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Autoimmune Warrior Angelica Rawls

Rawls is forthright with her oldest children about her medical condition and how Cannabis is beneficial for treatment.

Being a single mother of three children is a full-time job in and of itself. Add in the difficulties of working 40 hours per week as a bank teller and coping with an auto-immune disease like lupus, and it’s no wonder why Angelica Rawls thoroughly enjoys retreating to Cannabis to cope with life’s challenges.

“I feel like an Octomom with eight arms,” laughs Angelica, who is currently studying at Baltimore City Community College (BCCC). “It’s because I’m always juggling 50 million things at once.”

Angelica, or Angel as she is known to her friends, was given an official diagnosis in 2016 after years of finding ways to explain away the symptoms. “It actually started when I was 16,” the 32-year-old from Howard County said. “There was a spot in my hair where it didn’t grow. At the time, I thought it might be from a fight I got in with a girl in school.”

Lupus is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own organs, causing fatigue, stiffness, muscle pain and much more. For some patients, the widespread inflammation can also extend to the skin, causing alopecia, the medical term for baldness.

“It’s taken a lot of my hair,” Angelica said. “That’s why you always see me wearing wigs.”

Stress can exacerbate her symptoms. So it’s important for Angelica to have a consistent schedule. She begins each weekday waking her three children: Amaya, an aspiring 12-year-old artist, Elijah, a 10-year-old with visions of playing in the NBA, and Aliyah, a happy-go-lucky three-year-old with a penchant for singing and dancing. She’ll then medicate with a sativa-hybrid like Santa Cruz Blue Dream, relaxing her body and energizing her mind for a day of work. She then sends the kids off to school.

“I use Backwoods, or Good Times’ wraps, banana-flavored,” she said. “Blunts, joints, edibles, topicals, sweeteners – I’ve tried them all. Really, I’ll go with anything that can mellow me out and make the pain go away.” 

Past lupus “flare-ups” have left her debilitated, forced to walk by way of crutches. Cannabis helps her chase away these flare-ups, which can include muscle pain in the neck, shoulders, arms and thighs. However, a strong mindset helps her overcome the inevitability of it all – good and bad.

“Lupus kills,” she said, adding that she wanted to leave a legacy for her kids. “Now I’m not saying I’m going to die tomorrow. Hopefully, it’s 40 or 50 years down the road. But when I’m gone, I want my kids to have something tangible to hold onto. These are the things that drive me.” 

Angel has encouraged her children to try out for sports teams, and travel as often as time and money allow. Just last month, the four traveled to the Bronx together, seeing a region of the country they had never seen before.

“I want to make memories with them; that’s important to me,” said Angel, who currently resides in Owings Mills. “Some kids don’t ever leave Maryland. I want my kids to be different. I want them to travel abroad and have opportunities other kids don’t.” 

Fearlessness is a trait she would like to instill in them. 

She recently fulfilled a childhood dream, serving as an extra in the movie “Hell in My Life: The Stacy Staxx Story.” And her path to college education was born out of a conversation with her kids when the pandemic forced them to take their schooling online. “I told them, ‘I’m never going to ask you to do something I wouldn’t do,’” she recalled. “So I jumped on the computer and started taking classes. Now they see Mommy doing virtual learning, too.”

“I just try to tell them to put forth their best effort,” she added. “If you love something, go for it.” 

Angel is open and forthright with her oldest children about her medical condition and how Cannabis is beneficial for treatment. At 12 and 10, she believes they deserve to be informed.

“When they were younger, Mommy was just smoking her ‘brown cigarettes,’” she laughs. “But now they know it’s my medicine. We have conversations about it.”

From time to time, Angel also converses online with fellow lupus sufferers. Should time allow for it, one day she’d like to go on charity walks and raise awareness for those suffering in pain. For now, she is content in trying to make the most of each day – something her emotional support dog Precious and cat Midnight make all the easier.

“I show up on life’s terms,” said Angel. “Who else is going to do it? No one. It’s my life. I’ve gotta be the one to do it.”

A homeowner by 30, Angel has begun to take a long-term view of her family’s future, chasing a dream to become a diagnostic sonographer – one who takes medical images of patients like herself – before moving to Florida, where she would love to open up a family practice.  

“I see it now … a nice house with a pool and palm trees in my front yard,” she smiled. “That’s my idea of an ideal life.”

No matter rain or Sunshine State, Angel is determined to push forward. The rain, she says, can negatively impact her lupus, so she prefers the rays of the sun. If it’s not in the sky, though, Angel promises her attitude will brighten the day. 

“I take good days as they come,” she said. “But each day, I wake up and I push forward so that I can leave my mark on this world. I want my kids to be proud of their mom. And I want to be seen as an advocate for other single moms.”

This article was originally published in the January 2023 issue of Maryland Leaf.

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