When she was just 32 years old, Zenay Arnold received some news that for the average person might have knocked them off balance – she had Lupus, the autoimmune disease that attacks the body’s healthy tissue. Instead of allowing the news to handicap her, she kept going.
A successful paralegal at the time and working in New York, Arnold set her sights on not allowing Lupus to slow her down. “I had been living the American dream,” Arnold, told Ms.XFactor. “Paralegal for 20 years; living in New York – I had a good life.
For two years I ignored the symptoms. I had work to do and a career to maintain. The last thing I wanted to do was to be perceived as sickly.”
And then one day, she woke up and could not move. “I went through a lot of unnecessary issues because I did not want to deal with it. I was suffering from the very same thing most Black women suffer from – Superwoman syndrome,” she said.
She spent about a week in the hospital. During her stay, doctors told her she would be lucky if she lived past five to seven years. That was 14 years ago. Now 46, Arnold believes she has been given the gift of life to help others, Arnold and her sister, actress/singer Tichina, founded We Win Foundation.
“We like to say that Tichina is the face, but I am the voice of We Win,” Arnold said. “What we try to do is provide assistance for those who have chosen to live with Lupus like I have. While there are organizations like Lupus Foundation of America that raise money for research, we try to cater to the everyday needs of those living with Lupus.”
The idea for We Win and the name were birthed, Arnold said, from her pain. At some point she could no longer ignore the symptoms nor the pain. But the process of getting there was trying. She remembers lying in bed one day, having been immobile for four days.
“I had given up. My ex-husband walked out. I went into isolation. The only thing I had were my four dogs – and they would not leave my side,” she remembers. “I had given up, but God wouldn’t let me give up.”
She had never felt God like that before. “And I grew up in the Church of God in Christ, but I came to know God in that moment. And then I heard an audible voice say, ‘You win!’” She argued with God. How was this winning when she could not do anything for herself? “No, you win,” she said God repeated.
Winning became her mantra. Whenever she would have a flare, she would focus on the moment – getting through the flare.
But it would not be until a random conversation with her sister that her perspective became more collectively focused. While Tichina was working on “Everybody Hates Chris,” Arnold moved to California. She wanted to be closer to her family and could easily transfer to the California offices of the company by which she was employed. God, it seemed to her, was lining things up for her.
Before she knew it, five years had passed since her initial diagnosis – the amount of time doctors had given her to live.
“We were on the set, sitting in Tichina’s trailer and it just dawned on me, ‘Hey, I’m still alive!’”
Tichina, temporarily confused about her sister’s declaration, questioned her. “For most of my family, it was never a question of if I would live or not – they had already decided that I would. But here we were faced with the reality that the moment the doctors predicted had some and gone,” Arnold stated. “In that moment, I knew we had to do something and my sister agreed. She asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’”
Having never asked her sister for anything, Arnold saw an opportunity before them – they had to help others who had been through what she had experienced, people who were struggling, in denial, unsure, afraid, and in despair.
The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million Americans, and at least five million people worldwide have a form of lupus. Of that number, about 40 percent are African American and blacks come in second only to Native Americans of Lupus related deaths.
Unfortunately, most are ignorant about Lupus, its symptoms, causes and potential life risks. As a matter-of-fact, Arnold points out that just a few years ago medication for Lupus had been updated after 40 years and still is not adequate enough for people of color living with the disease because of differences in genetics between African Americans and other groups.
“Lupus is highly underrated. We are losing so many women to this God awful disease because of the lack of resources and information,” Arnold said, adding that in addition to Lupus she also suffers from six other autoimmune diseases including Rheumatoid Arthritis and Sarcoidosis. “I joke that I have a disease for every day of the week. Many of the symptoms crossover.”
We Win educates while also providing care. They help Lupus survivors at all levels – financially, emotionally, physically, and psychologically. “We pay bills – car insurance, rent, lights, car notes – we are literally a grassroots organization,” Arnold said. “We also provide restorative services – like lupie yoga, yoga designed specifically for Lupus survivors.”
They have also developed Z’s Survival Kit – a survival kit for Lupus flares. The kit includes compression gloves; squeeze balls, hand warmers and juicing recipes specifically for Lupus and other autoimmune diseases or symptoms.
“It has been an arduous journey, but God knew we had to help people. Now I understand, ‘Zenay, you had to go through this,’” she said, adding that right now her Lupus has gone quiet. Now seven months pregnant, Arnold’s unborn child is helping keep her Lupus in check.
“I am truly a walking miracle, a testament to the fact that you cannot give up or lose hope,” she said. “My son is my supernatural miracle.”
But with the excitement of her pregnancy, Arnold is focused now more than ever on restoring hope, strength, and comfort for those living with Lupus while at the same time continuing to educate others. “We have a great work to do, so much,” she said. “We just want to help people to live now.”
For more information of Zenay Arnold’s story and We Win Foundation, visit here.