Like the rest of the world obsessed with Bravo-lebrities and the Real Housewives franchise, I tune into The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills religiously every single week. I love the over-the-top outfits, luxe lifestyle choices, and of course, the drama. But the past few years, I've been tuning in for a much more personal reason — my mom had chronic Lyme disease (the same illness that Yolanda Foster is struggling with) for several years, and seeing Foster's battle hits incredibly close to home for me.
When I first learned that Foster was diagnosed with the same disease that my mom had, I felt a flood of emotions. Obviously, I felt sad that she, too, was having a hard time finding a remedy, as many with long-term Lyme do, but I also felt a sense of relief that Foster seemed open to discussing her struggle publicly, acting as an advocate for those with the disease who don't have the money and fame that she does.
On the show's current season, Foster's battle with Lyme is one of the main story lines, and it's maddening to watch. The other housewives have made it crystal clear that they doubt how sick Foster is, and in last night's episode, Lisa Rinna said she believes Foster may have Munchausen syndrome, in which someone makes up an illness for attention, sympathy, or to reassure themselves.
In a blog post after the show, Foster addressed these doubts head-on. She had this to say:
Rinna is right. She's only human and it takes a compassionate and confident woman to hold ground under social pressure - it's so much easier to take the common road and get on board the train of the misinformed and the doubtful. The negative. Few people have the ability to stay firm when they're not educated or spiritually centered and not feed into the negativity otherwise known as gossip. I don't blame Rinna, Kyle, or LVDP - I understand it and feel sorry to see my battle be such a point of weakness for them. If I let fear of what others say about me creep into my mind, I probably would not be where I am today. 100 books later, and immersed in worldwide research that I never thought I could process has given me a masters in being fearless and the strength to battle this epidemic called Lyme disease - it's the power of believing in myself that's let me come this far.
Here's the thing about Lyme disease that most people don't know or simply don't understand: it's incredibly complicated. Many people acknowledge standard cases of Lyme disease, in which a person is bit by a deer tick and infected with the disease. A "bull's eye" rash, along with some standard symptoms including joint pain, fatigue, and weakness, appears. The person goes to the doctor, gets tested, receives a standard course of antibiotics, and it goes away.
For those who are lucky, that's how simple it is. But for those who aren't so lucky, that's only the tip of the iceberg. For people like Foster and my mom, the Lyme disease isn't caught right away (tests for Lyme disease are inconclusive, and often come back with false negatives) and sufferers can go years trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with them. Once you're in that late-stage window, the Lyme bacteria multiply and weave so deeply into every part of the body, including joints, muscles, and the brain and heart. The symptoms (including but certainly not limited to: fever, headache, fatigue, joint pain, muscle pain, heart palpitations, mood changes/depression, anxiety, brain fog, etc.) are similar to other conditions, including chronic fatigue syndrome, Lupus, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. Lyme is often called "the great imitator" so, as you can see, diagnosis and treatment can take a long time, if ever landed on.
My mom had Lyme disease and went misdiagnosed for almost three years: she was told she had Lupus, fibromyalgia, and a myriad of other similar conditions. She was given antidepressants, which didn't work. Her doctors gave her steroids to manage the pain, while the Lyme bacteria continued to invade her body. But the thing is, like Foster, she didn't look sick from the outside. The steroids gave her the ability to go out and do normal things, like the above photo of us sightseeing in New York City at Christmas. But inside, her body was deteriorating, and fast.
She finally found a Lyme-literate doctor who saved her life by giving her an incredibly aggressive form of treatment. The first obstacle was weaning her off the high doses of steroids my mom had been on for years. This caused her body to go into adrenal shock. We spent many nights in the emergency room together. Then, came daily doses of multiple antibiotics, both orally and intravenously. She spent most days in bed, and simple tasks such as going to the bathroom and putting on a bra became close to impossible. The Lyme-literate doctor saved my mom's life, but these treatments were not covered by mom's insurance, so my parents spent close to $100,000 for my mom just to live a normal life again.
When I see commenters claiming that Foster and other famous Lyme sufferers (like Avril Lavigne) are faking it, or that it's the "illness du jour," or that they're making it up, I feel angry inside. I want to yell at these anonymous people for doubting what it's like to suffer so badly and have no one understand.
Make no mistake: There were times I thought my mom wouldn’t make it to see me walk down the aisle, or have children someday, all because of a tiny tick bite that went unnoticed. It’s a frightening reality for thousands of Lyme sufferers all over the country. I am grateful to Foster for shedding light on this as she travels around the world to find the right treatment for her. I am also forever indebted to the Lyme-literate doctor who saved my mom's life, and who never made her feel that she was making her illness up or that she didn't know what she was talking about. That doctor is the only reason my mom is healthy today.
Images: Arielle Tschinkel (2)