What do you do when you hear the worst news of your life? You keep on living, says singer Oleta Adams. Imagine her surprise when a doctor told her that the aches and pains in her body were because she had Lupus. “I never expected it,” she says. “I didn’t even know what Lupus was, didn’t know anyone with it.”
Seven years after her diagnosis — which she never made public — Adams shared her story with ESSENCE.com before performing for the Lupus Foundation of America’s Butterfly Gala in October.
ESSENCE.com: Hearing that you have Lupus is surprising news.
OLETA ADAMS: I’ve never mentioned it before. My manager suggested I become a part of the Lupus Foundation of America’s Butterfly Gala in New York City in October. I’ve kept it quiet for a lot of years because everybody’s got problems, so I don’t want to be defined by it. I live with it quietly and go on about my business.
ESSENCE.com: How did you find out?
ADAMS: For years I experienced a lot of pain, especially if I sat down for more than five minutes. My feet ached. It was a terrible pain like I had just run a marathon, particularly in the middle of the night, if I got up to go to the restroom then my feet were really aching. And you know, most women only go to the gynecologist once a year, and so when I went in I’d say I’m in such pain and I don’t even know what it is. My doctor would say maybe you should check with a rheumatologist.
I thought a rheumatologist would really have more to do with arthritis or something like that. I didn’t know many people with Lupus, I didn’t even know what Lupus was. So two or three years later, she said go to your primary care. And the first time I went to a primary care physician she suggested that I have some tests done and she said, ‘And have them check you for Lupus.’ I had the test done. I was out of town when they called me to say the doctor wants to see you right away, you have Lupus! This would have been around 2004. I still feel very fortunate because in Kansas City they do have a great clinic for that at St. Luke’s.
ESSENCE.com: What has being diagnosed with Lupus meant for your life?
ADAMS: When you’ve blessed as I have been, you may think things like this don’t happen to you. It evens the playing field. It humbles you. And at the same time it makes you grateful. This is the worst thing to happen to me, but I have a mild form of it according to the doctor. It could be much worse. I feel very blessed and what it does is help me to appreciate the smallest of things. I love working out in the yard. I can’t take some of the vacations I used to take. I used to enjoy sitting out by the pool and getting sun and playing Scrabble all day, I can’t do that anymore. I’ll have to sit in the shade or find some other type of activities, and I love being outside. The sun causes the symptoms to be much worse. But wow you appreciate life. You have such a joy of life. Little things. The grass is greener, the sky is bluer. You have an appreciation of life. It’s really taught me how to enjoy the moment.
ESSENCE.com: For people who don’t know, what should we know about Lupus?
ADAMS: This disease is very hard to diagnose. That’s the most horrible thing about it. A lot of people will suffer from it a long time before they realize what’s happening to them. There are a lot of symptoms with Lupus, and it varies from person to person. But the most common symptoms will include joint pain or swellings and overwhelming fatigue. Fevers and skin rashes, hair loss, and sensitivity to light, sores on the roof of the mouth and seizures. Usually when you’re tested for this, you have to have at least seven to eleven of these symptoms before you’re considered a person who has Lupus. Ninety percent of people are female, while people of all races and ethnicities can develop Lupus. There are some men who experienced it, and it usually develops between the ages of 15 and 44. It’s a very sad thing.
ESSENCE.com: Are you working on any new music?
ADAMS: Yes I’m trying to finish a prayer CD that I started years ago. During times like these, ever since the new millenium, people are really aware that they need to strengthen their spiritual lives. With so many disasters going on, they are finding a necessity to really look inside and find something greater than themselves. So it helps to find a way to actively try to do that. I think songs that help to soothe people during crisis or even relationships, or people who sit for years without years without jobs because of the state of the economy. They are trying to find ways to live a quality life even when things are tough. And I want to speak to that. And that’s what I’m working on.
For more information on The Lupus Foundation of America, visit www.Lupus.org.