At this time last year, 17-year-old Myklyn Balmut had the whole world and the future ahead of her.
She had just graduated as valedictorian of Manteca High School’s Class of 2012. She was on her way to the University of Southern California and as a chemistry major in the freshman honors program. And she was the reigning Miss Manteca.
Before the end of the year, her world came crashing down. The bright future she had envisioned just months before was all of a sudden threatened by a five-letter medical scare she had heard before but whose ugly head she never expected to see blocking the road leading to her dream of becoming a lawyer and eventually pursuing a political career.
That five-letter word was Lupus.
A little fatigue, joint pain and ‘just not feeling well’
The insidious symptoms all began in November 2012 just before the end of her first semester in college. They appeared in the form of fatigue, pain in the joints, and “just not feeling well.”
At first, Mike and Jeanette Balmut did not suspect anything serious when their daughter started complaining about these physical ailments.
“I kept telling her she was stressed, out of shape,” recalled Jeanette who did not see any cause for alarm at this point.
After all, their teen-aged daughter was a young and physically active girl who played three sports throughout all her four years in high school.
“Just suck it up and you’ll be home at Christmas for some much-needed rest,” she told Myklin.
And that’s exactly what her daughter did when she came home for a three-week break during the holidays.
“She rested on the couch almost the entire time,” said Jeanette. But she and her husband began to worry.
“She sure wasn’t herself. She continued to talk about not feeling well and all the pain she was having. She also asked if there was any way she could ‘develop dyslexia’ because nothing was making sense. This was startling because it was so unlike her. We didn’t think much of it but kept it in the back of our memory bank,” Jeanette said.
On January 11 of this year, she drove her daughter back to school in Southern California. But the worst was yet to come.
Battery of blood work; final diagnosis: Lupus
As Jeanette was helping her daughter get settled in her room at the school dorm, she witnessed something that sent chills up her spine.
“I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, her trying to put away something high on the shelf. I saw her body kind of buckle and give out. It sent a chill throughout my body. It just didn’t look right and it beyond scared me,” Jeanette said describing the prelude to the medical nightmare that was about to come.
A week later back in Manteca, Jeanette was awakened by a phone call at 5 o’clock in the morning. It was Myklyn and she was crying.
“She couldn’t open the door to her room. She was crying, telling me she couldn’t walk to the bathroom in her dorm. I was so helpless. I was so scared. I told her she had to make an appointment right way,” Jeanette recalled that scary early morning telephone call from her daughter.
Myklyn told her mother she had already made an appointment at the USC Health Clinic on campus. That was a Thursday.
The campus clinic ran a battery of tests. The following day, the clinic called Myklyn and told her that the X-rays were normal but they were still waiting for the results of the blood work.
It was tense weekend that followed, waiting for the call to come from the clinic.
“On Monday, we received the word: it was lupus,” Jeanette said.
“We were devastated. We had heard of it and we had heard of friends of friends having it, but really, we knew nothing about it.”
Mike, Myklyn’s dad, immediately went into research mode.
“He immediately started researching everything he could,” Jeanette said.
She and her mom, Gayle Pace who lives at Woodbridge at Del Webb in Manteca, didn’t waste time either. They both jumped in the car and raced to be with Myklyn in Los Angeles.
The next day, Tuesday, they were able to get Myklyn to see a specialist at the Southern California Kaiser.
“Since then, it has been bi-monthly appointments, follow-ups, strong medications as well as cardiologists and ultrasounds,” Jeanette said recalling the life-changing events that followed.
“The first thing is getting her well and getting her off the harsh medications they have her on now. Then, hopefully, it will go into a hiatus as a lot of people have told us happens. This has been nothing we could have prepared for,” she said about the extended family’s set of priorities in helping Myklyn get better.
It was a scary time for Myklyn as well.
When the diagnosis came, “I was initially very scared,” she said.
“I had heard of Lupus but I did not know much about it. And, of course, the cases I had heard of were very severe. My mind was full of questions. How bad will this get? How long will it take to be controlled? What is going to happen to me? Will this affect my education? I also began to feel very alone. It was the most alone I had felt my entire freshman year.”
Those “negative thoughts” flooded her mind. A few days later, with her mother and grandmother at her side during her first medical appointment with the specialist, she started thinking positively again.
“This quickly restored my faith. I put my trust in God and knew that everything would be okay,” she said about her mother and grandmother close by her side during that critical time.
But it had been a bumpy second semester for Myklyn at USC with all the medical appointments and medications compounding her studies.
“The second semester was very difficult for me considering Lupus affects the ability to remember, think clearly, and concentrate. I also struggled staying awake late enough to study as much as I am used to,” admitted Myklyn who is back home to Manteca after finishing her final exams last week.
Long-term and short-term hopes and dreams
The ugly head that unexpectedly reared its head on the road leading to the fulfillment of Myklyn’s life-long dreams is still there. But she is not as scared anymore as she was six months ago when Lupus gave her young life a rude awakening.
She has met her enemy. But she has chosen not to cower and to take on the medical bull by the horn. The enemy has made her even stronger, more determined to face the future and conquer the world in her own inimitable way.
Thanks to the advances of modern technology and medical research, she is determined more than ever to continue her studies at USC. She intends to remain involved with the USC SILKS team for the Trojan Marching Band. She performed at every game before, during, and after the games. And this fall, she will begin pursuing a double major in International Science and Political Science.
In July, she will be representing Manteca in the Miss California State Competition hosted by Youth Focus, Inc.
In the end, this contest has opened up a new door to another world and a higher calling for Myklyn – being an advocate for the Lupus Foundation. On Sunday, June 9, at 9 a.m. she will be at West Valley College at Fruitvale Avenue is Saratoga, Calif., to take part in the Run and Walk for Lupus. Joining her will be family and friends. But anyone who would like to be part of this fund-raising effort to continue the research in finding a cure for lupus is encouraged to join her group by visiting www.lfnc.org.
And look for Myklyn Grace. That’s her team name.