"Recently I had to have a coronary stent put in, otherwise I would have had a massive heart attack. Initially, I didn't even know anything was wrong, I had no idea. I was still a little sad from the loss of my sister Traci, and honestly didn't want to have to go to the doctor. But, had I not done that test to find out that 80% of my heart was now blocked from the effects of lupus, I may not be on this phone talking to you today," singer Toni Braxton tells EBONY.
The singer and lupus advocate was diagnosed with the disease nearly 15 years ago. According to the Breath Again vocalist, she has SLE lupus, which means that, at any time, any organ in her body can be affected—especially her kidneys and heart. There are good days and bad days, but she now understands the importance of keeping up with consistent testing, even if that means getting a little uncomfortable.
Braxton recently partnered with Aurinia for its Get Uncomfortable campaign. The initiative is designed to educate and motivate people living with lupus nephritis to protect their kidneys by going to the doctor for routine testing to help prevent irreversible kidney damage.
"All you have to do is pee in a cup, and get pricked a little bit for blood work—something as non-invasive as that can help prevent severe lupus symptoms which can lead to kidney disease," she shares. "I feel like I now have a second chance at life, and can talk about what just happened to me. It was really the scariest moment of my life, and now I want to talk about it."
According to statistics, Black and Asian women are four times more likely to develop it, and Hispanic and Native American women are twice as likely to develop it compared to non-Hispanic white women. Additionally, about 50 percent of all people with SLE may develop lupus nephritis (LN), a serious manifestation of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which is a chronic and complex autoimmune disease. If poorly controlled, LN can lead to permanent and irreversible tissue damage within the kidney.
Braxton has always been vocal about life with lupus. But now, she wants us all to be more proactive, especially due to the fact that a person can present absolutely no symptoms prior to being diagnosed.
"Just make sure you're okay. It can be a silent disease. I get scared all the time, but I have comfort in knowing my doctors will take care of me. They're going to watch my heart and kidneys. Even now, the symptoms I had when initially diagnosed are different from those I face now. I experienced chronic fatigue in the beginning. Now, I get frequent UTIs and unusual puffiness, as well as protein in my urine," says the star. "I get checked every 3 months because you really won't know until you get checked out. If you let things go, it can lead to an array of other issues, and we don't want that to happen. Things really don't have to go left just because you have lupus."
While this disease and the care can be uncomfortable, the singer stresses that you just have to do it. Also, she points out that each diagnosis and each person's case is different, so it's up to you to put trust in your provider to take the necessary steps.
"Don't miss your appointments," advises Braxton. "I won't sit here and act like I haven't missed any of mine, because I have. But now I am here to absolutely tell you not to miss them and to take care of your body."
Since diagnosis, the singer has learned to adjust her life according to how the disease affects her body. Yes, she's still making records and singing for friends and loved ones every chance she gets. Nonetheless, there are also times when she has to slow down from the once hectic and demanding schedules she ran on in the past.
"I may not be able to do Broadway singing 22 songs a night, but I still get to perform and enjoy my craft. Just not the way I once did. Instead of looking at the glass half empty, I look at it as half full," shares the entertainer. "And yes, I am working on new music!"