Nearly 20 years after her smash hit “Never Leave You (Uh Oh)” dropped, New York City-born rapper, singer, and songwriter Lumidee is speaking out about the hurdles she’s overcome as someone with rheumatoid arthritis.
Many readers will already be familiar with your music career, but maybe not your health journey. Tell us about how rheumatoid arthritis (RA) entered your storyline.
Within the first month of me starting high school, I got rashes on my thighs, hands, and face, and then my ankles and wrists started hurting at the same time. I was 14 at the time, and I was like, ‘What is this?’ It got to the point where I couldn’t brush my hair. My mom was battling drugs at the time, and I’d go back and forth between her house and my grandparents’ house, and no one believed me.
How did you end up getting a diagnosis?
On New Year’s Eve, I couldn’t breathe, and at the hospital they first diagnosed me with lupus and gave me a bunch of medications for that. Later, based on my full group of symptoms, they said it looks like RA.
What was the treatment plan for RA like?
It was definitely overwhelming. There are so many side effects to these medications, like a swelling face and hair loss, and those were a struggle on top of the normal growing pains of being a teen.
I’m sorry you had to go through that, but at the same time, do you think it was a blessing?
Definitely. Because of my family struggles, I was lashing out a lot. I’d get in trouble at school and get in a lot of physical fights. With RA, my body was breaking down and I was forced to do homeschooling after not going to high school in-person for a full two months. It progressed really quickly because I wasn’t taking my medications correctly — I was so young and on my own — but I don’t blame my family for that. I think it was very odd to them.
One of my instructors was not a great guy; he would smoke and drink in front of me. But one thing he gave me was a poetry book, and that reminded me of when I won a poetry contest in second grade. Poetry was the easiest thing for me to do. It was a proud moment. When I got the poetry book, poetry became an outlet for me.
How did your experience with RA progress from there?
There was a doctor who told me I may never walk again, and thank God for this doctor because he was so brutally honest. I wasn’t even done with high school, and I was determined not to be a dropout. To get RA under control and get back to school, I decided to get a bilateral hip replacement at 17, and I was happy that was an option. Within a year, I was already walking. The recovery was not bad.
At this point, did you get into your music?
I was working with this DJ from my neighborhood, and after my hip replacements, once I was ready, I wanted to get back into the studio. Two years after surgery, my music really took off. I was still learning to walk and dance on stage, but I didn’t even care.
You still had RA. Was it ever hard to balance taking care of your health and working on your music?
I had my ups and downs, and I tried different medications. Enbrel was like a miracle drug for me; it changed my life completely. There was a month and a half where I didn’t take it, and my skin broke out in rashes again and I realized I definitely have psoriasis, which Enbrel also treats. My mom also had psoriasis. Every time I’d wait too long to take it, it’s like the reminder for me, “Hey, you need to take your medicine.” It completely wipes out the psoriasis. It’s great for so many things.
How are you feeling now?
Sometimes there will be a little stiffness with my joints, including my hands, but for the most part I feel pretty normal. You know, for my first record deal I felt almost shameful about this. For my second record deal, which I have now, when I told them, they were like, “We never knew this. Why wasn’t this a focal point in your career? This would have been a great way to connect with people — like you’re actually a person going through health issues but you’re out here.” So, as I got older, I learned to hold RA like a badge of honor. I’m getting through this.
What tips would you give to people who are struggling with bone and joint issues?
Try different medications. If something isn’t working for you, don’t hesitate to call your doctor and see what’s working for other people. The earlier you get this under control, the better it is for your future. You can still go for your dreams and whatever you want. Even when you’re having those down days, take that as your strength because you will find the blessing in that.