo a few years later. During the peak years of her career, Toni had sold millions of records worldwide, won 7 Grammy Awards, got another 7 Music Awards, 9 Billboard Music Awards, and several other tributes. She’s also very successful in her acting career and has an ongoing hit television show.
Despite all the fame and seemingly strong nature of Toni, she has a personal battle that almost ended her stardom. While performing for her show in Las Vegas in 2008, Toni collapsed and was sent to a hospital’s emergency room. At first, the doctors thought she had a ‘baby heart attack’. This is because 23 percent of the small blood vessels and micro-valves of her heart received no oxygen. After several more tests and blood work, it was found that Toni had lupus.
After learning about her condition, Toni has started taking medications and making lifestyle changes to take care of her heart. She had to follow a certain type of healthy diet but was also doing gentle exercises, even though she couldn’t lose weight. Despite everything she was doing, her lupus symptoms flared.
Back in 2012, Toni experienced a major lupus flare which caused blood clots and she was advised not to perform anymore. Because of this, Toni was forced to an early retirement in the same year. She got depressed and was gradually giving in to her condition and giving up.
Just when she was feeling particularly hopeless, her friends launched a ‘Toni outreach program’ to help her get out of that phase in her life. It gave her the motivation and inspiration to get back on her feet and move forward. Now, Toni is back in the spotlight but does not forget to take care of her health. In fact, when she had a concert in 2016, Toni had a heart monitor strapped to her chest. This was done following the advice of her doctors to wear the device at all times to monitor pain in the chest, potential heart attacks, or stroke.
While Toni’s condition is being monitored, she still experiences sudden flares that force her to postpone tours or concerts. However, the performer doesn’t want to give up just like her fellow celebrity lupus survivor, Selena Gomez.
In a recent interview, Toni expressed her greatest admiration for Selena Gomez for being so brave in facing her own lupus adversities. “I’m so proud of her,” she told People Magazine. “She’s one of the bravest girls I know, and she put it out there and said ‘I’m not gonna let you judge me and I’m not gonna be a victim and I’m a survivor.’ Just telling her story [makes her] a pioneer.” “She sings! That’s the hardest thing!” Toni added. “It’s energy to perform live. I don’t know how she does it because some days, if I’m having a bad day and I still have to do a show it’s a lot of, ‘You sing’ to the audience.”
Managing the stress that triggers lupus
Both Selena and Toni have been experiencing lupus flares because of the type of job they are in and the many other stresses in their personal lives. Experts agree that stress increases the incidents of flare as it affects the patient. Some of the many sources of stress are daily hassles, divorce, a death of a loved one, lack of sleep, and physically demanding activities. An increase in stress has also been associated with the common lupus symptom, brain fog in which the patient has difficulty remembering things and performing other brain-related functions.
The importance of managing stress among lupus patients cannot be more emphasized. Studies have shown that reducing stress can also decrease the amount of pain, anxiety, and depression. Overall, stress reduction improves the patient’s quality of life. Here are a few tested ways to reduce stress:
- Take a break: Learning to take time off from work or school could help decrease heart rate, stabilize blood pressure, and relax the muscles. Thus, when a patient becomes too busy, it pays to step away from the tasks for a short while and simply continue when the feeling is calmer. Some relaxation activities patients can do are watching a movie, playing with a pet, or reading a book.
- Listen to music: Stress doesn’t only come from external sources; it can be a thing of the mind. Music is a great way to relax the mind from the noise of the world. Patients can turn to music and only focus on it to alleviate stress.
- Exercise: Yoga, gentle stretching exercises, and Pilates are some of the relaxing exercises a lupus patient may undertake. However, the exercises shouldn’t strain the body too much that it triggers pain or flares.
- Spend time with nature: Green trees, flowers, and animals have a natural healing power that is helpful for lupus patients. It is excellent for both mental and physical wellbeing and is thus a great way to relax.
- Disconnect from technology: As the cliché says, technology only becomes harmful when misused. The same is true for lupus patients. Technology is good as it makes them feel connected. However, when one becomes too busy with it, it can only contribute to stress. Taking some time away from the TV, phone, or computer would be helpful.
- Practice creativity: Playing music, painting, and cooking may also help the patient feel more calm and relaxed. Yet, the focus shouldn’t be the output but the enjoyment these creative activities bring.
Lupus is a debilitating condition that affects the physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being of a person. It is challenging to overcome its symptoms as patients feel powerless against the condition. Selena Gomez, Toni Braxton, and many other lupus warriors aren’t giving in to the disease. They are finding ways to manage the symptoms and connects to others. Though difficult sometimes, and nearly impossible at others, they continue to find small ways to celebrate life.