When Chastity Corbett went to the doctor with a painful rash in 2005, she had no idea that she would be putting the finishing touches on the second annual Walk to End Lupus about 11 years later. May is Lupus Awareness Month. The second annual march will be held in Newport News on June 25 at the John B. Todd Stadium from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. And the grand marshal of this year’s walk will be Evelyn Braxton, the mother of award-winning singer Toni Braxton. The three-time Grammy Award winning singer collapsed on stage in Las Vegas in 2008, went to the emergency room, and learned she had Lupus.
Toni Braxton said in a 2012 interview with Real Health, “When the diagnosis came, I just kind of passed out. I couldn’t breathe. It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest.”
In Hampton Roads, Corbett hears Braxton describe her symptoms and nods her head in agreement. “Initially, it was just a rash on my arm,” said Corbett who was 32 at the time.
“She and her husband Richard had three boys ranging from ages 8 to 14. She had just earned her master’s degree.
“The rash never went away,” said Corbett. “I went to see a dermatologist. A week later tests showed I had lupus discoid, which is the type that only affects the skin.”
“When you have Lupus your body does not recognize the good cells from the bad cells,” Corbett explained. “So your body pretty much attacks itself. I was put on medication. From July to September, I noticed I was losing a lot of weight. I went from a size 14 to a size 6.” Corbett was hospitalized three times in one year. “The first time I went to the hospital because I was having trouble breathing,” Corbett said. “It was my son’s birthday, Jan. 11. I had pulmonary embolism, blood clots on my lungs and pneumonia. I stayed about three weeks.”
“The second time I went to the hospital in February; I had a mild stroke and meningitis,” Corbett said. “The third time I went to the hospital because I had a really bad seizure. I had never had a seizure before. I was released from the hospital to a nursing home. I was only 32 at the time.” And this is where the Walk to End Lupus comes in. When she looks back on that dark, stressful and confusing period, she realizes she did not foresee three lengthy hospital stays, chemotherapy treatment, seizures and a mild stroke, any more than she saw herself launching the first annual Walk to End Lupus about a decade later. “That is true,” she said, laughing softly. “I had to make lemonade out of it. I wasn’t going to let it hold me back. I used to attend the Lupus walk in Richmond. But I decided we needed a walk in Hampton Roads.”
Launching the first annual walk here, she said more than 400 people turned out last year. Newport News Vice Mayor Robert Coleman was the grand marshal. Veteran NFL cornerback David Macklin was a special guest, along with Miss Black Virginia U.S. Ambassador Jasmine Young. The event produced over $4,800. The proceeds supplied Lupus patients with various types of support such as emergency funds, and help with co-pays. Corbett said unexpected blessings have surfaced since she was diagnosed about a decade ago. “It has made me stronger. You never know how strong you are until you are presented with a specific situation.”
“I had three small boys when I was diagnosed and they had to watch me go through all of that,” said Corbett whose sons now range from ages 18, 21, 24. “My husband, Richard, was my rock,” she said. “He was constantly at my bedside in the hospital. He did everything from combing my hair, communicating with my doctor, and he pretty much raised the boys during that time. He had to do the cooking, cleaning, and also go to work. “It made all of us pull together as a unit,” she said. If you would like to volunteer, make a donation, or sponsor the upcoming walk, please register at www.hamptonroadslupuswalk16.kintera.org or phone (757) 598-4532.