Lupus Can’t Keep Toni Braxton Off the Stage

R&B superstar Toni Braxton shares strategies for living well with lupus—and why she won’t stop performing.

Ellen Byron
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Grammy-winner Toni Braxton has had a whirlwind year, but she’s not complaining. When you’re releasing an album, writing a memoir (Unbreak My Heart, due in March) and chasing after two boys (Denim, 11, and Diezel, 10), it all comes with the territory. Looking at her, you’d never guess just a few years ago a health scare threatened her career.

In 2008, Toni collapsed while performing in Las Vegas. In the emergency room, doctors first thought she’d had a ‘baby heart attack.’ “Twenty-three percent of my microvalves and the small blood vessels in my heart were receiving no oxygen,” Toni recalls. Further testing led to a diagnosis. “The blood work was undeniable,” she says. “It showed I have lupus.”

Toni discovered lupus is a lifelong disease in which the immune system attacks healthy tissue. It affects about 1.5 million Americans, mostly women, and causes a range of symptoms, from rashes and joint pain to inflammation of the heart, lungs and other organs. “For some, it’s their skin and scalp,” Toni notes. “For me, it’s internal. It loves my heart. It’s like it wants to sit there and say, ‘Hi,’ and hang out.”

“They said I shouldn’t perform”
Since her lupus diagnosis, Toni has learned to manage her disease with medication and lifestyle changes, including adopting more heart-healthy habits. She follows a metabolism-revving diet, not to lose weight but “because it helps me make better choices.” Toni also exercises daily, doing gentle workouts, like walking on a treadmill or around the neighborhood, to avoid taxing her body.

Still, there are times when her lupus symptoms return with full force. In December 2012, Toni was hospitalized when a lupus flare caused blood clots, resulting in a crisis that challenged not only her health but also her career. “The doctors said performing wasn’t something I should do,” Toni reveals. Faced with the prospect of forced retirement, the singer grew depressed.

“Retire? No way!”
Luckily, Toni’s loved ones stepped in. “I was becoming dark,” she says. “My friends did a ‘Toni outreach program’ and said, ‘We’ve got to get you out of this phase.’ They really helped me,” shares Toni. “I was so tired of being scared. I decided I’m not going to retire; I’m going to live and enjoy life!”

Case in point: Toni has been busy making a duet album (to be released in December) with legendary music producer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. But she almost passed on the opportunity. “Babyface said, ‘Let’s do an album together,’ ” Toni recalls. “But I fought him on it, and he said it would be therapeutic.”

The result? “It was the best thing I’ve done in five years,” gushes the singer-songwriter. “It’s called Love, Marriage and Divorce—which is my life!”

October 2013