The Ups and Downs of Living with Lupus and Lupus Nephritis– Jessica’s Story

October 06, 2022, 9:47am EDT

Jessica in hospital bed at the start of her kidney disease journey

Before 2018, Jessica Figueroa was in a toxic relationship and worked long hours to care for her family. Ultimately, the stress and intense workload caused her to become incredibly sick. While the illness was tough, it gave Jessica the strength to make hard changes for her health and happiness. She ended the relationship, found a job that supported a work-life balance, and began eating healthier. 

For a while, Jessica's health rebounded. She felt better than she had in a long time. However, by the end of the year, she got sick again, and no one could figure out why.

Jessica's lupus diagnosis

It took six months of testing and frequent trips to the hospital for Jessica to get diagnosed with lupus and lupus nephritis.

"With lupus, people tend to get misdiagnosed. It's a disease that can camouflage itself. The only reason they treated mine is they noticed that steroids made the problems go away," Jessica said. "Little by little, my doctors decided to do other tests for autoimmune diseases and finally diagnosed me with lupus."

Despite treatment, Jessica went into end-stage kidney disease and needed emergency dialysis by May 2019. She spent two months in the hospital trying to recover from metabolic acidosis and high blood pressure.

"I realized I was getting worse. I couldn't do simple things like cook or open jars, and I couldn't even maneuver my vehicle or drive," Jessica said. "My lupus took over. It became very aggressive and attacked my kidneys because we didn't treat it quickly enough. Luckily, my family and my husband were always right there helping me so I could get better. I gave everything to my health. I made sure I was eating right, taking medication properly, and following my water restrictions."

Jessica's determination paid off; her kidneys returned to stage 3 and she was able to stop dialysis. Her lupus went into remission. 

Then came COVID-19

Jessica continued working hard to manage her health by eating a low-acidity diet, exercising, and taking medications as directed by doctors. She was doing incredibly well until she caught COVID-19 in late 2020, which caused a decline in her kidney function.

For the next year and a half, Jessica and her healthcare team managed to keep kidney failure at bay, but things turned for the worst in March 2022. She's now at stage 4, with her kidney function quickly becoming worse. 

"I needed to have surgery to put a fistula on my left arm so that I'm prepared for future dialysis," said Jessica. "It's been a rollercoaster and I am now receiving chemotherapy as the last treatment because nothing else is working. I'm getting ready for a transplant in the future." 

Fighting hard, spreading awareness, and loving life

Jessica, her husband, and children smiling outside

Jessica is now in a healthy relationship and focuses her energy on her children, lifestyle, and helping people with invisible illnesses just like her. 

"Like kidney disease, lupus is not a disease that people can see. It's invisible–you look like nothing's wrong with you. People don't even see any type of problems with me until I'm in a hospital," said Jessica. "To an average person, someone may look fine, but internally, they’re not okay. So, I'm writing a book to help people understand what this disease looks like."

Beyond working on her book, Jessica is using her positivity to spread awareness and give hope to others living with lupus and lupus nephritis.

"I am definitely a person who's extremely positive. I'm going to keep on fighting. My hope is to bring much more awareness, raise funds, and promote early prevention and more resources to help individuals to learn about these diseases," Jessica said. "Lupus and kidney disease are just part of my journey and I realized that if this never happened, I would have never met so many great people along the way."

Want to connect with people who have walked in your shoes? Learn how an NKF peer mentor can help you on your kidney journey.

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