CATONSVILLE, Md (WMAR) — "I’m on a cocktail of meds," said Stayce Bynum. "I take about 20 pills a day."
That's just a small picture of the Catonsville woman's life with lupus.
"I had to have a kidney biopsy," said Bynum. "My skin has been really impacted."
It's a disease she's been living with for at least 20 years. She felt the first symptoms in her late 20s and early 30s.
"I noticed my joints were just like rusty, that’s the best way I can explain it. I couldn’t squeeze toothpaste," said Bynum.
A doctor originally diagnosed her with arthritis and Bynum figured it was years of working out catching up with her. But her pain kept getting worse. At one point, her hands hurt so bad she couldn't get a manicure. That's when a friend convinced her to go back to to a doctor and she was diagnosed with lupus.
"I was in the fetal position for a few hours. I could not function," said Bynum, recalling her shock and fear after getting the news.
But she pushed aside those feelings and started fighting back.
"You just need to work through. I feel like I’m doing well," said Bynum.
She also learned more about the chronic autoimmune disease that it's much more common in African American women and Hispanic and Asian people as well.
"In African American women and Hispanic women, lupus is the fifth or sixth leading cause of death if the woman is under 35 years of age," said the director of the Johns Hopkins Lupus Center, Michelle Petri. "It’s probably about half genetic predisposition but the other half are things in the environment that people are exposed to just in their natural lives. That might mean viral infections."
Petri says environmental pollutants like insecticides can also increase the risk. She says there's no cure but it can be controlled. Bynum says awareness is an important part of getting started with a diagnosis.
"I think there’s still some lag because this disease mimics so many other diseases," said Bynum.
She wanted to help others in her position so she started a Facebook group called 'Sistas Living with Lupus' as a safe space to answer answer questions, share experiences and empower others.
"It’s not that you’re not gonna have a bad day," said Bynum. "You will but there’s a better way to navigate through it."
Petri says younger women should be on the lookout for rashes, swollen joints and fevers. She says if you have these symptoms, call a rheumatologist to set up an appointment to get tested.