Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — Off the top of her head, Lauryl Shope’s best guess is 60.
60 vials of blood over the past two years … and countless hours of anxiety, concern and sleeplessness.
During Lauryl’s sophomore year, life as she knew it was flipped upside down. A once healthy, normal teenager started experiencing life-altering symptoms of an incurable disease she didn’t know she had.
This is her story.
ORIGINS OF AN ILLNESS
When Lauryl entered her sophomore year at Huntington High School, she was an up-and-coming player in the varsity volleyball program and a key member of the school’s cheerleading squad.
She was working her way into head volleyball coach Tina Magill’s rotation while also assisting her cheerleading teammates on a run to the state competition.
But that’s when life threw her a curveball.
“My sophomore year, I was put on birth control and I had a bad reaction to that,” Lauryl said. “I was very fidgety, very weak, I lost a lot of weight and my mentality just wasn’t good. After it continued, we thought I was anemic and that I was just losing blood somehow. I was taking iron pills but that didn’t help. I just kept pushing through because I thought that’s what I had to do.”
“Pushing through” is what Lauryl’s new norm became.
The feelings of weakness continued, and worsened even. Lauryl, usually full of energy and life, was left searching for answers as her mind started wondering about what actually could be wrong.
It was a slippery slope.
“I was cheering and we went to competitions and stuff. I couldn’t get through my routine. I couldn’t tumble, I couldn’t do anything,” Lauryl said. “I just wasn’t … normal. Our team made it to state and I just had to push through. But it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fun for me. I was exhausted the whole time and I didn’t have the energy at all.”
When winter turned to spring, Lauryl’s symptoms still weren’t improving.
“I was spinning in circles, literally, on the court in practice. I was weak … I just wasn’t myself. Mentally, I just wasn’t there.”Lauryl Shope
While the physical toll was tiresome, the mental toll may have been worse. The constant anxiety about what was afflicting her and the rapid progression of her everyday weakness in ways she never saw coming.
There were even periods of time where Lauryl simply doesn’t remember at all.
Her junior volleyball season was beginning as Huntington started its offseason workouts. Lauryl, who was supposed to be a key part to the team’s success, wasn’t anywhere near her best.
Instead of being on the court with her teammates, she was restricted to the bench.
The reality was that she couldn’t physically perform well enough to actually make a meaningful difference in the starting lineup. But the question remained as to why that was happening.
“When spring came around, I think that’s when [Huntington volleyball coach Tina Magill] noticed I wasn’t OK.,” Lauryl said. “I was spinning in circles, literally, on the court in practice. I was weak … I just wasn’t myself. Mentally, I just wasn’t there. Sitting on the bench … that was really rough. It was my junior year. I knew I should’ve been on the floor helping my team. I felt hopeless.”
Midway through her junior volleyball season, Lauryl noticed a pain in her middle finger. Soon, that pain spread into her ring finger and then grew exponentially.
“We thought I had trigger finger in my middle finger. I didn’t think anything of it. I just thought it would go away,” Lauryl explained. “Then it went into my ring finger as well. It got to be where it was hard for me to write at school and it spread to all my fingers on both hands, and then my wrists, then my elbows and my neck. I couldn’t open my jaw … eventually, it got to a point where I woke up and I couldn’t get out of bed.”
Trigger finger is defined as a condition that causes “pain, stiffness, and a sensation of locking or catching when you bend and straighten your finger.” When all of those symptoms spread to Lauryl’s entire upper body, she knew something was seriously wrong.
“My family was just as hopeless as I was,” Lauryl said. “They didn’t know what was wrong, either. It was just hard. I would come to my mom and complain about my pain and stuff. But neither of us really thought anything of it until I had to.”
While doctor visits and trips to medical centers had become second nature to Lauryl, near the end of her junior year, she finally found a diagnosis that stuck.
This past May, after numerous tests, needles and yes, more vials, doctors diagnosed Lauryl with Lupus, an incurable systemic autoimmune disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs.
“Honestly, believe it or not, I felt a lot better. At first, all I could think about was, ‘What is wrong with me?’ I felt that way for months,” Lauryl said. “I had to go to oncology, get bloodwork done and all that. They had to make sure it wasn’t cancer. But I when I found out what it was, I was honestly relieved.”
While there was finally an answer to what was causing Lauryl hardship, there was also the aftermath to deal with. Lauryl’s road to an answer was a long and winding one. But her journey was just beginning.
LIVING WITH LUPUS
The complications Lupus can cause and the side effects of the necessary medications to combat it can be frustrating to say the least.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “lupus flares” can occur at anytime. These flares can cause “swelling and rashes one week and no symptoms the next.”
Sometimes, flares can even happen “without clear symptoms and are seen only with laboratory tests.” The flares range from mild to serious while some can even require medical care.
So, to combat occurrences like that and other complications that Lupus can cause, Lauryl is forced to take multiple medications including hydroxychloroquine and methotrexate … which both have side effects.
Nausea is the most common for Lauryl.
“I have to take methotrexate once per week. So I take it on Saturdays because it makes me feel really nauseous the next morning,” Lauryl said. “I also take folic acid [a vitamin that combats anemia as well] because of the nausea.”
While Lauryl is forced to remain on medication for the rest of her life, there is good news. With careful treatment, the consensus is that 80 to 90 percent of people who are affected by the disease can lead a normal life.
“I guess my plan is to just keep plugging away,” Lauryl said with a smile. “I still have times where I forget that I have Lupus. “Sometimes, when I’m really tired or something, I get down on myself. My mom will remind me like, ‘Hey, you have Lupus.’ So it’s still a new thing for me.”
A RETURN TO FORM
Off the volleyball court, Lauryl does what she has to do in order to combat Lupus. But while she’s playing, it’s an escape from the disease as a whole.
While the medication certainly negates the feeling of exhaustion and, most of the time, the pain, Lauryl’s love for the game of volleyball has blossomed this fall. She’s finally able to simply breathe, enjoy her teammates and focus on contributing to her team’s success.
“I don’t think anybody knew who I was before this year because I hadn’t gotten the chance to actually play,” Lauryl said. “But now that I have the opportunity to do it, it’s been great. I’m having so much fun. We gel really well as a team. We definitely have potential to go far. We just have to believe it.”
With Lauryl helping out, Huntington is in the midst of a 17-7 campaign. The Huntsmen finished the regular season with an 8-6 mark in the Scioto Valley Conference and have now advanced to a Division III district final.
In the midst of all that is Lauryl, one of the team’s three seniors. Listed as a defensive specialist on Huntington’s roster, Lauryl has tallied 11 kills, 22 aces, 10 blocks, 189 digs and 52 assists.
Each of those numbers are, of course, career highs, as is the 74 sets she’s played in.
“Lauryl has played many different roles for our team,” Magill said. “As a freshman, we thought she’d be a libero. Then, we thought we’d use her as a setter and now, she plays all the way around. Lauryl serve receives in five rotations and we play her back side so she can take the set when needed. Lauryl is the piece of the puzzle we need to make it all work.”
Lauryl is just happy to have the ability to finally contribute and, of course, to be fully healthy. She’s also looking forward to winter, where she can cheerlead for the first time in two years without exhaustion.
“Personally, I’m just going to enjoy every moment of this year as a whole,” she said. “I love the game because it’s so exciting. I haven’t been able to experience that over the past couple of years. This is the first year where I’ve really felt like I’ve made a difference.”
Lauryl hopes to attend Shawnee State University and, possibly, pursue a degree in biology. And wherever life takes her, Lupus will always be a part of who she is. But it will never define her.
She simply won’t let that happen.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past couple of years,” she said. “At times, it was really hard for me. But I’m glad I know what was wrong and I’m glad I found answers. I can focus on my future now and just plug along.”