May 15, 2009

Lara Looking to Stamp Out Lupus

By John Philip Wyllie

Cassie Lara made an impression at Bonita Vista High School. Whether it was in the pool competing in the breast stroke as part of the Barons 2007 Mesa League champion Swim Team or on the sidelines as an enthusiastic cheerleader, Lara gave it her all. And she was always there for her teammates. Last Saturday, many of those same teammates turned out at De Anza Cove to return the favor.

A year ago, after months of not feeling well Lara was diagnosed with Systematic Lupus Nephritis. Lupus is a chronic, potentially fatal autoimmune disease that can cause damage to virtually every organ in the body, but especially to the skin, joints, blood and kidneys. Last May she celebrated her 18th birthday in Rady Children’s Hospital, not knowing what might be in store for her. With her kidneys and joints under attack Lara was in extreme pain. Every day was a struggle. Still it took about six months for her to be properly diagnosed.

Cassie and Mitch Lara at Petco Park.

“Nobody knew what it was,” Lara recalled. “My joints were all swollen and red and I felt like I had been run over by a car. (When the diagnosis was finally rendered) I didn’t know what Lupus was. I didn’t know anyone sick with it. Everything hit me so fast. I lost 10 pounds in one week in the hospital. I felt very alone in it.”

Lara was placed on an aggressive regime of chemotherapy, blood pressure medications and steroids. Now, nine months later, she is on the road to recovery. And she is not alone anymore.

More than 60 people joined Team Lara last Saturday for the 3-mile Walk for Lupus Now fundraiser at De Anza Cove and they didn’t come empty handed. Her team, the largest one present, raised over $3,000 alone. It was part of the more than $26,000 generated for the one-day event. While her 19th birthday is officially a few weeks away, she turned the walk into a giant birthday celebration and was still glowing from the experience several hours later.

“Today was just incredible! I met so many people with Lupus. I even met a dog with Lupus. The people at the event that have Lupus carry butterflies and to hear their stories was just inspiring,” she said.

Lupus is a fairly common but still misunderstood disease. Approximately 1.5 million Americans are currently diagnosed with Lupus and yet it remains a difficult disease to diagnose.

“Autoimmune diseases are very tricky. I was lucky in that mine was diagnosed in six months. The average time is about three years,” she said.

Lara plans to remain involved in the fight against Lupus. Grateful to her doctors for helping her to regain her health she is eager to give something back.

“This is something that I feel real passionate about. I support Children’s Hospital and I am going to be a counselor this summer at the Arthritis Foundation camp. To the day it has almost been one year since I learned my diagnosis. Fortunately, my body reacted well to all the medication and treatment and I am just so happy to be healthy again. Any number of things might have happened to me. I consider raising $3,000 for the Lupus Foundation and those 1.5 million people among the top achievements of my life so far.”

To join Team Lara in the battle against Lupus, Google: Walk for Lupus Now Cassie Lara SD09.

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