For years I've been wanting a dog but have been hesitant because the last one I had, I ended up giving away to a lovely lady that I worked with. To this day, I carried the guilt of having to give my little one away even though I knew it was the right thing to do. You see, I was in my 20's when I had gotten him. Being in my 20's I was never home and didn't have the time to raise him properly. I miss him so much everyday to this day but I know I did the right thing. Ever since then I made a vow to myself that when I do decide to get another dog, I will make time to properly train and care for him/her.

Well, a couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to get one. Unfortunately, we were still living in my small condo, a carriage house style where you had to climb a flight of stairs to get in and out of. I knew with my lupus, it would be difficult at times to potty train a dog especially when I had to run up and down stairs every few hours when I wasn't feeling well. So I decided to take it one step at at time. First I had to pick a breed. Check. I already knew I wanted a small dog that didn't shed. I'm small myself and having big dogs knock me around wasn't going to be ideal. The second step was finding where to get my dog. That came easy. A coworker had just gotten a small dog (a pomeranian/bichon mix) and the person she got her dog from was planning on another litter in the near future. So I put my name out there. Turns out this person had another dog that was going to have a litter. This one was a Teddy Bear. The mom was a mix of Yorkie, Maltese, Pomeranian and Shih-tzu mix and the father was a Bichon. I wanted one of these but because I wasn't quite ready to get one on the spot, I decided to wait until she had her next litter.

The next litter came almost a year later (2012). There was only one little male puppy. Well, by this time, my husband and I just bought a house that we were remodeling...and we had some MAJOR renovations going on. Once again I had to pass on this one.

To my surprise, I recently received an email letting me know there was another litter...with pictures. I fell in love immediately...and what good timing! The majority of the renovations were done and I'm at the point where life and it's stresses has been getting to me....A LOT.

So I showed these pictures to my husband. Right then and there, he suggested getting the puppy since I've been wanting a dog for a few years now. I made an excuse and walked away. All night I kept looking at the pictures and doing some daydreaming. The next day, I showed the pictures to my husband again (I just couldn't help it!) and this time, he told me to get the puppy. And there the story goes, I called the lady and told her we were in. ......YIKES!!!....

I realize raising a puppy is going to be a lot of work, especially for Lupies but I also know that they can give people a lot of joy in the long run. I've also heard how pets can bring health benefits, like lowering blood pressure, decreasing stress, improve mood, lower cholesterol, etc. I could use a lot of that too. I guess we'll see how everything pans out but I have a really good feeling about her in my heart. I'm not sure where it's coming from but it's there.

I picked out a name for her the next Sophie (this is the picture of her that I received in that email):

We get her in a couple of weeks and I'm BEYOND excited!!!
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As a person living with Lupus, I am very blessed to say that I do get a lot of help from my husband, friends and family members when I need it.

When my mom knows that I'm not particularly feeling well, she will cook some meals for me and deliver them to my house. She'll even do this when I'm well. There's nothing like the love of a mom!

My husband has been helping by picking up my slack...doing the grocery shopping and cleaning the house. I am very grateful for all of his help, especially when he works long, hard days already...and not the sit-at-a-desk all day job. His job is quite physically demanding. And at his age (he'll probably kill me for saying this..ha!), I'm not sure how much longer his body is going to be able to keep up. But yet he keeps up with everything.

My friends have been so very understanding about my illness and me having to miss out on a few occasions and get-togethers. They always offer to help me in any way they can. For instance, when we go out, they drop me off at the front door to make sure I don't overexert myself when I'm not feeling well or they will ask if they can get something for me.

Even the kids (i.e., my niece and nephews) help me. Sometimes when I'm watching them, I like to take them errand shopping with me. Of course during that errand, I always like to pick up a toy for each of them. I'm an aunt, I'm allowed to spoil them...hehe) The other day, I took them shopping at the local Walmart, picked up some groceries, toys and some other odds and ends. When we got to my house and without me even asking, the kids each took some bags and brought everything in for me.

It's the big things and little things that everyone does for me that I'm so appreciative of. I have to admit sometimes that I can't help but feel like I'm a burden. No one has ever made me feel like I am and everyone tells me time and time again that I am not but I just can't help it. I think it stems from always being the one that helped others, not the other way around.

Through the years, I've finally come to the realization that it's normal to feel guilty and that people like to help.  Never in a million years would I ever take that help for granted. And I just want to thank everyone in my life that has helped me in any way.
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Looking back, the one thing I wish I would have done was starting this blog when I was first diagnosed with SLE. Back in May 2007, I was clueless to all the strange things that were happening with my body. Through the last six years, it started to make sense. Don't get me wrong, there are still a lot of weird things going on with my body that I'm still trying to figure out but at least I know what disease I'm dealing with.

Since my blog is still fairly new, maybe I can start from the beginning and give an insight to some of the things I experienced as a "newbie" to Lupus.

Two years before my diagnosis, I was out learning how to play tennis with some friends. I started feeling some pain in my elbow. It was swollen and I was having a hard time bending it. My friend that was with me, who was a nurse, suggested it could have been tendinitis. I never knew the importance of looking into it and thought it would go away on its own. It did a week or so later.

Fast forward to two years later.  One weekend, my boyfriend (now husband) came over to spend the weekend with me. Out of nowhere, I had hives, which looked like big welts all over my face and body. I had no idea where it came from and made a doctors appointment with a dermatologist. Outcome: he had given me some medication and I was told to come back after two weeks if my hives didn't go away. The plan was to then take some blood tests. I never made it two weeks later.....

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was at work one day and the next evening I was at home with what I thought was food poisoning. I was dating my husband but lived by myself in my condo. If you ever had food poisoning before, you would know how awful it is to experience. I was on the floor in the bathroom and could barely move because it had made me so weak. I spent that night on the bathroom floor. It wasn't until the next day that I was able to move and make a phone call to my mother to tell her what happened. She came over right away. I was so dehydrated that my mother and my father took me to the ER to get checked out. They gave me some fluids and sent me on my way. I still wasn't feeling 100% but I kept living my life. A few days later, I had gone to my neighbor's house to have some dinner. When we were finished and I was getting ready to leave, my legs suddenly felt like blocks of cement. They were so heavy and difficult to lift. I could barely walk. When I finally made it home, I looked in the mirror and my upper lip had blown up like a balloon. I immediately took some Benedryl thinking it was some sort of allergy, even though I didn't eat anything out of the ordinary. All my neighbor and I had for dinner was spaghetti.

The following day, I called my primary care doctor and made an appointment. Talking to my sister that night and telling her what had happened, she suggested getting ANA testing. It is an antinuclear antibody test and is often used as one of the tests for SLE or other autoimmune disorders. My sister works in the health field as a nurse anesthetist so she was knowledgeable with some things. She also talked about Lupus and suggested I look into it. At that time I had never heard of such a disease but when I started doing some research online about it, I realized I was experiencing some of the symptoms. My primary care doctor at the time ordered it for me and also took some throat cultures as well. He called me soon after and told me that it looked like I had a staph infection in my throat and immediately had me fill a prescription for Bactrim. We were still waiting for the results of the ANA test. A couple of days later while I was on Bactrim, I started to get some chest pain and shortness of breath. I was still weak from the day of the food poisoning incident but felt weaker. By this point, I was bedridden and couldn't even walk a few feet to use the restroom. I could barely even sleep on my back or turn to sleep on my side. The pain was so intense around my lungs. For days I had to sleep propped up...and I could barely even sleep. Since my doctor didn't say anything to me, I didn't think anything was too horrible. (You see, I was too worried about being a pest to my doctor that I didn't bother to bother him.) When I got too weak (and 2 weeks later), my mother, with a lot of prodding, made me go the the ER again. I was stubborn and didn't want to go far so we had gone to a smaller hospital close to my condo. Bad idea. They did a chest x-ray and sent me home with strong pain medication, all the while not really telling me what was causing all my pain.

Another few days passed and the pain medication not working, I called my primary care doctor and told him about the pain I was going through. In his words he told me that he didn't know what to do with me. "Maybe I can go to the ER and maybe they can figure out what was going on." My boyfriend (now husband) told me that if my parents didn't take me to a better hospital, he was going to drag my butt there. So I listened and my parents drove me to the hospital that my sister works at. Thank goodness I listened. Five days in the hospital and I was finally diagnosed!!! Turned out I had pleurisy and pericarditis AND I found out I was allergic to Sulfa, which is something that Bactrim contained. I was given 60mg of Prednisone and Plaquenil.

I was lucky because I worked for a great company that was very concerned about my health issues. I ended up being off of work for 3 months to recover. Needless to say, I switched my primary care physician and continued with the one that I met during my stay in the hospital. He is such a blessing!

I still wonder to this day what would have happened if my dermatologist would have taken that blood test. Would I have known sooner about my diagnosis? I'll probably never get the answer to that question but it will always be in the back of my mind. While I was in the hospital, my Rheumatologist told me that normally Lupus can be difficult to diagnose but because I had pleurisy, he knew Lupus was the culprit. I'm just happy I received a diagnosis.

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The last thing I remember, I had a head full of hair, long and dark. I had so much energy, day in and day out. I worked full-time, went to school, had plans every night of the weekend (some weeknights too), and went on multiple vacations. I never got tired and always looked forward to the next adventure.

Nowadays, making plans is difficult. Will I be feeling good that day? Will I be good company? Am I going to be able to walk, use my hands, or even just think straight?

Living with this disease isn't easy. If you're reading this, you probably already know that or know someone whose either coping or struggling with it now. I read a picture on PostiveMed's Facebook page that read "You never know how STRONG you are until being strong is the only choice you have". It was geared toward breast cancer survivors but wow did that ever hit home with me. There have been countless times when I heard from family members and friends how strong they think I was/am for taking each physical and emotional challenge with a smile on my face. (I have to admit that this is where I got my name 'AndI'mStillSmiling' from.) Granted, I wasn't always smiling when I was scared or was having to go through yet another procedure but for the most part, I came out of there smiling. Maybe it was because I didn't want to show anyone that I was scared and I wanted to put on a brave face? Okay, so I admit that was a little part of it. But maybe it was because I knew I would get through it...eventually...and I was right, I always did and still do. It also helped knowing that I was/am surrounded by people that love me and would be there for me.

But it isn't always easy either. It took me many years to finally figure out that it's okay to say 'No' sometimes and to know your limitations. In a perfect world, we'd like to say that we have no limitations but in actuality we do, especially when battling the craziness of this disease. Saying 'No' was probably the hardest thing I have ever had to learn. I felt so guilty saying no especially when I was one who would like to do for others. To my surprise, everyone understood. I know sometimes this isn't always the case but in the end, you're doing this for the benefit of your health and that's really, really important. I admit, I still can't say 'no' sometimes (even to myself) but boy do I realize the consequences the next couple of days after.

Take this past weekend for example. I was driving home on Friday night from work. Traffic was really bad for some reason. It took me an hour and half to finally reach home. But before I could reach home, I had felt so nauseous and wanted to get sick...while I was still driving. I had to pull over at the nearest store for a few minutes to get my bearings. Then after a few minutes, I continued my journey home. By the time I got home, I could do nothing but lay down for the rest of the night. Glad I did because the next day I felt great. A little tired but not bad at all. I volunteered to watch my niece and nephews for the day so my sister and brother-in-law could get some things done around their house. It was a fun filled day to say the least but I think I paid for it the next day. I woke up with a headache that turned into a HORRIBLE headache. I started seeing "flashing lights" then came the pain. I really think this was all migraine related but I knew it also had to do with my previous stressful week and not resting the day before. I took the rest of my "headache day" and rested.

I don't know why I never learn but I am getting better. Next time I think I will compromise with myself and give myself some giving myself a limited time frame for doing things...especially if I can't follow my own advice about saying 'no' completely...even if I'm saying no to myself (remember, I volunteered myself for a fun-filled day with the kids). Regardless, I enjoyed every minute of my fun-filled day. I was so beat after those few hours that I didn't fight sleep for the first time in weeks and I even slept the hardest I ever slept!

Lupus can mean a change in lifestyle but it doesn't mean some things in life can't be enjoyed. I often wonder how I got so broken but when I can balance my life, somehow it doesn't always seem so broken.

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So this Lupus thing, not only did my lupus attack my joints, muscles and organs, it has to attack my hair too? Okay, so for some it may not seem like a big deal but to someone who has been experiencing changes with hair may think differently.

Lupus can cause the texture of hair to change and sometimes even fall out. My first experience with hair loss was before I was actually diagnosed with SLE. I started to see certain spots on my head that were balding. It was weird. Round spots of different parts of my head. A friend and I were getting ready to leave for a night out when she noticed it too. I didn't know what to think. At the time, I was trying not to think about it and never looked into the reason why it happened because not too long after that night, my hair seemed to grow back to normal. My hair has always been thin and soft but when layered, looks like I have more hair. I've had many compliments on it and was even asked to be in a hair show back in my 20's. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures if my hair at its absolute worst (when I was planning my wedding) but I did, however, take a picture of my hair last year (2012) when my hair started to thin again. It was during a very stressful time at work.

Forward to 2007. I was 32 years old when I was diagnosed. I tested out a few medications to control my lupus. The first couple of medications didn't work so well and I realized Prednisone seemed to be the only medication to take my pain away. Some of the side effects were pretty tricky but manageable. But from advice from my doctor, I started trying Methotrexate. I only knew one other person that had been on that medication before and it worked well for her with no side effects. Of course for me, it made my hair very dry and even the point where I started seeing bunches of hair in the sink when I would brush it. I was in the middle of planning my wedding. For my wedding day, my dear hairdresser friend helped me out and suggested putting extensions in my hair.Well, it worked and I was able to hide the thinness of my original hair. Luckily soon after I stopped taking Methotrexate (2 years later), my hair started to grow back. But in the meantime, I needed to find out how I could help make my thin hair look thicker.

I happened to try out a new hairdresser in my area. When I told her of my situation, she suggested a bottle of hair fibers that you could sprinkle on your hair. Not sure how many brands of this stuff is out there but the one I used is called XFusion Keratin Hair Fibers. Wow did that make a difference in how my hair looked!!!! And they didn't "sprinkle" off when your hair moved.

By networking, I also found out about vitamin to help hair and nails grow thicker and stronger. It's called Biotin. I've been taking it for years now and and its helped tremendously! Please keep in mind, I have heard that different brands can give different results but I personally haven't had a problem. Plus, I also talked to my rheumatologist before I started taking this.

One last thing that helped was\is keeping my hair moisturized. I always felt my hair was oily but usually starting the day after I washed it. My current hairdresser recently informed me that it was because my hair was dry and the drier the hair, the more oily it is. To battle that, I needed more oil in my hair. Weird huh? She had recommended a product called Mythic Oil. I've tried it a couple of times but it seems to be working so far.

I never thought this information would be helpful to anyone until a friend told me about her mother who was battling cancer and other health issues. Though she never had to undergo chemo, she still lost a significant amount of hair and decided to try what I had tried. These seemed to have worked for her to this day. Be mindful though that something that works for one person may not work for others.

Hair loss can be such a traumatic thing for people. There are a lot of people who do not realize that there are products out there that could help with dealing with it. I really hope these suggestions could help others who are dealing with hair loss.
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