Six-year medical misdiagnosis fuels her art campaign promoting Lyme disease awareness | SierraSun.com

Six-year medical misdiagnosis fuels her art campaign promoting Lyme disease awareness

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention characterize Lyme disease as a bacterial infection transmitted through insect bites of infected backlegged ticks.

"They are so small, microscopic, about the size of a pinhead," said local artist and owner of ARTrageous Contemporary Art & Photography, Anasticia Chantler-Lang, whose life was halted and changed forever when she unknowingly contracted Lyme disease in 2008.

"Am I symptom free, today? No. Am I in debt? Yes. Could I still die from this? Yes.," Chantler-Lang said of the disease's impact on her, almost 10 years later.

"Awareness is key. I don't want to see anyone else go through this traumatically horrifying disease that is entirely preventable. So I am doing everything I can to share my story and help others who are still struggling."

Chantler-Lang hails from Toronto, Canada, and was in upstate New York in 2008 working in the fashion industry as a handbag designer, who also did bodybuilding. She noticed a bruise on her thigh one day, assumed she must've hit something accidentally while at the gym, and went about her life.

"Two weeks later I was violently ill. Sweating, fever, convulsions, vomiting, muscle and bone pain, anxiety — it got to the point where I was bed-ridden and basically dying." Chantler-Lang said.

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She was given a tetanus vaccine that she later learned had sent her immune system into overdrive and subsequently crashed, failing to fight the Lyme disease, which was able to rampantly spread through her body.

Visit after visit with medical professionals, they hadn't pinpointed Lyme disease.

"The doctor told me I had heavy metal poisoning from the vaccine," Chantler-Lang said. "So they were treating me for the metal poisoning, but I was just getting sicker and sicker."

After visiting with another naturopath in Canada, Chantler-Lang heard the first mention of Lyme disease, unfortunately, there was only one place in California to have a test done to know for sure.

Chantler-Lang tested positive for Lyme disease six years after being bitten in New York.

"Treatment for Lyme disease is excruciatingly expensive and entirely out-of-pocket; there is no insurance coverage," she said.

Without insurance coverage, Chantler-Lang said she and millions of others are forced to pay enormous costs for treatment; something she would like to see addressed among government officials.

"People are literally dying due to inadequate awareness, inadequate diagnosis and treatment of this disease. I lost everything on this journey; my house, my things, I was living out of my car and dying," she said.

The effects that the disease had on her body were detrimental, stopping her small intestine as her large intestine was also failing; Chantler-Lang said her lymphatic fluids had crystallized and she was on the verge of kidney failure.

"I knew, I was going to die," she said. "But I also knew that if I'm going to die, I'm going to die trying to fight this and make changes so no one else has to go through this."

One constant through the emotional, financial and physical turmoil of her diagnosis was her passion for art.

"I got my master's degree in psychology, did fashion in Japan and handbags in New York, but I always had the most passion for art and drawing; I always had the energy and space for that," Chantler-Lang said.

As she works through rehabilitation of Lyme disease even now, she is motivated by a larger purpose than she ever imagined. Now, Chantler-Lang uses her mixed-media artwork to generate funds for the Hand in Hand for Lyme nonprofit foundation.

"Through Hand in Hand you can support people who can't afford their treatment for Lyme disease, or who've lost everything trying to survive," she explained.

Chantler-Lang donates proceeds from her events and art sales to Hand in Hand for Lyme in order to ease some of the financial burden that patients face. She is a board member with the organization and works to promote awareness of the disease to hopefully make it more commonly recognized, diagnosed, and better treated.

"Thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people are going through this and until the government bodies acknowledge the need for precise diagnoses and treatment with methodologies, I don't know where we'll be — will we have an epidemic? Pandemic? What about our children? We need to do something about this," she said.

The disease also affected Chantler-Lang's artwork; after contracting Lyme she was very sensitive to chemicals and was forced to find a new way of creating her vivid pieces. She now uses pastels, pencils and non-chemical mediums to create the original piece, which is then digitized and infused onto metal sheets without a fixative.

Her contemporary pieces are displayed at The Stevenson Gallery in Kings Beach and New Moon in Truckee. Starting June 1, Chantler-Lang will be a resident artist at Cobalt Art Studio in Incline Village.

She has been openly reaching out to spread the word on Lyme disease awareness and was recently featured in a Hyundai Motors online commercial in her plight.

Hearing Chantler-Lang's story is chilling as she likens her symptoms to the movie "Alien", not knowing what was going on with her body. She said that the disease ruins people's lives and she wants to be a positive force in combatting the disease.

"We can't stop living our lives, but we can be aware," she said, suggesting that people avoid skin exposure in areas where ticks are found, use insect repellant, immediately wash clothes and take a hot shower after being in grassy areas where deer are seen, and frequently check for ticks.

"Productive lives are being taken because of this disease, and everyone is a bite away," she said.

Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at cwalker@sierrasun.com, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.

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ARTrageous Contemporary Art & Photography

Anasticia Chantler-Lang is the artist and owner of ARTrageous who creates MIXED MASH art using pastels, oil pastels, pen and marker, acrylics and colored pencils in her works which contribute to Hand in Hand for Lyme. Visit http://www.artrageous.info for more.

Hand in Hand for Lyme is a nonprofit organization that helps Lyme patients in crisis. Visit http://www.handinhandforlyme.com for more.