It has been a long, painful road - not to total recovery, but perhaps to a relatively normal life for Waxahachie resident Sharon Leach, who has suffered with lupus for about 11 years.

“I gradually began to realize back in 1996 that I was getting around like a 100-year-old woman. I could barely get out of bed in the morning,” she said. “It was really all I could do to hold my head up going through my everyday routine. I could barely hold my head up to fix breakfast for my family, get the kids to school, come home, do house work and then all the other activities surrounding my kids at the end of the day, then getting them ready for bed - and the whole cycle would start over the next morning.

“I found that I was neglecting my husband and gradually feeling worse and worse,” she said. “Two of the biggest things I suffered with were high blood pressure and terrible migraine headaches.”

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease, lupus is an autoimmune disease. The immune system is designed to fight foreign substances in the body, but in autoimmune disease, the immune system is out of control, attacking healthy tissue instead of disease.

Leach was referred to a naturapathy doctor in California by one of her friends who had suffered with Crone’s disease. At first, Leach dismissed the idea after discovering how cost-prohibitive the treatments were. But her husband, David, told her, “Listen, if we have to sell the house and live in a cardboard box, it will be worth it just to have you feeling better again.”

To Sharon’s surprise, the doctor called her the following morning.

“He asked me if I was in love with my disease,” said Leach, noting he said that many people who suffer with illnesses for extended periods of time begin to feel a certain sense of comfort and dependence on their disease.

“I told him that I really didn’t think I loved the lupus and that I really would like to be free from it,” she said.

Leach discovered through consultation with the West Coast doctor that autoimmune disease is often brought about by stress and symptoms can include unbearable joint and body pain and constant flu-like symptoms.

“He put me on a regimen of massive doses of shark cartilage powder, silica jell, liquid herbs, something called slippery elm and his own special blend,” Leach said. “He also put me on amino acids which helps break down the other medicines I was taking.

“It was the most horrible tasting stuff. The only way I could choke it down was to drink it, then chase it down with cold water and then bite down on a lemon,” she said. “I would just dance all over the room, shaking. Everybody loved to gather in the room and watch me take the medicines.

“When I would finally swallow all the liquid herbs, there would be a burning sensation which started in my mouth and went all through my body literally down to my toes,” she said. “In just a few days, I began to notice that my migraines were the first things to disappear. It wasn’t long until I could actually get out of bed in the mornings and do some things.”

Today, Leach affirms her lupus is in remission. She said she is only on maintenance medications and that she is living out her dream of becoming a licensed massage therapist.

She said she loves her job as a massage therapist because she feels the therapy, along with new, innovative equipment, can help provide new hope and relief for others suffering from lupus and other autoimmune diseases.

E-mail Paul at paul.gauntt@waxahachiedailylight.com