After being diagnosed with the autoimmune disease, Driver woman Joan Blanchard is working to raise awareness of scleroderma, which affects an estimated 300,000 Americans.
After being diagnosed with the autoimmune disease, Driver woman Joan Blanchard is working to raise awareness of scleroderma, which affects an estimated 300,000 Americans.

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Driver woman helps fight scleroderma

Published 8:59pm Monday, March 17, 2014

“Sclero-what?” That was the standard response when Driver’s Joan Blanchard was diagnosed with scleroderma, an autoimmune rheumatic disease.

After a sudden onset — which is typical of the disease — and months of debilitating pain, swelling and deep fatigue, along with other “queer physical abnormalities,” Blanchard said she was lucky to be diagnosed early.

“It’s fast, and it’s furious,” she said of the condition’s initial stages. “For some people, the diagnosis is harder.”

But her diagnosis allowed Blanchard to get ahead of the disease relatively quickly with “the right mix of medications.”

After being forced to stop her photography business, Barefoot Studios, Blanchard has started Scleroderma Suffolk, and she now spends a good deal of time trying to raise awareness of the disease, along with money to fight it.

On Thursday, Scleroderma Suffolk will host Spirit Night at Harbour View Chick-fil-A, 6212 College Drive.

Blanchard is distributing fliers at www.facebook.com/SclerodermaSuffolk, and folks who present a copy of the flier when they purchase a meal during the event will have 10 percent of their sale go to the cause.

There will also be a prize wheel, with contestants paying $1 per spin for a chance to win Chick-fil-A coupons.

Blanchard said she will also have a table there to educate people about the disease.

Meanwhile, Blanchard has organized a car show and one-mile walk, at Bennett’s Creek Park on June 29, from 1 to 5 p.m.

Walk participants will be asked to make a donation of their choosing, while car show entrants will be requested to make a minimum $20 donation.

All funds raised by Scleroderma Suffolk will benefit the Johns Hopkins Scleroderma Center in Baltimore, Md., where Blanchard says she found outstanding support and resources.

After an area doctor diagnosed her, Blanchard said, she came across the specialized center while searching for resources online.

“I called them on Thursday, and they said, ‘Can you be here Monday?’” she said. “I was, like, ‘Hell yeah!’ I walked out of there feeling like I wasn’t going to die. They have been a lifeline for me.”

The Johns Hopkins’ center hosts Scleroderma Day, which Blanchard said inspired her to form her group and reach out to the Suffolk community.

Blanchard says she has her heart and lung function checked regularly, as well as regular blood work, and she is managing the disease.

The disease, which most commonly manifests in hardening of the skin, affects about 300,000 Americans, according to the Scleroderma Foundation, with symptoms ranging from mild to life threatening.

For more information on the Suffolk event, or on the disease, visit www.sclerodermasuffolk.com.

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