New Cabot group supports autoimmune-disease patients

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published January 17, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 16, 2013 at 10:15 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Trish Calhoun prepares to draw blood from one of the airmen at the Little Rock Air Force Base. Calhoun, a lab tech at the base, recently started a support group for people with autoimmune disorders. She was diagnosed with lupus.

— When Austin resident Trish Calhoun was diagnosed with lupus, it was hard for her to know how to vent her feelings.

Calhoun, 40, is always the one her friends run to when they need to talk.

“People even now are uncomfortable talking when things aren’t good,” Calhoun said. “I’m always the person they lean on.”

Calhoun felt lucky that she had her faith to get her through, and she began praying that something good would come of her seemingly bad situation.

“I said, ‘God, help me find the good in this and what lessons you want me to learn,’” Calhoun said.

Soon, she said, people in similar situations began finding her — people at her church or the grocery store, even people she knew from her job as a lab technician at the Little Rock Air Force Base. People had always felt at ease sharing their stories with Calhoun, but now people were opening up even more about their chronic illness.

In October, Calhoun had a conversation that changed everything.

A church member who was not one to talk much approached Calhoun.

“We ended up having a really long conversation, and she shared that she had lupus, too,” Calhoun said. “That was my deciding moment, really. I knew I needed to do something.”

Though she’d seen support groups for people with diabetes or cancer, Calhoun had never seen one for autoimmune disorders or chronic pain.

“They’re just suffering and feeling alone,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun had often wished she’d had someone to vent to during her own rocky diagnosis process. It took more than eight years for doctors to pin down exactly what was going on with the strange rash on her wrist. Soon, Calhoun’s body was shutting down, her liver was inflamed and her heart would start racing for no reason. It took a rheumatologist to finally make the correct diagnosis.

“The group is to give people a place where they can vent, and they can find people who have similar stories so they’re not alone,” Calhoun said.

The group’s name, A.R.I.S.E. and Be Well, stands for awareness, resources, inspiration, support and encouragement. The group meets the second Friday of each month.

The group’s first meeting in January drew a small crowd of five, but Calhoun expects the group to grow as word spreads. Several doctors in the Cabot area have expressed an interest in referring their patients to the group, Calhoun said.

Though she hasn’t had any formal training in counseling, Calhoun’s day job as a lab tech has given her lots of experience talking with patients, which she hopes will transfer to helping her lead the group. After her diagnosis, Calhoun spent as much time as she could reading and studying about lupus and is thankful the team she works with at the Little Rock Air force Base clinic has been so supportive.

Though the support group meets at a church, Calhoun is quick to say that this is not a religious organization.

“God is a big part of my story, for sure, but I know that there are people who are angry with God,” Calhoun said. “This is where we want them to come to find their hope. If they find God in this, that’s wonderful. But I don’t want people to think they’re going to get religion shoved down their throat.”

Calhoun said that after she shared her own story at the inaugural meeting of A.R.I.S.E., everyone quickly loosened up, freely sharing in a way that Calhoun hadn’t expected.

“It was a big stress relief for everyone,” Calhoun said.

Soon, Calhoun hopes to begin a series of fundraisers with the group to help ease the financial burden that can be associated with autoimmune disorders and chronic pain.

The next meeting of A.R.I.S.E. and Be Well will take place at 7 p.m. Feb. 8 at Christ Church, 100 Gateway Drive in Cabot.

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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