Celebrating life in the face of a life-changing disease


published November 27, 2013

Celebrating life in the face of a life-changing disease

by Mercedes Pitzer

Rachel (front, pig tails and purple robe) in the hospital 30 years ago

For the past 30 years, Rachel Neutzling of St. Cloud has been engaging in the fight against lupus. She sees every day as a blessing and truly lives life to the fullest, but for her, that 30-year mark was really something to celebrate. This is her remarkable story.

Neutzling was diagnosed at the age of nine on December 28, 1983. She had been experiencing high fevers, severe weight loss, dizziness, and rashes. Originally, doctors thought that she might have Scarlet fever. However, after a reaction to a medication landed her in the hospital, a team of puzzled medical professionals decided to test her for lupus.

Once it was confirmed that Neutzling did in fact have lupus, her life was forever changed. Throughout the years, Neutzling has dealt with the many daily struggles that stem from this disease.

“I have had four hip replacements due to ongoing steroid use, so joint pain is recurring,” Neutzling said.

Although this is a significant downside to lupus, the biggest frustration she explained, comes when she gets sick more frequently than the average person due to her suppressed immune system. Many people will often mention how she does not look sick or suggest ways to make her immune system stronger in order to fight infections. “Some people just don’t understand that we don’t have a stronger immune system,” Neutzling said.

Rachel (front, orange jersey) with friends and family at her "Celebration of Life"

To commemorate her 30th anniversary of living with lupus, Neutzling decided to host a celebratory fundraiser. What’s more appropriate than celebrating life itself in the face of such a life-altering disease? “Too often we focus on the negative aspects,” Neutzling said, “when we should be grateful for what has gone well.”

Among other things, she is especially grateful for advancements in medicine, being able to walk regardless of how many surgeries she has had, and being blessed with her 14-year-old son after being told that she would probably never have children.“[My son] fills my soul and I thank God every day for proving those doctors wrong,” Neutzling said.

The Celebration of Life fundraiser was held on September 28, in Cold Spring. Through donations and a silent auction, the event raised approximately $1,400 for the Lupus Foundation of Minnesota (LFM). Neutzling felt that all proceeds should go to LFM because she wanted to help others living with lupus.

Ten years ago, Neutzling also celebrated 20 years of living with lupus, but it was a smaller celebration with karaoke and all. With this being her first time hosting a fundraiser, Neutzling was not sure what to expect. Originally, it was going to be a simple celebration with family and friends, but once it was suggested to put on a silent auction, and with a lot of help from loved ones, it ended up being a much bigger success than anticipated. While most of the attendees were family and friends, Neutzling said that she plans on doing it bigger and better next time. Perhaps hosting a fundraiser to celebrate another 30 years?

After all was said and done, Neutzling described what the best part of the fundraiser was for her: “The most rewarding part of the event was being able to celebrate life with a chronic illness, despite the obstacles, and to witness the amazing support and generosity of my family and friends – I am blessed.”

When Neutzling is not spending time with family and friends or fundraising, she works as a special education teacher at ROCORI Middle School. While constantly giving back to the community, Neutzling’s story reminds us all that life, even with a chronic disease, is worth celebrating!

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