When I read that Flannery O’Connor died of Lupus my first thought was, “That is really sad. What is Lupus anyways?”
According to my research it is a systematic autoimmune disease that can affect any part of the body. The official name is “Systemic Lupus Erythematosus” or lupus for short. With this disease the immune system actual turns on the person’s body and it begins to attack itself. This causes inflammation and damages tissues at the site of the attack. Most commonly the systems that are most affected include the heart, joints, skin, lungs, blood vessels, liver, kidney and nervous systems.
This disease is hard to diagnose because of the fact that it could possible affect so many different areas mimicking other possible health issues. This was the case with O’Connor. She had been sick for a while (even had a floating kidney issue) and had been diagnosed with arthritis. She wasn’t officially diagnosed with lupus until 1950 (she found out about the diagnosis in 1952).
Today this disease is treatable, though not curable, and most patients live a long healthy life despite the disease. In O’Connor’s time this was not the case. Being diagnosed with Lupus was a death sentence and usually meant that the person had 5 years to live or less and the death would be a slow painful one. O’Connor knew this fact having watched her dad die from the same disease.
Because of her status O’Connor was able to take the latest and greatest in drugs to treat Lupus and was able to defy statistics by living 14 years with the disease. During this time she completed most of her work writing up to the very end. She did have frequent flares of the disease that caused her great trouble and she was forced to use crutches to walk for the last 9 years of her life.
O’Connor never made a big deal of her disease. She instead focused on the things that mattered most to her. Because of this instead of spending her final years at home mopping she instead set out to write things that would forever change the world. The simple fact that we are reading her book on the list of the 100 greatest novels shows that she accomplished her goal. In 39 short years she accomplished what the average writer cannot accomplish in a lifetime.