contributed by Brenda Shilling
I have always known that chronic and life-threatening diseases can have a devastating effect on people’s lives. I’ve seen it happen to friends’ families and heard of it happening to friends of friends. But until 2002, the realities of such challenges were quite remote to me, as I had never felt a loved one struggle with a serious condition.
Linda Gray and her twin sister, Brenda Shilling.
In the spring of 2002, my identical twin, Linda, was diagnosed with neuropsychiatry lupus and central nervous system vasculitis. It was a scary time for all of us, particularly for Linda and her family. Like many lupus patients, Linda had been ill often and had many problems in the years leading up to her diagnosis. We were extremely thankful that The Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center quickly identified what was wrong and started Linda on a treatment program.
In the months that followed, I watched my sister experience a multitude of emotions, including devastation over her diagnosis, fear for her future, and relief that she had finally found help. Although I know that not all lupus patients fare well, I learned that the treatment of lupus has come a long way over the years and I prayed that Linda would benefit from these advances. Her treatment was extremely challenging. However, during the hard realities of chemotherapy and steroids on Linda’s body, her spirit was amazing.
Despite knowing that family is extremely important during times like this and that frequent calls, letters, and visits to Linda were supportive, I slowly began to feel helpless. This was an unexpected emotion. I wanted to do more. I needed to do more. My sister was going through the most difficult time of her life, and I had do something more.
One morning in the late spring of 2003 I considered coordinating a bicycle ride to raise funds for The Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center. Our sister, Liz, thought it was wonderful idea and wanted to help. We were driven by love for our sister and that was all the motivation we needed!
Linda Gray and her sister, Liz Adams.
We decided on a 50-mile ride – short enough to manage but long enough to sound good! We then mailed over 200 letters to friends and family asking for a financial gift to The Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center in honor of our sister and others with her disease. We also distributed the letter to social and religious groups in which we are involved. Four of our friends asked if they could join us on the bike ride in a generous gesture of support. We even had t-shirts made!
Participants in Linda’s Loop:
Left to Right: (Front Row, kneeling) Georgann Pattillo, Jan Rowe, Bill Schilling ; (Middle Row) Kevin Adams, Linda Moore, Liz Adams, Sue Schilling, Brenda Schilling, Betty Lamey, Patrick Pattillo, Leroy Lamey ; (Back Row) Chandler Burroughs, Steven Rowe, and Bill Schilling, Sr.
The night before the ride, we finished packing up drinks, snacks, and lunches and then headed home to get some sleep. Liz told me that she didn’t sleep a wink that night – neither did I! We were too excited.
The day finally arrived and everything went so well. It was such a wonderful day that I simply didn’t want it to end! Our family and friends came out to cheer us along. It felt great to have them there. But wow! The miles were more difficult than I expected. Although three riders finished far ahead, the remaining three of us dragged ourselves over the finish line some time later. We were quite the motley crew!
Hot, sweaty, hungry, but happy!
Response to our effort was overwhelming. My husband Bill teases that this was the only time I actually picked up the mail! Liz and I were moved by all the contributions. Some were from people who don’t know Linda but had read about the ride in the local paper. When we started planning we weren’t sure how much money we could raise. It was wonderful to have received just over $8,600 in contributions to vasculitis research!
Linda told me how much love she felt because of what we did for The Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center. What more could I have asked of myself? We wanted to show Linda how proud we were of all she accomplished during her difficult treatment. We also wanted to say thank you to The Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center for the wonderful work they do in caring for their patients everyday.
Hopefully we accomplished both.
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