Jennifer Richardson has seen what lupus can do to people–her uncle, her father, and her late aunt have all suffered with it, and it nearly claimed her father’s life five years ago.
So when a December test confirmed a possible diagnosis from earlier in the year—that she did, in fact, have lupus herself—it was understandable she felt the blow more than some might.
“I took it pretty hard,” said Richardson, a 35-year-old mother of four. “I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.”
But despite the diagnosis, which for many means crippling fatigue and constant joint pain, Richardson has pushed herself even harder than she did before that fateful December day.
The Walk For Lupus Now
Given her experience with family members and the realization that others around both West Deptford and Gloucester County suffer with lupus, as well, Richardson set her eyes on the annual Walk for Lupus Now, which raises money to find a cure for the disease.
Come May 20, she’ll be at the head of her group of walkers, Jennifer's Lupies Groupies, on the Ocean City boardwalk, part of a larger effort to try to raise $60,000 regionally for the fight against the disease.
She and her husband, Mark, have been pulling walkers to the team, and Richardson said she hopes to have more than 40 people alongside her come May.
“The support from everyone’s been great,” she said.
And the donations have gone just as well—from individual donations, to a penny drive at that raised about $115 from the elementary school kids and more—Richardson quickly blew past her initial goal of raising $1,000 for the Lupus Foundation of America, and has now exceeded her second goal, topping $2,500.
“People have been more generous than I would’ve expected,” she said.
Support group leader
And beyond the walk, she’s already become a certified support group leader, and has established a lupus support group at , which meets for the first time next month.
Part of her reason for pulling it together was Richardson’s own sense of being one of just a few locally dealing with the relatively uncommon disease.
“I thought I was all by myself, dealing with it,” she said.
But with close to 10,000 people in South Jersey also living with lupus, Richardson said it was important to reach out and try to help people cope with the disease and try to understand and come to terms with it, and to be available for people who may not have another outlet.
“You have to take care of what’s around you,” she said.
Living with lupus
Far from being a shattering blow, Richardson said her diagnosis has actually had some positive effects on her life.
It’s given her a new sense of urgency about life, a desire to seize the moments as they come, whether that’s spending a windy day down at Red Bank Battlefield, flying kites with her sons, or something on a grander scale.
She’s already planned a trip for her family to Florida, a chance to catch up with her husband’s family who lives there, and an opportunity to swing by Disney World for the first time.
“I don’t know what’s coming,” Richardson said. “If I ever get too sick, I might not be able to go.”
Family and friends have already adjusted to what she needs to do to take care of herself, Richardson said—even things as simple as folks moving to a shaded spot with her when they’re outside. It’s those small things she notices, and that let her know people care.
“I think it’s brought us closer together,” Richardson said.
And though it’s been a shock to the system and forced her to change some habits, the negatives are—at least so far—something she can deal with. While small red splotches bloom on her forearms after being out in the sun too long, Richardson said the pain she’s experienced is manageable, though she worries about the long-term effects, and what might happen if lupus goes after her organs, as it does with others.
“Lupus is a force to be reckoned with,” she said. “I have good days and bad days.”
But since it affects her skin the most, those summer trips to Ocean City and hours hanging out on the beach are probably over.
“I’m not allowed to get a tan any more,” Richardson said. “There’s nothing you can do about it, though—you have to keep on living.”