Grappling with lupus

Chelsea Swift never imagined when transferring to GW in 2009 that she would be adjusting to more than just a new college.

Only weeks into her first term, Swift was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disorder affecting the skin, joints and kidneys.

“First I was just in denial that this was a chronic illness,” Swift said. But after weeks of side effects, she could see herself changing because of the disease and the medication. “You become mean, you get fat, your face gets huge, you lose all your hair and you grow hair everywhere else on your body.”

With all the bodily and emotional changes, Swift didn’t recognize herself anymore. Daily routines had to be adjusted, lifelong ambitions had to be refined and Swift had to start making lupus a part of her plans.

“Every single day, you have to wake up and make the smallest decisions that are going to impact the rest of that day. ‘Can I put this shirt on?’ Probably not. My hands hurt too badly to do up the buttons,” she explained.

After months of enduring fluctuating health and hospitalization, Swift started chemotherapy, a treatment she calls both “horrible” and “a blessing.”

The chemotherapy gave her physical stability, allowing her to go back to class, ultimately enrolling in a course with Kathy Korman Frey, the founder of The Hot Mommas Project.

Founded in 2002, the mission of The Hot Mommas Project is to increase self-efficacy in women through the development of the largest free, online case study library in the world.

“What started as a simple extra credit assignment has now become a truly inspiring example of strength and perseverance for women around the world, thanks to Chelsea,” Frey said.

Jennifer Sacks, Swift’s classmate and a part-time MBA student, said she was unaware of Swift’s diagnosis until reading the case study online.

“You would never know in class. You would never know that this girl has a really debilitating illness, one that affects her every single day, because she’s just a very engaged, very warm, genuine, smart, beautiful individual,” Sacks said.

Swift called publishing the case study her “ah-ha moment.”

“I think that I was very much afraid of what other peoples’ reactions would be… I didn’t want to tell anybody,” she said.

The budding activist hopes to continue spreading awareness and helping sufferers and their communities face the disease together. Enrolled as a full-time student next semester, Swift will stay in Alexandria for the summer to intern with a company called Brighter Strategies and has plans to travel to Italy with her boyfriend and his family.

“Lupus is something that I will have to live with for the rest of my life, but it doesn’t define me,” she said. “It’s not the only thing about me that I want to be focused on… It defines the way I have to do things. It has made me restructure my dreams, but it hasn’t crushed them.”

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