MARY McDONOUGH'S VALIANT STRUGGLE WITH LUPUS Mary McDonough has entertained audiences for more than 30 years on film, stage and television. She is most remembered for her role as "Erin" in "The Waltons." For over 25 years, television audiences have grown up with this 1930s family, struggling through a depression on Walton’s mountain. New audiences are still discovering the entire Walton family, with this Emmy Award winning show in specials and syndication. In recent years, Mary has begun working behind the camera producing independent film projects, but her first love is still acting. She maintains a very busy work regimen, and has appeared in numerous guest roles on such television series as Promised Land, Diagnosis Murder, ER, The Pretender, One Life to Live, General Hospital, and Picket Fences. Mary is also found regularly in roles on stage, in feature films, and made-for-TV movies. In the late 1970’s the Lupus Foundation of America asked Mary to serve as a celebrity spokesperson. Lupus is a chronic disease that, for unknown reasons, causes the immune system to become hyperactive and attack the body’s own tissue and organs. At least 1.4 million Americans have Lupus, 90% of whom are women. At the time she did not have lupus, nor was there a history of the disease anywhere in her family. She did not even know anyone who had lupus. So why, you might ask, did the Lupus Foundation want her to serve in this role? They thought she would be a good choice because she was in the age group (15 - 44) when women usually begin to develop symptoms of lupus. She learned all that she could about lupus and spoke about the disease on television and in interviews with writers for news magazines. During her travels for the Lupus Foundation of America, she met many amazing, strong, and inspirational women who had the disease. The women she met were not just coping with Lupus, but were leading full and productive lives. She started to experience symptoms of lupus about eight years before a doctor finally diagnosed her with the disease. It is not unusual for people with lupus to suffer symptoms for several years because the disease is so hard to diagnose. There is no single test that can tell if a person has lupus. When the symptoms first began, she just had the feeling of being "off." Mary did not have the same drive and energy she used to have. Later, she noticed a few rashes on her face, chest and back. She went to several doctors who dismissed her symptoms as anything serious. Mary decided to see a dermatologist because a red rash had developed on her face, across her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. The dermatologist treated the rash but never linked it to any specific cause. Unfortunately, she since has learned that many fine doctors are unaware of the complexities of Lupus and how its many symptoms can mimic other common, but less serious illnesses. Mary’s "off" feeling continued for several years eventually turning into extreme fatigue. The overwhelming exhaustion would come on like a freight train. She would want to lie down wherever she was and nap. She describes it as having VERY bad jet lag, the kind where you are very tired at strange times of the day as if you were drugged. Mary also felt as if she had the flu, however it never went into a full blown flu and the symptom lasted for several weeks. Even her hair hurt like when a person has a very bad fever. The doctors also wrote these symptoms off as the flu. No two people with Lupus have exactly the same symptoms and most do not experience all of them. The symptoms of Lupus include achy or swollen joints, fevers, fatigue, skin rashes, anemia, chest pains on breathing deep, hair loss, fingers turning blue in the cold, seizures, and mouth or nose ulcers. As the years progressed, she experienced several of these symptoms. Mary knew something was wrong with her even though many different doctors never diagnosed her with anything out of the ordinary. She started to feel as if she was a hypochondriac and doctors began to treat her as though she was a big cry baby. This made her feel even worse. She thought, "Maybe I am being a big baby." "Maybe I’m fine and I am only depressed." Mary started to go to therapy. Unfortunately, the symptoms continued. She began to get sick after sun exposure, called photosensitivity. Her eyes became so sun sensitive that she had to forget going out into the sun without protection. SPF-40 sun block became her constant companion. Mary’s joints started to ache very badly and her muscles felt as if they had needles piercing through them. The extreme fatigue continued to drain her of all energy. At this point, she was both lucky and unlucky at the same time. She was involved in a car accident and ruptured a disk in her back. Mary went to physical therapy and to a chiropractor but she did not get better. Her chiropractor decided she needed to see an orthopedic doctor. Ironically, after going to several doctors, it was the orthopedic doctor who told her that she had too many symptoms to attribute them just to a bad back. She ordered a series of laboratory tests used to diagnose Lupus. The test results revealed that she had an elevated level of antibodies that attack the body’s own cells. Finally, she had a clue that something was wrong with her. Mary went to see a Rheumatologist but she did not diagnose her with Lupus right away. During this time Mary had another mixed blessing. In 1991, she became pregnant. A woman with Lupus often has no symptoms of the disease while she is pregnant. Unfortunately, she did not know, at the time, that the disease can flare up in a woman immediately after she gives birth. She had a horrible post birth experience lasting five months. Once again she thought it was just her and she was crazy to think something was wrong. Especially since her obstetrician said she was not "adjusting well to motherhood." "Perhaps he was right?" She felt like a horrible failure. Mary pleaded with her Rheumatologist to explain why she was feeling so sick all of the time. She waited for several more years feeling as if she was crazy while being monitored by her doctor. After years of suffering horrible symptoms and emotional devastation, she finally received a diagnosis of Lupus. Later, Mary found another rheumatologist in Los Angeles, Dr. Daniel Wallace, and read his wonderful book on the disease called "THE LUPUS BOOK." It helped her to understand lupus and how doctors can treat it. She began to take medications and she started to feel better than she had in many years. Mary prefers to use a natural healing process. She tried practically every multi-level marketing concoction available including creams, herbs and vitamins. Unfortunately, some of them made her feel worse. Several drugs, herbs and foods can harm people with Lupus by causing the disease to flare. People with Lupus must consult with their doctor before beginning to use complementary therapies. In addition to Lupus, Mary has Fibromyalgia (painful muscles) and Sjogrens Symptom (a collagen disorder causing dry mouth, eyes or skin). She is now under the care of a great doctor whom she trusts and feels safe. This is so important for her and has made a big difference in her health. She no longer feels crazy. When Mary first "came out" about her Lupus, people told her that she should keep quiet for fear that It would ruin her career. They told her to keep it a secret because employers are afraid to hire sick people. Well, she couldn’t do that--it’s not her way. It’s ironic. Mary began her association with lupus while a young actress serving as a "celebrity spokesperson" to educate people about the disease. Who could have imagined, at that time, that she would be doing the same thing as an adult actress, only this time speaking from personal experience. Mary can educate people about Lupus much better now because of all that she has been through with the disease. Hopefully, she will lead as productive a life as the inspirational women who taught her many years ago. If you or anyone you know has any of the symptoms of Lupus, please see a rheumatologist or call the Lupus Foundation of America by dialing 1-888-38LUPUS. For additional information, please visit the Lupus Foundation of America at www.lupus.org.