My Own Autoimmune Journey

by Dominika Borovansky Gaines

I’ve always considered myself to be strong and resilient.  I’ve been athletic most of my life. We moved a lot in my childhood and traveled in my teens and I adapted well to all the changes.

I had few doctor’s visits outside of well-checks.  Good teeth, strong bones, good muscle tone.  I did have yearly bouts of strep throat, but no one thought too much about that — a round of antibiotics would do the trick. I also remember in my pre-teens that I had cradle cap on my scalp.

During my teens I developed mild, cystic acne.  It would flare around my menstrual cycle and when I was under a lot of stress (extra work from dance performances or papers due).  When I started college, I visited a dermatologist and she put me on Tetracycline.  While it did not completely resolve my skin problems, I took it for several years.

In my 30s, I had chronic sinusitis, which would become very bad during the fall and spring allergy seasons. Treatment? Antibiotics.

Flash forward to 2003.  I am 40.  I have a young child, I’ve started a movement studio and I folded my dance company the prior year.  I’m not getting enough sleep, I’m not eating well, I’ve stopped my own movement practice for lack of time and I don’t know how to ask for help. I developed lesions all over my lower face. These spread to my hairline and my hair fell out in those areas.  I developed yet more lesions on my upper chest and upper back.

Diagnosis: Discoid Lupus. 

My dermatologist prescribed a course of Prednisone and told me to stop breastfeeding.  I weaned my child with great sadness and took the drugs.  They didn’t help.

As well as diagnosing the disease, the new dermatologist told me that I also had Polymorphous Light Sensitivity and that I could never go outside in the sun again without sun protection.  I should wear 100 SPF and always wear sun-protective clothing and hats. 

I went to a chiropractor who did Acupuncture treatments and ran blood tests. The acupuncture made me feel better, though it was temporary.  The test results showed food sensitivities, so he prescribed a radically different diet.  I was in shock and SO overwhelmed.  I was already struggling with keeping all the balls in the air and now I needed to CHANGE my diet?

I’ll tell you now that I absolutely LOVE bread and cheese.  These were my go-to, comfort foods.  I’d pick them over desserts most days.  I loved all kinds of cheeses, cream in my coffee, ice cream.  Adored nachos.  Bagels with melted cheese were a breakfast staple.  Pizza was a weekly dinner.

When I danced a lot and danced hard, I would sweat a lot.  I think that’s partly how my body rid itself of the toxins from food sensitivities.  But when I stopped dancing and moved less, there was no place for the stuff to go. It came out on my skin.

In 2005 I landed at a naturopath, to whom I go to this day.  He started me on some naturopathic remedies.  While it was a slow and long healing process, it brought me back from the precipice.  A few years later I started seeing another chiropractor and, with his help, began the difficult process of changing my diet.

Initially I was able to go gluten-free by switching to a more plant-based diet and supplementing with protein shakes.  The first round of the protocol took me 6 weeks to complete.  It took me 3 years to eliminate dairy.  After 10 years, I’m able to tolerate small amounts of many of the foods I had to stop eating. I also DO go in the sun without sunscreen but I’m mindful of the time of day and for how long.

As challenging as this journey has been, my skin, as the largest organ in my body, telegraphs my well-being to me to this day.  If I eat too much of any of my irritants, I can tell immediately. My eyes get gritty with corn. I’ll develop small cysts with cheese or wine. I’ll become congested in my sinuses from dairy. I bloat from soy products. I’ll itch from gluten.

I am definitely a “sensitive” person. I need to be constantly mindful of how I am nourishing my body. I’ve recently discovered that exercising too hard is as stressful for me as not moving at all. I need quiet time. And most of all, I need to get adequate sleep. Thankfully, through this journey and armed with this knowledge, I have been in remission from the lupus for the past 9 years. 

2 thoughts on “My Own Autoimmune Journey

  1. Thank God, Dominika. I was aware that you had health issues and really were sensitive. But I also knew that you had the discipline to work as long and as hard as you did. I am thrilled that you are in remission and do not take your foot off that pedal when it comes to taking care of yourself. I do hope that your calm demeanor is internalized and is a further aid in your recovery to remission.

    Best personal regards,

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