Blakely Blackford, 26, moved to New York after graduating from college in 2002 to work in publishing. In 2004, severe and rapid-onset joint pain led her to seek medical help—and to her diagnosis of lupus. A year later she developed lupus nephritis. Here the South Carolina native, who is a photo editor for Bloomberg Markets magazine, shares her thoughts on having lupus and a professional career.
What led to your diagnosis?
Over the summer of 2004, I went from feeling slight joint pains in my hands to debilitating pain and inflammation in all of my joints. It was very frightening for me to go from the seemingly perfect health of a 20-something to being outpaced by 80-somethings. I could hardly walk, and the constant pain made it difficult to think or even sleep.
In some way, the severity was a blessing, as it led to a prompt diagnosis. My doctor at the Hospital for Special Surgery is a leader in the field, and his concern for his patients is as strong as his commitment to defeating the disease.
Has lupus affected your career ambitions?
For me, lupus has forced awareness: initially, of my health; consequently, of my approach to daily living . . . and to a sharper awareness of (and appreciation for) my life.
How do you cope with a chronic disease and a full-time career?
I am very fortunate to suffer little fatigue from lupus. But while I haven't been tired, I have learned that rest and a lack of stress are essential elements of a healthy lifestyle. Lupus impelled me to become aware of both the negative and the very positive powers of the body and the mind on health.
One difficulty with my career and lupus is the effect of the disease and its treatment on my cognitive abilities. Both lupus and some of the medications can negatively affect cognition, especially short-term memory. To deal with this new difficulty, I write notes and make lists—yet I often forget to make the lists!
Your employer knows that you have lupus. Do you have any thoughts on what information people with lupus should share—or not share—on the job?
I think it is essential for someone with lupus to inform his or her employer, both for the individual and for the company. The effects of lupus—fatigue, pain, memory loss and internal complications—often go under the radar of anyone not aware of the illness. An individual might not look sick to the employer. But a good employer will learn as much as possible about the disease in order to understand the situation.
I think of health like a point on a resume. An employer unfamiliar with a company on a job application, for example, will need to research it some to better understand the applicant. The same goes for a health situation. I'm not saying lupus should go on a resume, but the employer and employee benefit from communication.
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