In 2016, more than 2,000 people in Kern County were diagnosed with Valley Fever.
Valley Fever advocate Julie Solis and survivors gather once a month at a community garden on the corner of Eye and K streets.
“A lot of people are battling this illness and it’s a long-term illness,” Solis said. “So people feel isolated and so we found this neighborhood garden and we come out here and we gather and garden.”
Before leaves are raked and weeds are pulled, the group sits down and talks about what legislators are doing to help bring awareness.
“We were just in Sacramento on Thursday,” Solis said. “A handful of survivors went, we met with assemblyman Rudy Salas, who’s been, he’s a champion for Valley Fever. And so we were just there discussing the legislation and getting ideas and working together and brain storming on how we can help.”
Valley Fever is caused by inhaling air that is contaminated by infected soil containing a fungus.
Sharon Uyeoka was diagnosed in 2016.
“When the doctor came to release me, he asked me, ‘has anyone ever told you that you have like a two inch nodule on your right lung?’ And I (said), ‘no, no.’ and the first word or thing, thought when you here that is cancer,” Uyeoka said.
But it wasn’t cancer. Days later Uyeoka was diagnosed with Valley Fever.
Pete Cortez was diagnosed in 1988. Thirty years later, the disease still affects his day to day life.
“I’m up at three in the morning to go to dialysis Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” Cortez said.
Pain and fatigue aside, the garden brings peace and community.
“It’s very uplifting that you’re motivated to have this done and then with the other people coming in and hearing their stories,” Uyeoka said. “It’s just a community effort to make sure we get the word out about Valley Fever.”
The next meeting is scheduled Feb. 10 from noon until 2 p.m at the garden.
For more information, you can contact Solis on Facebook.