My name is Katherine Jarzecki. I am a 27 year old B.Sc graduate from McMaster University currently pursuing my second undergraduate degree in materials engineering at the same institution – I will be in my final year of studies starting in September 2017. I am also a Miss Universe Canada 2017 national finalist, a triathlete and passionate health/fitness enthusiast, and baker. I would like to share with you all my lupus story.

Like many people diagnosed with lupus I experienced a variety of debilitating symptoms for a number of years, completely unaware that I had this disease. My lupus causes very painful and swollen joints, making it difficult some days to do basic tasks such as walking, carrying things, opening containers or doors, writing, typing, and performing standard house chores. I also experience severe chest pains and shortness of breath. This makes walking or going up a flight of stairs difficult and leaves me gasping for air and winded. The fatigue I experience causes me to feel exhausted after a day of work or going to classes, making it extremely challenging to find the energy to continue studying for the remainder of the evening, as is necessary for an intense program likeengineering. I have lost hair, and regularly get mouth ulcers. In addition to the physical difficulties, I also struggled immensely with anxiety and depression until I eventually received treatment for the lupus.

Last year I was finally diagnosed as I was preparing to compete nationally for the title of Miss Universe Canada 2016. I woke up one morning paralyzed and swollen with pain from head to toe, struggling to breath. After healthily losing 40lbs, I initially thought I had pushed myself too hard during my training for the competition, but a later blood test would reveal that I had tested positive for RA and lupus. The timing of this flare was particularly bad as I had just gotten hired for a 16-month internship at Stackpole International, and was one month away from the Miss Universe Canada competition. My career and dreams were supposed to be taking off, not abruptly halted because of uncontrollable flares.

The treatments I received were mild compared to many that suffer with lupus. I was put on anti-malarial drugs, steroids, anti-inflammatories that hurt my stomach, and was downing bottles of “Tylenol for Arthritis” (which sadly did not help) every morning when I woke up. It was extremely difficult seeing my body change from the steroids after working very hard for 8 months to reach my physical peak, but I never lost hope or gave up. I knew that this was just another stepping stone in my journey to recovery and that I would come out stronger and better after this, ready to compete again the following year. The difficult part was waiting. I did my best to continue eating a very healthy diet and tried to keep as active as possible. I used this time in my life to train for a triathlon, another dream of mine. On September 10, 2016 I competed in my first sprint triathlon. My joints were mildly flaring throughout the race but I was determined. My goal was not to place, but simply to compete in the race without pausing or stopping, and I did just that. Now that my symptoms have improved, I am looking forward to competing in an Olympic Triathlon sometime in the future.

My road to remission is still in progress, but I have now made it my goal to show as many people as I can that it is possible to live a functional life while battling lupus. I have made it to nationals again for this year’s Miss Universe Canada 2017, and not only do I want to use this platform as an opportunity to encourage young women to pursue STEM-related and engineering career paths, but to promote a healthy and active lifestyle, despite living with chronic illness. I want to show women across the country that every obstacle is an opportunity for us to grow as individuals, and that we are more than capable of accomplishing any goals we set for ourselves despite having what appear to be ‘disadvantages’. Our disadvantages should fuel us even more to be successful.

To anyone else struggling with lupus, please know that you are not alone. Take care of yourselves as best as you can through diet, sleep and exercise. They will not cure the problem but they will create a healthy environment in your body for the best potential to heal it. Take things one day at a time.

Thanks for taking the time to read, and I wish everyone all the best in their recoveries.

Best regards,

Katherine Jarzecki