Professionally, Chloe Barlow is an attorney at law, but after receiving a diagnosis of lupus, she rekindled her childhood love for writing as a means to cope with her illness.
“I first started having symptoms when I was 12, but they were always very mysterious,” said Chloe in the blog of the Lupus Foundation of America. “I wanted to overlook it so I never fought terribly hard for a diagnosis until I met my husband.”
“We spent the day on the beach out in the sun and when he proposed to me that night, he couldn’t even put the ring on my finger,” said Chloe. “I didn’t want to be different or sick. I told him I didn’t think he’d want me if I was broken.”
The two were married for 8 years before Chloe was diagnosed with the disease whose symptoms became most apparent during her freshman year in law school when the stress of school began to take its toll on her immune system. When she first started seeing physicians, she was told she had leukemia. It was only 4 years later, when her skin began forming lesions (that she and her husband took as merely sunburns) that she developed a severe systemic infection that depressed her immune system and nearly took her life. After undergoing what seemed an endless barrage of tests, including skin, lip, and bone marrow biopsies, she was finally given a diagnosis of lupus and Sjögren’s syndrome.
“We went home and opened a bottle of champagne. There wasn’t any room for fear anymore,” Chloe said. As serious as the diagnosis was, it was also a relief. Finally having an answer meant they could move forward with their lives and learn how to keep her symptoms under control.
“I found the Lupus Foundation of America and read issues of Lupus Nowmagazine cover to cover,” said Chloe. “Participating in the Walk to End Lupus Now™ was really the turning point. You’re always an ‘other’ when you have lupus. But seeing these people and teams thriving, it’s more powerful than it seems like it would be on paper.”
While finally knowing what her condition really was helped them get started on receiving appropriate treatment, the ordeal began to affect her marriage. Chloe shares that they turned into “health machines. Everything is appointments and treatments and you forget that you’re a couple who loves each other. We were so focused on me surviving that we didn’t live our lives. So every week we’d go somewhere in Pittsburgh we’d never gone.” These trips helped Chloe and her husband cope better, and eventually became an important element in her romance novels.
“Any marriage faces challenges,” said Chloe. “I’m glad we came out so much stronger. Having strain and conflict can help bring you closer together.”
Her writing never directly touched on the disease, but she used her passion as a means to channel her own feelings of helplessness, disappointment and frustration for all the times she received an inaccurate diagnosis, and for the trials she and her husband had to endure while receiving treatment. She used these experiences as a way to make her fictional characters seem more genuine and relatable.
“There’s no way I would be able to write with the amount of empathy I have now if I hadn’t gone through this. The sense of not knowing, of terror about the future, the desire to control things and not be able to,” said Chloe. “It wasn’t just having an outlet, but the messages I got from people who were helped by my books. Knowing that I went through all of that and could give voice to the things that they’ve gone through has helped me.”
“Lupus is a part of who I am. It’s how I became myself. It’s just one more thing that I struggle with at times but makes me proud that we were able to make it through this.”