The fifth annual Lupus Walk is set to return this weekend to Old City Park after a two-year hiatus.
Set for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Lupus Walk will bring survivors of the auto-immune disease together with friends, family and others interested in raising awareness.
"It's for whoever has lupus, or maybe they know someone who has lupus," said Kesha Lee, vice president of the Lupus Flare Fighters support group. "Every year we get together to do a walk for someone who may have passed from lupus or who is a survivor."
Lee, a 13-year survivor of lupus, said the support group, which was founded about six years ago, meets monthly at The Spot and is open to new members. The last two years have slowed down the Lupus Flare Fighter's activities, she said, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I just got my second booster this past weekend because of how it can really affect us, especially the people who suffer from lung stuff and in their internal organs," she said. "The main thing, probably, would be the lungs, because the COVID really affects your breathing."
Lupus causes a person's immune system to attack their own tissues and organs. Lee explained that the disease can affect different people in different ways; in her case, for example, it's primarily her muscles and joints that are affected.
"For some, it attacks your internal organs or your skin. Your body doesn't know how to fight off its own antibodies," she explained.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most people with lupus face episodes, or flares, when their symptoms worsen.
Lee said this year's Lupus Walk will be a scaled back version of previous events.
"It's our first year coming back from the pandemic and we didn't want to overcrowd people," she said. "It would normally be a huge event. We normally have, like, a band there, the mayor always comes and does a proclamation there -- she's going to do it again this year --; we normally have vendors, but not this year; and we normally have praise dancers."
However, the Lupus Flare Fighters do hope to continue to grow the event in the future.
"Our goal is to get it on the Square one day, like they did Paint the Town Pink," Lee said, referring to the #teamcorrie Cancer Foundation's annual 5K held during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. "We want to paint the town purple."
Lupus awareness is often symbolized by a purple butterfly, a reference to a characteristic facial rash many lupus patients develop as a symptom of the disease.
On Saturday, Lee said, those who attend the Lupus Walk will be asked to walk four laps around the Old City Park track.
"That would be a mile, and when they get done, we're going to honor them with a free lupus bracelet," Lee said.
Also planned for Saturday's walk are free hot dogs courtesy of Sonic Drive-In and free chips and water for walkers.
The Lupus Flare Fighters will also hold a balloon release during the walk Saturday to honor those who have died as a result of the disease, as well as those who continue to fight.
"Out of our group, I think we have had three that passed away," Lee said.
Lupus is treatable, but incurable, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Lee said anyone interested in joining the Lupus Flare Fighters can join their Facebook group or contact her at 870-918-5967.