It happened again! I went to a restaurant and the server asked me how I kept my complexion so clear.
“You have great skin,” she said. “What’s the secret?”
Ah! I love that question. Not out of some kind of vanity, but because I can use it as an occasion to educate and, perhaps, make a small difference in someone else’s life.
The ‘secret’ is a blessed byproduct from living with a very difficult, potentially life-threatening illness: lupus. The secret, simply put, is that I try as best I can to avoid the sun. And, now that I’m taking a medication that is making me much more sensitive than ever to UV rays, I’m trying to moderate the time I spend exposed to fluorescent lights, too.
For many lupus patients, the sun’s rays pose a threat to health because of an interaction between UV exposure and cellular changes that can occur with that exposre. The damage can result in flares and/or internal organ involvement. And it can also result in rashes, especially on the face.
In my youth, before I was diagnosed with lupus, I was never particularly fond of lying out in the sun, and I didn’t go out of my way to tan. But I didn’t think of sun exposure as something health-threatening except with regard to skin cancer. Now, however, as a lupie, I strive to be vigilant about the sun, often turning down invitations and sitting out of activities that will put me at risk for exposure. In situations where I have to go outside during the day, I go out “armed” with sun-protective clothing, heavy-duty SPF sunscreen, and one of my many broad-brimmed hats. I’m still figuring out how to minimize exposure to fluorescent lights; with the new environmental rules, these sources of artificial illumination are everywhere – even doctors’ offices – and so are nearly impossible to avoid. But, I’m able to do a few things, such as limit the span of time running errands to stores where bare fluorescents glow. Life with lupus is a constant learning process!!
For many lupies, the damage from sun exposure might not show up for awhile after the initial event. Likewise, skin damage caused by lots of sun exposure might not show up for years. Now nearing my 18th year since diagnosis, I am still challenged with lupus, but I do enjoy those random questions about “the secret.”
And I enjoy, too, being able to smile and share one of the blessings that comes with taking charge of at least one aspect of life with the confounding illness called lupus.