This month: Judith Lopez

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I first became ill following a bad case of the flu. Instead of recovering normally, I continued to deteriorate and the unexplained illness kept me in bed for six months. A string of doctors insisted that since my tests were all normal, I was not physically ill, and suggested psychiatric care.

Eventually I returned, rather shakily, to work.

I assumed that this strange episode was just a fluke, a one-time event that I could put behind me.

This was not to be. The illness that had no name returned again and again, throwing my life into utter disarray. Eighteen years passed as I becomes sick and then well, and then sick again. I spent a lot of time trapped in bed, wondering how such a devastating disease could be totally dismissed by the medical profession.

Even during “well” periods I didn’t feel normal. I experienced distortions in my sense of sight, hearing and taste. I also noticed strange reactions to all sorts of chemicals, which grew steadily worse.

In 1988, as you know, the CDC was forced to recognize this conditions due to the increasing number of patients. The official name they chose, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, was a wastebasket term with little meaning, but I was grateful for the validation and hopeful that research would produce a cure.

However, I was dismayed by the fact that researchers were concentrating on finding a viral cause for the disease. It seemed that “new” viruses were all the rage, new diseases were appearing and virologists were eagerly trying to match them all up.

But in my experience, this illness didn’t behave like a viral infection at all. For one thing, it usually affected random individuals rather than groups.

For another, it had a preference for females. Viruses, as far as I knew, couldn’t tell the difference between girls and boys.

And it tended to strike at young adults, normally the healthiest and most disease-resistant segment of the population. How then could it be caused by a contagious bug?

I let myself be treated for viruses such as Epstein-Barr, but with no results. My health continued to decline.

Finally, one day, I collapsed at work. Somehow I made my way home to bed, where I remained for the next five years.

I could barely crawl from the bedroom to the bathroom, and only survived because my husband took care of me. His life, I feared, had become even more difficult than mine.
At one point, to minimize my exposure to allergens (our old Victorian house was full of them), I moved to a small room in Berkeley. I couldn’t bear the chemical smells that visitors brought with them, so with the exception of visits from my husband and very occasional others, I lived for a year in solitary confinement.

Even that didn’t stop my inexorable downward slide. I weighed about 80 pounds. My digestive process – not to mention my mental faculties – seemed to have shut down for good.

I was in severe pain and my allergies exploded to include almost every chemical imaginable. Exposure to ordinary things like books, newspapers, TV or plastic bags set my brain reeling. A constant “brain fog” dogged me.

And then, unexpectedly, I was diagnosed at last – not by seeing a doctor, but by talking on the phone to a nutritionist. I learned that I probably had severe systemic candidiasis.

Not long after that, the diagnosis was confirmed when I looked into my mouth. To my horror, I saw a veritable rainforest of white gummy growth hanging in strings off the edges of my tongue.

The mystery malady was solved at last!

I should mention at this point that there were multiple factors involved in causing me to become to severely fungus-ridden, beyond the usual culprits of birth control pills, antibiotics and moldy environment.

I worked for years as an artist/printmaker, practically bathing in dangerous printing chemicals. There’s no doubt in my mind that these toxic substances, and not any virus, were at the root of my illness.

With the problem identified, I was able to assemble and (allergies permitting) read some important books on the subject. A friend brought me The Yeast Connection to begin with. What a relief to se it all spelled out for me! I had a real illness, it wasn’t psychological, and it could be treated.

But in my case, I wondered if it might be too late. I was by this time more dead than alive –a skeleton with a heartbeat.

When I became allergic even to my little Berkeley room, I was brought home, presumably to die.

Fate intervened and almost by accident I was put in contact with a doctor who understood this condition and how to treat it. Under the care of Dr. Vincent Marinkovich, I began a program of diet and antifungal drugs – which for long periods of time caused me severe and constant die-off reactions. I didn’t care—these reactions meant I was on the right track at last.

One day, more than a year after I began treatment, I embarked on a great adventure. I left the house under my own power and went for a walk. A very slow walk, to be sure, but most exciting. I was out in the world again!

My struggle, now three decades long, has been painful, but has taught me some wonderful lessons. It tried my will to survive and showed that will to be more resilient than I expected. It tested my husband’s love and caring for me, and that, too, proved to be stronger and deeper than I knew. It taught me the absolute necessity of thinking for myself, for I had to defy the doctors and search elsewhere for the real cause of my illness—that cause that has such profound implications not only for me, but for the lives of others as well.

Editor’s Note: Judith Lopez was in frequent communication until his death in 2002. Her inspiring story and many others can be found in Yeast Connection Success Stories.

©2003 Professional Books, Inc.

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