DETROIT – Time has not made it any easier for Sharon Harris to look at old pictures of herself from the days when she was first diagnosed with the chronic auto immune disease lupus.
Harris was a 22-year-old sophomore at a Florida college 15 years ago when she started having unexplained gastrointestinal problems.
"They shuffled me from doctor to doctor. They couldn't figure it out, so he would end up giving me pills to calm down my stomach. In a couple (of) days I'm back, in pain, hurting," Harris said.
She began losing weight and her hair was falling out. Harris said she developed what is called the butterfly rash.
"My eyebrows and nose had turned the color of the inside of my palm, but I had never noticed it because I've always been busy," Harris said. "I went to Henry Ford Hospital. When the dermatologist looked at me, she said, 'You have discoid lupus.' I never heard of lupus before."
There is no cure for lupus and it can affect the skin, joints and organs. The disease is often misdiagnosed and is much more pervasive and severe than most people think.
A lot is unknown about lupus. Some researchers believe that it develops in response to a combination of factors, including hormones, genetics and environment. Anybody can get it, but it most often affects women of African-American, Hispanic and Asian descent.
Selena Gomez, Nick Cannon, Toni Braxton and Seal are among the celebrities living with lupus. While no two people have the same symptoms, the effects can be debilitating.
"You have your good days and you have your bad days, and that good day and bad day can be within hours of each other. Honestly, I could wake up feeling great and by noon, by lunchtime, we're in the emergency room, just quickly. You just don't know," Harris said.
Harris continues to fight her disease and is now focused on helping others do the same. Since being diagnosed, she has devoted her life's work to Lupus Detroit, a nonprofit organization that she created to raise awareness and provide emergency financial assistance for people in the area with the disease.
"I have really been fortunate. People have come out of the woodwork to help us," Harris said.
In just five years, Lupus Detroit has raised thousands of dollars through walks, galas and other fundraisers. There are monthly support group meetings to discuss challenges faced by lupus victims.
Harris will celebrate the fifth anniversary of Lupus Detroit with a gala on May 20.
The black-tie event is at the Motor City Casino Sound Board and includes a dinner, live entertainment and a silent auction. For more information, click here.