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“I had lost that one thing, [hope], that held me together, that one fiber the kept me from going over the edge, of wanting to end it. AIDS and lupus are both autoimmune diseases, but they differ because AIDS causes the immune system to be underactive, whereas lupus causes it to be overactive. (Lupus also differs from AIDS in that it isn’t spread contagiously by a blood-borne virus, although its exact cause remains unknown.) “It’s like friendly fire within the body,” explains Dawn Isherwood, a health educator for the Lupus Foundation of America.

“Rather than going after a virus or bacteria, the immune system is going after the wrong thing.” Which organ is attacked varies with each patient.

Not all symptoms and identifiers are present at any given time.

“Often times, as lupus is starting to develop, it plays peek-a-boo,” says Isherwood.

She felt alone, and trapped indoors where the sun couldn’t hurt her. However, this painful, chronic autoimmune disease remains obscure to the public.

“I was like a zombie, the walking dead,” Bettinger recently said in a raspy voice as she stubbed out a cigarette on her kitchen counter. The Lupus Foundation of America states that 61 percent of Americans either have never heard of it or know little more than the name of the illness.

“Look Ma,” Bettinger would say in their absence, hopeful she could pull off the ruse.

Rashes tend to go away with medication, hair loss can easily be covered up, and weight gain isn’t always obvious.

The Harvard study was announced today in Atlanta at the American Heart Association's science session on cardiovascular disease.

As a child, Sandra Bettinger, now 55, was never allowed to use her lupus as an excuse for anything.

Bettinger was issued a high dose of Prednisone, an immunosuppressant steroid. Even though she was living at home in New York surrounded by family, she felt severely depressed. It hurts to live.” Shortly after completing graduate school at NYU in 1982, Bettinger tried to commit suicide in her family home. Department of Health and Human Services, 1.5 million Americans currently suffer from lupus, with 16,000 more developing the illness each year.

Her days were spent juggling prescription medications and handling hours-long doctor’s appointments. It was more than I could take; all I could think was, I can’t live, I can’t. She ended up in the voluntary psychiatric ward at Booth Memorial Hospital in Queens. Lupus is more common than leukemia, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis, and there is no cure.

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