When There’s a Will There’s a Way; A Southern Lupus Awareness Student Feature

There are many factors that can make the overall college experience more stressful for a student on the grind and in search of their ultimate goal; that seemingly ever elusive college degree. Some of these can be maintaining a good work/social balance, making time for loved ones, and making time for yourself. In the case of Wilneisha Cavalier, a graduating senior who’s been living with lupus since she was 13 years old, all of the normal stresses of college grads have proven to be only half of the battle sometimes.

An inflammatory disease that makes the body’s immune system attack its own tissues, lupus is incurable and affects over 200,000 new people on a yearly basis. While the cause for lupus is unknown in many cases, medical experts do indicate that it’s a combination of genetics and outside factors that triggers the disorder in most.

In the case of Wilineisha, she was able to walk us through her own experience with lupus and some of the lifestyle changes that she has had to make since being diagnosed almost a decade ago. While the medical factor does exist in this regard, the most important that Cavalier holds in high regard is the practice of listening to her own body.

“ It sounds simple but it’s really challenging. During the summer I have to limit sun exposure and drink water because the sun will literally drain me for days at a time and when that happens I have to listen to my body and relax,” said Cavalier.

Having a strong support system from family and loved ones has been ‘indispensable’ for Cavalier when she notes how much of a role having them around and bringing positive energy helped her in her stints of recovery.

While the age ranges vary on who gets lupus and when, there are many cases where the inflammatory illness is triggered in children, in which case transparency on how you feel is paramount in being responsible for your own wellness. “Be very honest about how you feel and don’t downplay how you feel because you can be hurting yourself. If you’re not sure what you’re feeling or whether it’s important or not, talk to your doctor and find someone who you can talk to [with similar experiences], preferably someone with lupus or similar diagnosis,” said Cavalier when speaking about what children and young adults should keep in mind as they navigate lupus early on.

With many different stints in the hospital and in appointments with her doctor throughout her matriculation at Southern, Cavalier talks about how lupus adds an extra dimension for students because there’s classes and lectures that are missed, sometimes in large quantities, due to the necessities related to making sure health is maintained. Being able to be a graduating senior this year with a degree in criminal justice, Cavalier notes the emotions that she feels having completed such a hurdle.

“I feel like this is a very huge accomplishment for me. There were times that I doubted myself, and I just thought it would take longer because I had surgery,” said Wilneisha regarding her own doubts about getting to this point as fast as she did. Cavalier says that ultimately though, those fears were unfounded as she looks forward to walking across the stage during this year's graduation ceremony.

“Using crutches on campus was very hard and they made me so hot walking to class. I just knew it was over for me,” she said jokingly. “ (…But I pushed through. I met so many great people this semester who would open doors and help me out getting to class ,” said Cavalier regarding the daily hardships she’s had to take, but also the kindness that’s been displayed by members of the Southern community.

When asked what her plans are now that she’s going to be an alumna of the prestigious HBCU that is Southern University, she says that she hopes to be able to be a voice for lupus awareness around the Baton Rouge community. “I plan on speaking about lupus for the rest of my life; it’s a part of me. It’s a part of my childhood. But still, living with lupus isn’t bad, you just have to learn and make time for your body!”

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