Kay Hawkes, 31, is a freelance writer and a mother of four. She has a passion for natural health and skincare, traveling the world (she’s an American ex-pat living in Egypt), and educating women on natural health remedies through her website.
But at 25, her health and, in fact, her life was spiraling out of control; until she changed everything. Here’s her story.
HBP: Kay, tell us what your life was like just before you starting having health issues.
Kay: I was a manager at a Fortune 500 company. I was raising two children as a single mom and going to college at night.
HBP: Seriously? How in the world…
Kay: I was the epitome of the superwoman syndrome. I was going, going, going.
Kay: Until I wasn’t feeling so good. I was feeling run down. I was getting headaches and joint pain. And I had some skin problems show up. I thought it was my diet. I was living on caffeine and junk food.
HBP: That tends to be the diet of the corporate world, isn’t it? Staying awake and grabbing food on the run.
Kay: Very much so. And then one day a co-worker asked me why I was rubbing my chest so much. I was having chest pains and didn’t even realize it. At that point, I went to see a doctor- a couple of doctors, actually.
HBP: And how did that turn out?
Kay: They couldn’t tell what was going on. They blamed stress.
HBP: And considering the pace you were keeping, that’s not so far-fetched.
Kay: No, but my younger sister had just been diagnosed with Lupus. She had this crazy schedule, too. It was her final year of school. She was a chemical engineering major. She was studying and sleeping over in the library. She actually was taken to the hospital because during all this she passed out. So it made me think. I told the doctors to test me for Lupus.
Kay: And it came back positive.
HBP: How’d you feel? Did you crash? Were you scared?
Kay: Well, it put a lot of things in perspective. It was an awakening. Something major is going on and I’ve got to make a change. I was determined to educate myself on what this was and what was going on in my body. I had a lot of typical Lupus symptoms. The butterfly rash across the nose and cheeks – really red and inflamed. I was exhausted. It was purple around my eyes. And I had arthritis.
HBP: That’s a lot to deal with in one body.
Kay: I had Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). It’s a chronic autoimmune disorder and it causes inflammation of the body. Your immune system becomes overactive and it looks at parts of your body as foreign objects, as something that needs to be attacked. Like you’re a virus. And it can affect any part of the body, including your major organs.
HBP: Wow. So, after learning all of this, what was next for you?
Kay: The first plan of attack was, of course, medication. I was seeing a couple of doctors – a respiratory specialist for my breathing problems; Rheumatologist and an internist. They wanted to prescribe steroids. That’s the main treatment for Lupus. But I told myself, I’m not doing steroids because I’d read so much about the side effects. They had other suggestions for medications but everything had a list of side effects a page long. I felt like they were worst than the illness.
HBP: I hear that from a lot of people. And then you end up taking more medication to counteract what the first medication caused.
Kay: Right. I was seeing all of these doctors and I was amazed at how quickly they whipped out the prescription pad. They wanted to give me hard core narcotic pain killers. I barely do aspirin.
HBP: So what did you decide to do?
Kay: I wasn’t taking the meds. I was feverishly studying. How do we get sick? How do our bodies handle what we do to them? I’d already found out that lupus was an autoimmune problem. My body was fighting back from an overload of toxins – stress being the main one. Stress literally releases toxins into our system. I was poisoning my system with adrenalin. When I’d get home, I’d just pass out exhausted because my adrenalin rush would crash. The body isn’t meant to live that way. When you’re in corporate life, you’re not eating right, you’re guzzling coffee and your body has to work to pump that out. And then there’s environmental aspect – products for hair, skin, etc. that’s filled with junk.
I also learned that 80% of Lupus cases are women. And a large percentage is African American women. For me, that’s a major issue. I personally think that a large amount of women of color are getting this because our lives tend to be more hectic. We don’t always have the support system. To me, that really shows that the mental, emotional and diet triggers these types of illnesses.
When I started to looking into illness in general, I was amazed. There were over two hundred forms of cancer. And more come up every year. When you research 60-100 years ago, there were less forms of cancer, but as we’ve supposedly progressed, so have our illness. Now there’s a cancer for every part of the body. What happened?
HBP: Education is huge. Once we’re forced to stop everything and we begin to study beyond what we’re told about illness, our eyes open to so much.
Kay: Mine definitely did. I quit school for the time being. I had to realign everything. I did go back later. But at the moment, I had to priorities. I had two small children. They and my health took top billing. And I was seeing four doctors on a regular basis. I had to invest in my health if I was going to pull back from those doctors.
HBP: So you lessened your work load. What else changed?
Kay: I changed my diet dramatically. I went semi-vegetarian and then fully vegetarian for a year. I do sometimes eat fish. But mainly my diet is plant-based. I kicked out the white carbs, sugars, white rice, white flower. Those lead to so much of a build-up of sugar and starch and your body tries to filter it out because it can’t assimilate it. And the body doesn’t want to let those things into your bloodstream. The diet most Americans consume, our bodies can’t deal with it. It gets stored in fat pockets and our organs. There are pockets of toxins attached to your organs, including your heart.
HBP: That’s such a scary thought.
Kay: It really is. So that was my first defense. Then I took up Hatha yoga to help with muscle spasms, and I joined a gym. That was really good for me in that it helped with stretching and becoming limber again. It helped with quieting my mind. I’m a type A personality. I have 20 ideas in one minute and I want to move all the time. It’s hard for me to stay still. But yoga helped me to be in the moment and calm my brain.
I looked into a lot of different homeopathic remedies. I implemented a lot of grains and green smoothies and drinks. Because one thing that helps heal the body and realign it is to consume more alkaline foods. I researched that and learned a lot about acidic versus alkaline diets.
HBP: You said you were having severe skin problems from the Lupus. Did you have to change your beauty routine?
Kay: Absolutely. Products I’d been using would burn when I applied them. I kicked a lot of things out as far as beauty products. I went through a couple of phases. I tried using products without perfume. I found some things that weren’t harming, but they weren’t helping either. I started to research a lot of natural oils. I love raw shea butter, argan oil. I don’t buy a lot of products. I go straight to the source. You buy a lotion or a cream and it’ll have 15 or 20% of the oil. I want what’s most beneficial – apricot kernel oil, avocado oil. It’s amazing because that oil feels pulpy like an avocado. It’s really good for putting the moisture back into my skin. Emu oil was very beneficial for me. I had a lot of acne problems. It was out of control. I felt like I was 12-years-old again. Nothing helped. I tried a couple different things, like Proactive. It burned my skin so badly. Murad helped. And it has some botanical ingredients – not 100% natural. It was a lot more soothing than some of the other things.
Even with that, I wanted to wean off it. A friend told me about the emu oil. It was very expensive. I also started doing sugar scrubs. I looked up recipes and found it was easy to make sugar scrub. Then I tried making lotion. And lip balm and other things. So now I mainly make my products.
HBP: So today your life is completely different than it was seven years ago when all of this started. Different diet. Different work. Different beauty products. How’s your health today?
Kay: I am not having the skin issues I was having. The joint pain, the lung issues, etc. are pretty much settled down. If I go off my regiment, if I am doing too much and really getting back into a high stress mode, my body will let me know with signals. Lupus gives you flares. I’ve been able to keep it at bay.
The biggest lifestyle change is I’ve remarried and had two more kids since being diagnosed. That was interesting because with Lupus, they used to say you couldn’t have children. You’d die. Recently, that’s changed, but you’re still high risk. I had to have fetal heart monitoring every few weeks. It was a lot of monitoring that went on. I did not do any meds during the pregnancy. I simply used holistic practices to build my system back up.
HBP: What was the biggest “take away” for you from all of this? And what would you say to the women who are reading your story?
Kay: I realize the corporate thing didn’t work for me. I was a business major and my dad is a management consultant. I was raised as a go-getting business woman. I had to re-evaluate: Do I want to be around another 10 years to see my children grow up? I took some time off after having my son. I never went back to the corporate job. I started freelancing. I have a talent for business writing. So I did a lot of freelance writing and management consulting, which I am currently doing. I can do that from anywhere. I was driving myself into the ground working for someone else. If I wanted to build something I wanted to build it for me. This illness changed my mindset. I had to have freedom to take care of me when I needed to. My boss at one time, he was questioning the amount of time I needed off for doctor visits. It was hindering me being able to take care of myself. Now I work when and how I want to and it fits into my lifestyle. I have time to spend with my family.
I like encouraging women to get back to their natural selves. We take on so much and sometimes we lose our femininity. I’m very big on femininity and feminine power and women understanding the innate power that we have to empower ourselves and our children.
We need to embrace womanhood in all its varieties and embrace Mother Nature.
Kay chose not to be photographed because of religious reasons.
HPB’s Wellness Stories are personal accounts. They are not meant to diagnose or give medical advice. If you have Lupus or any other illness, please consult with a medical professional.