Stanly resident shares personal story about lupus, promotes event

Published 3:29 pm Thursday, May 18, 2023

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Once upon a time, S’era McCall was living her dream — working as a nurse in Salisbury with beloved co-workers, living on the top floor of a historic building, downtown, enjoying the tree-top views.

“I was at my healthiest, working out every day, and at my best weight, but then the dream was over,” said McCall.

Presumed healthy one day, she had a rash covering her body the next. The diagnosis — lupus. Certainly unexpected, but not her first encounter with the sneaky, wolf-like disease.

As an 11-year-old McCall watched her aunt battle the autoimmune disorder, but she did more than watch. S’era rubbed her aunt’s legs, styled her thinning hair and “played nurse,” sharing the gifts of time and touch.

It was 1996 when S’era lost her 38-year-old aunt.

“She was a fighter, and though I was young, that experience stirred compassion in me and the desire to be a nurse.”

Living with Lupus

When McCall was diagnosed in 2011, “knowing my family history, especially about my aunt, made the diagnosis easier.”

Tests were prescribed quickly, and treatment began faster.

“Lupus treatments have improved since my aunt’s passing, but it takes time to find the best drug combinations and dosages because each person’s requirements are different,” said McCall.

McCall’s struggle with multiple symptoms and side-effects is intense — diabetes, blood clots in her lungs, joint and bone pain, seizures and fatigue place her at one end of the spectrum. She’s also had several gastro related surgeries plus a full knee-replacement because of joint deterioration.

In 2013 McCall’s symptoms forced her to give up her independence and the work she loved.

“That was the most traumatic part of all — leaving my job in the urology clinic.”

She moved back to Stanly County into her mother’s home to gain the daily support she needed.

During the first five or six years as S’era and her doctors developed a plan to treat physical symptoms, she learned the mental side had to be dealt with.

“I was used to helping others feel better, but we had to figure out how to fix what was going on with me. With the pain and fatigue, I was feeling very bad. The depression was bad. I felt hopeless,” said McCall.

Finding the kind of help she needed took a while, but McCall found a psychiatrist and two therapists who understood her and her family dynamics. She says they listened well and have been her saving grace over the last eight years.

“Being an ear is so important, and I want to be there for others, to give hope and love.”

In the midst of difficult physical challenges, McCall believes the heart is affected most.

“Healing of the heart is possible,” she says, “then you can smile again. The love of God makes you a better person.”

McCall looks out the window. “The beauty of the sun shining makes me smile. The heaviness isn’t so heavy,” says McCall.

Helping Others

McCall sought a lupus support group but soon realized that kind of support wasn’t available locally, so she formed the Lupus Support Group of Stanly County at Stanly County YMCA. But six months later, fear of Covid-19 sent people home.

After hearing of the death of one young woman, McCall asked herself, “What if we had been meeting and giving support? What if I could have encouraged her?”

Hard questions with no easy answers.

“I want to get the group up and running this year. My ‘Lupus Warriors’ are ready to get out again and I want to be there to give them hope and love.”

McCall typically shares her story only with fellow “Lupus Warriors,” but she feels compelled to make lupus visible to the community.

“You can’t tell a person has lupus by looking at them unless they’re having a bad day. I’m passionate about letting people know everything isn’t the same for everyone.”

She demonstrates the range of effects of lupus by moving her hands back and forth as if she’s playing a piano from one end of the keyboard to the other.

“Some women lead more normal lives,” said McCall. “They have jobs, they marry and give birth and raise families. They may take only two or three pills a day. Because of my severe symptoms I take about 50.”

But this 38-year-old woman isn’t caving under the burden of this debilitating disease — a disease affecting mostly women, between the ages of 15-44, and three to four times as many women of color as white women, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.

McCall plans to bring attention to the struggles and the successes of anyone affected by lupus.

McCall is organizing an awareness event for May 27. She has gained an unexpected partner in her project — her fifth-grade physical education teacher Peggy Mabry.

S’era McCall is joined by her fifth grade teacher Peggy Mabry in her fight against lupus. (Photo by JO GREY)

Mabry taught at New London Elementary the year S’era attended the school and when she recently heard her former student was battling lupus, she went looking for her. S’era wasn’t expecting to see Mabry the day she showed up at her mother’s house.

“But I was smiling all over. I love Mrs. Mabry,” said McCall.
Mabry’s feelings are mutual.

“I loved her as her fifth-grade teacher, and now I love and admire her even more. She is wonderful and so determined to work on her health, and to reach out with kindness.”

Except for the year at New London, S’era attended Badin Elementary School from kindergarten through eighth grade.
She made Badin her choice for Paint the Town Purple for Lupus Awareness. Mabry hopes all S’era’s classmates, friends and family will come, “plus anyone else who doesn’t mind getting up on Saturday morning.”

McCall and her team will provide information, support and encouragement on May 27 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. near the Village Green on Falls Road.

“I hope people will put on purple and show up,” said McCall.

McCall will have T-shirts for sale and local businesses have “joined the fight” by providing water and snacks or offering discounts.

The gathering will begin with prayer by Vanessa Chambers and include a walk around historic Badin led by town resident Karen Lowder. McCall and other “Lupus Warriors” will be available for conversation. A Lupus Foundation representative will be on hand to answer questions as well.

McCall said all donations are appreciated and will be given to the Lupus Foundation of America for ongoing research.

Readers may contact S’era McCall at 704-591-1856 or Peggy Mabry at 704-467-1998 with questions.