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Toni Braxton on how her battle with lupus landed her in the hospital

Business Insider logo Business Insider 3/4/2020 Isabella Paoletto
Toni Braxton standing in front of a stage © Jamie Lamor Thompson/Shutterstock
  • Grammy-winning singer Toni Braxton spoke to Business Insider last week about her longtime battle with lupus and how the autoimmune disease has affected her personal life and career.
  • Braxton also discussed her partnership with co-founder Garrett Greller's CBD and hemp topical brand Uncle Bud's, and how CBD has helped her cope with lupus.

When Toni Braxton was first diagnosed with systemic lupus in 2008, doctors told her that she would need a heart transplant and might never be able to perform again.

"I remember being petrified," Braxton said in a phone interview with Business Insider. "I was scared. I didn't know anything about lupus."

While a few days later doctors told Braxton she luckily wouldn't need a heart transplant, her uphill battle with the autoimmune disease was only just beginning.

According to the Lupus Research Alliance, a private funder for lupus research based in New York City, lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect the joints, skin, brain, lungs, kidneys, and blood vessels, and can eventually lead to tissue or organ damage and other diseases, like heart disease and kidney disease.

Lupus also disproportionately affects women, and especially women of color. About every nine out of 10 adults with lupus are women, with African American women being three times more likely than white women to be diagnosed with lupus.

Since her diagnosis in 2008, Braxton has developed microvascular angina and blood clots.

But that hasn't stopped the 52-year-old Grammy-nominated singer, who recently finished her As Long As I Live tour in 2019 while battling lupus.

"Of the lupuses, I have the worst - but of the worst, I have the best," Braxton said. "I'm always trying to be positive about it."

Braxton said she was able to reach a point where she could perform again by educating herself about the disease and using CBD to cope with her symptoms and flare-ups. She also opened up about how living with lupus has affected her career and personal life.

Garrett Greller, the 23-year-old co-founder of Uncle Bud's CBD products, also joined in on the call from Los Angeles to discuss how his own struggles with arthritis pushed him to create the CBD topical brand.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Isabella Paoletto: To start, I wanted to talk to Toni Braxton about what it was like to be diagnosed with lupus in 2008, and how it's affected her both physically and mentally?

Toni Braxton: When I was first diagnosed with lupus, I remember being petrified. I was scared. I didn't know anything about lupus.

I remember my doctors telling me I needed a heart transplant. I remember that day. I remember having to tell my kids that. But then shortly later, they came and told me a couple days later, that I didn't need a heart transplant, but I did have lupus, and it loved my heart.

As a result I have microvascular angina, I have thick blood, which means that my blood clots. It was a lot of different things. Of the lupuses, I have the worst - but of the worst, I have the best. I'm always trying to be positive about it.

I just started educating myself. They initially said I would never be able to perform, but here I am today performing.

Toni Braxton et al. on a stage © Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Paoletto: I know that lupus can be somewhat difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can be similar to other autoimmune diseases, so how long did it actually take doctors to figure out what was going on with you?

Braxton: I think it took them about five years to completely diagnose me. They didn't know what was going on. I had cases of pericarditis, which is inflammation of the sac of the heart.

It's very tricky, like you mentioned, to diagnose because out of five things, at least three things have to line up at the same time. It's like an eclipse of some sort.

It took them about five years, and once they diagnosed me I remember feeling relieved and frightened at the same time, but also very fortunate. Like I said, I'm always trying to find the silver lining. I'm very fortunate that I was able to learn about it and help myself and live through this crisis. I think in life sometimes you get things, but it's okay.

I refuse to be a victim about it, but sometimes I do have good and bad days. And for me I think what GG (Garrett) has invented with Uncle Bud's has been really great for me and my family.

Paoletto: I know you suffered from arthritis, so I was just wondering how that affected you and eventually inspired you to create Uncle Bud's?

Garrett Greller: I was diagnosed with arthritis at the young age of 14, in my knees, back, hips, and ankles. I tried all of the prescription medications, other alternatives, things to try and alleviate that pain, but nothing worked for me.

I came across a Sanjay Gupta documentary that talked all about CBD. I educated myself a little but about it, I was only a junior in high school at that time, and I gave to my parents a four page essay on Sanjay Gupta, on this documentary, to educate them a little bit about CBD and maybe they would let me try it.

I tried CBD for the first time and it was the only thing that worked for me. It took my pain away right away. I was able to be active again, and that's when I knew I needed to start a brand that everyone could access, that's affordable, and a brand that's trusted.

Braxton: And it smells super yummy. I have to add that. You know sometimes when you use topical things and you go, "What is that?," but you don't say that with this, you go, "Ooo what is that?" Not a Justin Bieber yummy, but it's yummy. [laughs]

Paoletto: So how old were you when you launched the company?

Greller: I formulated the first product when I was a sophomore in college, and then I teamed up with this amazing team of people who have over 25 years of retail experience in launching products and building a brand, and they helped me bring Uncle Bud's to life, to where it is, over this past 15 months.

We're now in over 13,000 retail locations internationally, from your GNCs to your Vitamin Shop to your Khols to your Urban Outfitters. Our goal from the beginning was to teach people about hemp and CBD and to really have an affordable brand that anyone could have access to at these retailers or online.

Paoletto: What has it been like to watch your vision and brand grow and be sold in places like Urban Outfitters?

Greller: It's really a dream come true. I've always been an entrepreneur. I started selling duct tape wallets when I was a 12-year-old.

Braxton: Really?! [laughs]

Greller: I've done all types of things, and this was truly amazing because I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but never did I think that it would come out of a solution for a problem that I had. That's when I realized that I had this opportunity to help other people with a product and a brand, and it's just amazing.

It's a dream come true to see it in these retailers, and to see it on four billboards in Times Square, and to be working with such legends like Toni Braxton. I never could have imagined it.

Paoletto: That's amazing. So, Toni, what treatments had you tried before CBD, and why did you decide to try CBD?

Braxton: For me, it wasn't a lot of things I was turning to because everything was all prescription medications. I was often over medicated, I found. I said, "I'm taking all these medications, I need something else," and for me Uncle Bud's was a great alternative because it's natural and it works.

And it doesn't get you high - that was important to me as a mom.

Paoletto: What was the difference in how you felt once you started using CBD? Did you notice a difference right away?

Braxton: Well, Uncle Bud's is not a medication, it's more of a topical salve, I like to call it. But the prescription medications I was on, I remember sometimes feeling sluggish. There's all these side effects to a lot of different things. And I'm not telling people, "Oh, don't take your medications," that's not what I'm suggesting.

I think you should talk to your doctor, but I think it's an alternative. If you're achy, if you have chronic pain, try it.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Toni Braxton (@tonibraxton) on Nov 7, 2019 at 5:29pm PST

Paoletto: I actually have family members with lupus, so I know that it can be difficult to watch your loved ones deal with the disease. I was just wondering how it affected your personal life. I know you have two sons, what was it like for them?

Braxton: You know, sometimes I'll be in a flare and I'll have to go to the hospital and I didn't tell my kids initially, you know I would tell them, "Oh, I'm going to hang out at auntie Jada's," or something like that. I didn't tell them I was going to be in the hospital for a couple of days.

Toni Braxton et al. sitting posing for the camera © Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

It doesn't really have a "look" when you have lupus. Sometimes my mom says she can see it in my eyes, but I'm often trying to pretend that I'm doing great or having a great day because I don't want my family and friends to worry about me, but inside sometimes it's not the best day.

I like to call it "stupid lupus" because I just want to smack it sometimes. It picks on me, I feel like it's a bully, but I manage through it with family and friends. It helps me a lot.

I always try to stay positive, but I can't lie and say everyday I'm positive, but I always try and make it my goal to be positive.

Paoletto: How did your sons react when you did eventually tell them that you have lupus?

Braxton: They were young when I told them. I told them "Mommy has lupus." I told them what it was. I tried to break it down for kids, which was challenging for me to do because I hadn't fully educated myself on the disease. But I told them, "Sometimes mommy has to go to the doctor, sometimes mommy gets tired."

I remember my kid asked me, "Mommy, are you going to die?," and oh that broke me apart. I was like, "Not today, mommy has like, oh another 50 plus years to go son."

You know, I wanted to be positive for my kids. I didn't want them to be afraid because inside I was afraid, and you never want your kids to see that. They worry about me alot and I don't want them to worry about me. I'll often tell them "Oh mom's great" or "I'm good."

a man and a woman posing for a picture © Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Paoletto: I know that genetics can also play a part in getting lupus. Does anyone else in your family have lupus or an autoimmune disease?

Braxton: I think autoimmune diseases run in our family. My brother has an autoimmune disease. My mom's brother had it, so it definitely runs in our family.

I'm living through it, and I have lupus, but it doesn't have me. It's just one day at a time. I'm very lucky that I get to perform and do what I love doing. I can't do five or six shows a week, but I can do three or four shows, probably more like three, but I can do shows and that's a good thing.

Traci Braxton, Towanda Braxton, Evelyn Braxton, Toni Braxton, Tamar Braxton posing for a photo © Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

I can go in the studio, I can perform. I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm very, very fortunate, but like I said I have family and friends who support me, and I'm just very fortunate.

Paoletto: What was it like to transition from being this Grammy-winning artist constantly going on tour to then having lupus and dealing with these flare-ups that make it difficult to perform? How did it affect your career?

Braxton: There have been moments that have definitely affected my career. I remember one time being on stage and having to have a heart monitor because my lupus loves my heart.

I had to have my heart monitor on stage performing, and the pink elephant was in the room and I just had to tell the audience "Okay guys, I have this stupid lupus. I have to have this heart monitor, you know, guys help me un-break my heart."


I made it fun. I took the elephant away. We talked about it a little bit through music, and for me, music is always a big healing property as well.

Gallery: These Possible Triggers Could Explain Why Lupus Attacks Any Part of the Body (Provided by Prevention)

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