Bronx native Annette Rodriguez was diagnosed with lupus seven years ago, at age 11. After a difficult, initial bout with the disease, Annette has been free of flare-ups for the past four years. Today, she's a pre-med freshman at New York University, and there's no indication that lupus (or anything else!) will prevent her from reaching her goals.
What led to your diagnosis?
Annette: In 1998, after an intense summer studying at an academic enhancement program, I went to Puerto Rico to relax before starting the new school year. I began to feel very weak while I was there. I lost my appetite. I had a mild fever all the time. One day, while at the beach, my cheeks became a really shiny tomato red. My mother knew that something was wrong. When we returned to New York, we went to three different hospitals. I was misdiagnosed a few times, until finally I was told I had lupus.
What's it like to get sick with lupus when you're a kid?
Annette: I was relieved to finally find out what I had, but it was also frightening because no one in my family had any idea what lupus was. My family was very supportive, but, at school, life became difficult. I had the butterfly rash on my cheeks, I didn't eat and I had migraines almost daily. As my condition progressed, other children began to pass on nasty rumors about my health.
Once I acknowledged the fact I had lupus, my life became much easier. I am determined not to let it be the deciding factor in how my life story is written because I am so much more than lupus. There are so many interests I want to pursue and so many skills I want to develop. I will never let lupus take over and hinder me from accomplishing my goals.
The Foundation sponsored you and your family at Camp Sunshine. Did being at camp help you cope with your disease?
Annette: Camp Sunshine was awesome. The first time I went was also the first time I was in a place with other people who had lupus. Up until then, I was in denial about having lupus, since it was difficult to accept I would never be normal again. But going to camp and meeting so many people with lupus from my area helped me feel like I wasn't so different after all—and that I was not alone.
How do your friends relate to your lupus?
Annette: No one can really know what I'm going through, not even a doctor. But it has been a blessing to have friends who really try to understand my condition and support me through it all.
What are your plans for the future?
Annette: Last fall I started my undergraduate studies at New York University, where I plan on a double major in Journalism and Anthropology, with a minor in History—while maintaining a pre-med concentration so I can attend medical school. Ultimately, I want to become a Pediatric Rheumatologist so I can help others going through health situations similar to mine.