Looking at Jennifer Bruce
, you would never guess that she has been battling a myriad of life-threatening diseases since 1998. She has a calm, outgoing and cheerful personality and appears to be the picture of good health. Appearances are not always what they seem.
Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Jennifer and her family moved to Santa Clara County when she was two years old. That almost makes her a native to the area.
Jennifer obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from Cal State East Bay. As a student she worked part time at ALZA Pharmaceuticals and, upon graduation ten years ago, they offered her a fulltime job.
Currently her job is in compliance and her primary function is auditing internal and external audits to ensure their vendors comply with Federal regulations. She travels frequently for work and pleasure.
When asked about when she first experienced problems with her health, Jennifer responded, "I frequently had abnormal blood tests and I became very fatigued. In 1998 I was doing an audit with my co-workers. One from my team ordered Chinese food. Later than evening my co-workers said ĎJenn, you donít look well--you had better go see a doctor.í When I arrived home, I couldnít believe how I looked in the mirror. I was swollen all over, most prominently in my ankles. My shoes and clothes didnít fit me any longer."
She assumed the swelling was from the Chinese food---that she had a reaction to MSG. Her family also insisted that she see a doctor.
The next morning when she woke up to go to work she had incredible pain in her back-- to the extent that she could hardly drive herself to work. When she arrived at work she could only put her head down on her desk. She agreed to see a doctor that day. Her doctor took lab tests and prescribed Vicodin for the pain. The lab results showed protein in her urine and the blood work confirmed her kidneys were involved and she was referred to a nephrologist.
She moved in with her parents because she could no longer take care of herself. Her pain became increasingly worse and the left side of her body was becoming numb. Her nephrologist ordered an MRA angiogram. When the test was finally over she could not get up off the table without help. When she saw her nephrologist later that day she was diagnosed with a blood clot in her renal vein (renal vein thrombosis). She was hospitalized seven days for pain management. She went on disability from work. It would be three months before the clot began to dissolve, allowing her to walk again.
When she began to get better and she was able to control her body again, she returned to have further tests on her kidneys. She developed shortness of breath and a cough that did not respond to treatment. At that point her nephrologist determined the clot had broken up and had traveled from her renal vein to her lungs (pulmonary embolism). Her pulmonary specialist told her "you could die at any time." She was again hospitalized for four days, and after further tests she was assured that there were not any additional blood clots.
After the pulmonary embolism was stabilized, she went back into the hospital again and had a kidney biopsy. As a result she was diagnosed with membranous neuropathy, which is an autoimmune condition. One of the doctors mentioned the possibility of lupus.
Her health improved for about one year. She woke up one morning and noticed she had bruises covering her entire body without any apparent reason. The bruises were all different sizes and shapes. Tests were ordered and her doctor called to report that her platelet count was at a critical level - it was 5,000 and the normal range is 150,000 - 450,000. She was instructed to check herself into the hospital for a transfusion. She wasnít experiencing any pain with this complication but everything she touched resulted in a bruise.
She was put on steroids and her platelet count started to improve. She stayed in the hospital for further tests. She was diagnosed with Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura (ITP). With this additional diagnosis, the doctors suspected she might also have lupus as an underlying problem.
She then began follow up visits with a rheumatologist, received treatment for ITP, and continued to take steroids. Her doctor added polygam therapy (human antibodies) and then Rituxin. These are all administered intravenously. She had a reaction to the Rituxin after several sessions and at a later time was able to resume this treatment. Finally she was officially diagnosed with lupus.
In 2002 her doctor proposed she have her spleen removed to correct the ITP. She concluded that the alternative toxic treatments offered her were much more risky than the surgery. During this time her doctor noticed she had developed a lump on her uterus. The oncologist/hematologist told her "if this is cancer I need to know about it and not move ahead with your spleen surgery."
Her gynecologist scheduled the surgery to remove the uterine tumor in January 2003. The pathology showed it was a very large benign tumor.
Her doctors rescheduled her splenectomy for September 2003. Happily, Jennifer has been in a successful remission from kidney involvement, ITP and pulmonary embolisms ever since. She continues with follow up testing to ensure these problems remain quiescent. She follows up with her nephrologist twice a year.
Subsequently she developed joint pain and stiffness due to lupus and she resumed taking steroids once again. Since 2004 she reports she has been in a good remission and has not required any medication. She feels well most of the time.
Jennifer found the Lupus Foundation of Northern California (LFNC) around 2002 when she was trying to make decisions about her treatment options. She first became involved with the LFNC in 2004 when she attended a fall conference at Stanford. During that conference she was very intrigued and surprised to hear the physician speakers discuss all the complications she has had and each of the medications she had been prescribed. When she left the conference she was in tears because it really hit home how very seriously ill she has been. She commented, "no other information resource I explored in the past had connected the three complications that I had endured. It just made my experiences over the past six years become real."
She became more involved as a volunteer with the LFNC and in June 2005 received training to become an instructor of their education program. Immediately following, she was invited to join the Board of Directors and assumed the responsibility for the Foundationís ongoing education classes as well.
She continued, "I was hoping to bring more awareness about lupus and I wasnít really sure how I could get that message out there. There are many people who have also been mis-diagnosed for many years." She concluded, "I am hopeful lupus patients can learn to be more of an advocate for themselves. The LFNC has many resources to help them."