Nothing is going to break singer Kelle Bryan’s stride, not even lupus, she explains to Iona Walton
Singer Kelle Bryan was at the pinnacle of her pop star career when she was suddenly struck down with lupus. Her band, Eternal had sold over ten million records, notched up numerous awards, toured the world and even performed for Pope Jean Paul II.
But when Kelle was only 23 years old, her flu-like symptoms had become so bad that she was unable to walk. Finally seeking a second opinion, Kelle was told she had lupus in 1998.
“The doctors explained that because it had taken so long to diagnose there was already damage to my kidneys and liver,” she remembers. “They said I might never get back to full strength and could be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
“It was impossible to take in. The doctors left the room and I just thought, ‘This is it, this is my life’. But then I started thinking about remission – the doctor said I might get better for short periods – and started feeling more hopeful. From that moment, I refused to accept the picture the doctors had painted for me: I was not going to be a patient for the rest of my life.”
Kelle stayed in hospital until the steroids took effect and then spent a few weeks at a recovery unit.
“After three months in bed I was weak,” she says. “I set myself small goals, little things like walking to the bathroom unaided.”
A few months later, Kelle decided to record her first solo.
“I’d sing one line then rest for half an hour. By the end of the year I was ready to promote my album. My doctor advised waiting until I was more stable but it was what I lived for. In early 2000 I flew to LA for the video. The night before filming I was brushing my hair when great chunks started to come out. It was the final straw and I collapsed on the floor crying. My doctor said it was a side effect of the steroids, so next morning I was sent to an alopecia clinic for a wig.
“We went ahead with the video, but I still had to sleep four or five times a day. It was worth it though – despite being exhausted, I had proved to myself I could still succeed.”
Back in the UK Kelle’s rehabilitation continued and in 2004 a medical showed there was no trace of lupus activity in her blood. She married in 2010 and has since had a son and a daughter. Her management company – Red Hot Entertainment – is growing, she’s working on a TV documentary and with the demands of two young children, life is hectic.
“Joints flare with pressure, stress and tiredness so pregnancy and childbirth were a worrying time but I stayed positive,” Kelle explains. “The decision to have a second baby was tough but I’m an only child and I wanted my son to have a sibling. In the end we went for it and are complete with our beautiful baby girl, Kayari Rose.
Exercise is a big part of Kelle’s life.
“Lupus stripped me of so many things – for example over the summer I had ulcers all over my mouth – but exercise helps combat the negativity,” she says. “My advice to anyone with lupus or arthritis is to find the exercise that works for you as it will help you look good and achieve a sense of wellbeing.”
The medication Kelle is on (steroids and hydroxychloroquine) “gives her body a bashing” which she goes some way to counter by eating well, having a daily protein shake and taking calcium supplements.
“Some people find support by being with those who are overly compassionate,” she says. “But I keep myself guarded and am choosy about who I spend time with and what I allow to influence me. I always think positive: I was determined not to let lupus ruin my life and I believe that’s how I found the strength to get better.”
Visit www.kellebryan.co.uk for more information.
What is lupus?
Lupus is a disease in which the immune system becomes overactive and can affect any organ of the body. Symptoms are diverse including fatigue, rashes, allergies, depression and kidney failure, so it is called the “great mimic”.
People experience flare-ups where symptoms become worse, in between long periods where symptoms are mild or disappear.
Who gets it?
Anyone can get lupus but people affected tend to be women aged between 18 and 45 years. About 60,000 people in the UK are thought to have lupus.
The aim is to suppress the overactive immune system and diminish inflammation and then reduce drugs and discontinue their use. People may experience a fluctuating course of lupus, but most get better and long-term aggressive treatment may not be needed.
Lupus and arthritis
Joint disease affects about 90% of people with lupus at some stage. Lupus arthritis is very different from rheumatoid arthritis and only rarely causes joint damage and deformity. It usually responds quickly to treatment.
Kelle Bryan is a Patron of the St Thomas Lupus Trust. Visit www.lupus.org.uk for more information.