Toni Braxton reflects a year after a life-threatening complication with lupus
From singing on global stages to sold-out crowds to having to remain vigilant about symptoms of the autoimmune disorder systemic lupus erythematosus, Toni Braxton is familiar with uncomfortable situations. So it’s hardly a surprise that when asked to join Aurinia Pharmaceuticals’ Get Uncomfortable With Lupus Nephritis campaign, she seized the opportunity.
“I thought it was a genius slogan that Aurinia came up with,” Braxton, who was diagnosed with lupus in 2008, told theGrio when discussing her involvement in the campaign.
She added, “I was thrilled to be teaming up with Aurinia for the [campaign] because, for me, the situation of being uncomfortable when I go to the doctor’s for the lupus test and [bloodwork] and peeing in a cup, I’m always uncomfortable and I always hated it.”
Braxton is spreading the word about keeping up with routine health checkups a year after a life-threatening lupus-related complication sent her into emergency surgery in September of 2022 and has made her more vulnerable to potentially developing lupus nephritis (when it affects the kidneys). The singer said she hopes others can learn from her story.
“I wasn’t going to go to the doctor’s last year about this time,” she said. “I would not be here today if I had not gone to the doctor’s if someone hadn’t pushed me. It literally saved my life going to the doctor’s and getting that blood work. That’s part of the reason that I’m still here today.”
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack healthy cells in the body as if they are foreign toxic invaders. The condition, which doesn’t affect any two individuals the same, causes inflammation and can damage vital organs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common form is systemic lupus erythematosus, which affects about 200,000 U.S. adults.
By the time Braxton finally went to the doctor last fall, her left main coronary artery was 80% blocked, and she was dangerously close to having a massive and almost certainly fatal heart attack. At the time, she recalls not feeling like anything was out of whack and almost forgoing getting bloodwork done.
“I would not have survived. You hear that, and you think, ‘Okay, it’s a 1% chance or a 3% chance [of survival],’ they said there was no chance,” she said. “I was very lucky.”
She added, “I really do get emotional thinking about it because it’s only been a year.”
A year later, Braxton said she’s doing much better. She has good days and hard days. Thankfully, the day she spoke to theGrio was a good day. After performing at Byron Allen’s Comedy and Music Superfest over Memorial Day Weekend this year, she’s eyeing an upcoming tour and stressed that while she can certainly still get up on a stage and perform, she knows her limits.
“For me, being on stage sometimes or performing has always been a challenge for me. I’m not gonna deny it. Just being able to sing for an hour and a half or two hours was always tough for me. I didn’t understand why, but now I understand,” she said.
She explained that since being diagnosed with lupus in 2008, she’s learned how to accommodate herself when performing. She also admitted with a slight chuckle in her voice that while most of the constraints on performing come from her lupus, “some of it is because I’m not 20 anymore.”
She added, “But I’m grateful for the things that I can do. Like I said, I can perform. I can’t do two-hour shows. My body’s not gonna let me do that it’s just not gonna, and I’ve accepted that.”
She’s also urging others to make routine checkups a regular part of their healthcare, especially Black women. According to the CDC, Black women and Hispanic women are more likely than white women to develop the condition. While there’s very little understanding as to why the disease is more prevalent in women of color, Braxton notes that women, especially Black women, have a hard time taking care of themselves.
“A lot of times, women, we tend to put ourselves last,” she said. “We tend to put everyone else first, and then we were second or third or fifth. But we have to remember that you have to put the safety equipment on yourself first, and then you can help someone else. It’s okay to put yourself in the running to take care of yourself.”
Kay Wicker is a lifestyle writer for theGrio covering health, wellness, travel, beauty, fashion, and the myriad ways Black people live and enjoy their lives. She has previously created content for magazines, newspapers, and digital brands.
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