What is an Autoimmune Disease?

Christmas time last year, 20 year-old Cassondra Cavazos, a former full-time Chaffey student and life-long soccer player, became extremely ill. Fearsome of cancer, multiple sclerosis, leukemia, or some other life debilitating disease, family and friends were extremely worried for Cavazos’ life. Several lab tests later revealed that what she had was an autoimmune disease.

Jessica Murray: “So, what is an autoimmune disease?”

Cavazos: “An autoimmune disease is when the cells in your immune system start attacking each other. When you go to conventional doctors for this, they look for a scientific reason, but when you start looking at holistic healing, it’s caused by stress, environmental issues, how you eat and how you take care of your body.”

About 24 million (7%) people in the United States are affected by an autoimmune disease, according to the United States Department of Health. There are 80+ different autoimmune diseases, all having similar symptoms. Their similarities make is extremely difficult for doctors to properly diagnose.

JM: “Is holistic healing the path you’ve chosen?”

Cavazos: “Yeah, when I saw the holistic doctor, it was like a therapy session, I told him everything that had been happening for the past year. I was working too much, 40+ hours a week, and going to school full-time. He asked me about the relationships I have and concluded that I stress too much, was malnourished and wasn’t exercising or taking care of myself.”

JM: “Did you tell anyone you were sick?”

Cavazos: “I didn’t tell anyone because I just wanted to get through it, and then be okay to talk about it with people. It’s private. Especially when I didn’t fully understand what was happening to my body.”

Cavazos uncontrollably lost over 20 pounds in a month’s time.

JM: “Did you feel like you were bestowing some sort of burden if you told? Your friends and family thought you had cancer or multiple sclerosis or leukemia.”

Cavazos: “No, not exactly. Every day, I try to think more positively because it isn’t any of those things. I met a guy with an autoimmune disease called dermamyositis who had to wear a feeding tube for months because he couldn’t swallow solid foods. I’m grateful that I can do all the simple things like going to the restroom, walking, swallowing food. I’m really glad it wasn’t something worse.”

JM: "I was looking up autoimmune disease varieties and one that came up was polymyositis.”

Cavazos: “All the symptoms are the same; tripping, falling, muscle loss and atrophy. In the beginning you could tell I had atrophy in my thighs and upper arms.”

Atrophy is the partial or complete wasting away of a body part.

JM: “Do you think you have polymyositis?”

Cavazos: “No, it affects black women 40-50 years old. There is one called necrotizing myopathy and that one is exactly like polymyositis, I’m being tested for that. But if this test comes out negative, then the doctors are done with everything. I’ll just have an idiopathic disease. I know I’m going to have to battle with this for the rest of my life.”

A condition is considered idiopathic when the diagnosis is unknown, as defined by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

JM: “How has this changed your life?”

Cavazos: “I’m sober now. It’s made me smarter about what I eat and how I treat my body. It’s made me have to be more creative with certain everyday activities that I’m unable to do anymore. It’s made me more in-tune with my body and mind. When I start getting negative thoughts, I know I can’t think like that.”

JM: “Have you become more spiritual because of your situation?”

Cavazos: “Yeah definitely, this holistic healing journey has brought me to meditate more and forgive people. It’s hard because I’m only 20 years old, I’m just so cynical! I’ve been an angry person most the time and I think that’s part of why I’ve been inflicted with sickness. It’s almost karmic.”

JM: “Are you scared?”

Cavazos: “No, not anymore, I get my results September 7, so I’m excited to see if they’ve diagnosed anything.”