When Life Gives You Limes

People often use the expression, “when life gives you lemons” when things aren’t going quite right, you’re likely familiar with the phrase? Well, humor me as I explain why I’d like to adapt the statement to, “when life gives you limes.”

In my opinion, lemons are tasty and you can do so much with them, many options being super simple! For example, of course you can make lemonade, then there is lemon cake, lemon bread, lemon cookies, pie, and more! I mean lemons are great for tea, detoxing, or simply put in your water. Lemons are just so handy, but limes? Limes are a little bit more complicated, they’re slightly more sour and although you can use them in drinks and recipes, it’s not quite as common, kind of like chronic illnesses – complex and uncommon.

That said, I have quite a few limes in my life. I’ve been diagnosed with over 10 chronic illnesses, a handful of which are seriously debilitating and progressive. I’ve had to take medical leave from the school of my dreams, now having watched my classmates graduate without me, and put my future goals on hold. Because of my symptoms– mostly nausea, pain, and fatigue– most days I am not even able to leave home and I spend majority of my time in my bed resting and sleeping.

I have new limes thrown at me every time a doctor gives me a new diagnosis, every time a treatment doesn’t work, and every time I wake up feeling worse than I did the day before. However, I’ve learned to take these limes and use them to help me find all of the gifts in life, all of the things that I am so thankful for. When you’re given challenges, sour moments, it really teaches you to be so much more thankful for every little moment or object that makes you feel joy.

Some of the sweet things in my life that regularly help me get through the sour moments include my dogs, Baxter & Dexter, my family, good music, and my online support network. There are also little gifts day to day like a 75 degree day, a special visitor or getting something in the mail, being able to take a walk, an Epsom salt bath, taking a drive and seeing pretty scenery, etc. Lots of small things bring me joy, and I am so appreciative of every happy moment I am given.

I’ve had a lot of curveball limes recently, broken tubes, line infections, flare ups of pain and nausea, exhaustion, and doctor troubles to name a few, but I’ve learned to put up walls that keep all of this from affecting me too much, only allowing through the smallest amounts of stress or worry possible – the last thing I need on top of my illness happenings? Extra limes.

Learning to filter out some of the extra stressors, even the smallest things you may hardly notice can make a big difference in the long run. Hold on to every happy moment, every simple pleasure, and let go of negative energy; hold no grudges, and never go to bed or leave your loved ones angry. Forgive, love, laugh, and remember not to waste precious time on trivial issues. When life gives you limes, take a moment to find your own sweet moments and happy thoughts, play your favorite song or cuddle with your dog, text your best friend or your mom, take time to express yourself, share your love and gratitude, spread the joy in random acts of kindness, random words of affection. Life is too short to be sour.

 

Medical Madness: Survival of the Introvert

I’ve always been a bit of an introvert, my parents often tell me that when I was young, my teachers said I hardly spoke a word, I was polite and hardworking, but quiet as a mouse, which my parents thought was odd since I often talked a lot at home J I’m shy and often have trouble making friends, I have always hated confrontation or having people be upset with me. I worry about running late or being in the wrong place at the wrong time… I’ve got a lot of thoughts and opinions and knowledge, but being introverted and having trouble sticking up for myself in tense or questionable situations, it can be a major downfall when you’re living like I do.

Getting sick at such a young age with conditions that so many doctors don’t even know about let alone know how to treat. Since I was young and still living at home, my parents were always with me at doctors appointments – still are today J — and they were able to help me express things fully and ask all of the questions I needed to, ask for help with whatever needed more attention, but I still often got overwhelmed.

Being sick so long I’ve begun running my doctors into retirement, and of course with that comes the need to begin the draining search for new doctors, a task that brings difficulties in many ways. You’d think that after almost 8 years I would be able to do this on my own, to handle doctors and keep focused and calm and get everything out of it that I need, but that’s just not the case. You never know what you’re walking into with new doctors; each has their own protocols for testing and treatments, they believe in different approaches, and you have to explain your history in detail, which gets longer each time.

There are so many biases against girls like me with “invisible illnesses” simply because of my age, gender, and appearance, and the worst part is that those biases and judgments don’t just come from stupid high school kids or young adults, they come from doctors, from insurance, from pharmacies, from all of those who are supposed to be the ones making my life, making my body at least feel a bit more comfortable, a bit more active, a bit more NORMAL.

After a few bad experiences with doctors and nurses and hospitalists, some being members of my own care team, the medical professionals who hold my life in their hands, and that kind of brutal betrayal can lead patients like myself to extreme anxieties and even medical PTSD, which makes finding new doctors a terrible thought, a stressful time for me, and on top of that, I have to be brave enough to get through these appointments feeling like I’m in good hands.

Doctors are supposed to “do no harm,” but that concept is flawed and misinterpreted sometimes; “do no harm” isn’t a pledge meant just to protect us from doctors intentionally causing harm, doing things to make us sick or cause us pain, etc., it means do all you can to help your patients no matter who they are and what they have. There’s so much that happens behind the scenes of the medical system, doctors with prejudices who feel they have a right to be rude and judgmental and negligent when we know something is going on and we are asking for help. Negligence is a crime just as serious as purposeful, physical harm.

Why do you get to decide what I’m feeling, what the symptoms or side effects can or cannot be based on a decade old case study instead of putting trust into the patients, the ones living this, the ones suffering every day while the professionals get to wash their hands and go home without another thought of how their actions or lack there of are affecting us. I may not be a medical professional, but I am definitely a chronic illness expert, and if doctors could truly understand that, we could work together, creating trust and mutual respect.

A wise woman once told me that I need to remember that doctors work for patients. I think doctors forget that and take advantage of their position and their capabilities, the things that only they can do or get their hands on. We need doctors, we need the resources they can give us, but they need us, too, and they need to keep in mind that those of us with chronic illnesses aren’t your average patient, and we know our stuff.  No one knows chronic illnesses better than the patients themselves.

Since there are no options for spoonies to join the medical field based on our personal knowledge and research, it would be incredibly beneficial if our doctors and insurance agencies and dieticians, pharmacists, etc. would take us seriously and use our advice, consult with us more so than just making the decision and saying that’s that.

We do so much of the work, so much of the research, and all of the first hand experience, yet we still rely on the “professionals” who are making these decisions without listening to the answers we are offering.

A Fighting Week

I hit obstacle after obstacle this week, every day having a new curveball, each more stressful than the last, and each having something to do with my health or the medical system.

I’ve worked tirelessly playing middleman between pharmacist and doctor, nurse and doctor, nurse and pharmacist, new pharmacist and informed pharmacist, and the ignorance from those who are trained professionals yet uninformed and unable to help –   things that  should not occur together – those of us battling chronic illnesses or the illnesses themselves.

This life is incredibly hard, so complex and misunderstood. I often feel like I’m lost in a crowd, invisible to the world, a case number, a file in a folder on a computer, maybe not even a hard copy, these days who knows? However,, to survive, to keep myself going, I have to try to find joy in each day and as many simple pleasures as possible, because we never know what tomorrow will bring.

Yesterday I found out that a friend, a spoonie sister, a newbie tubie volunteer, passed away unexpectedly. This news just shocked me, I’m at a loss for words, for thoughts, I’m not sure it’s even hit me fully.

Though I never met Tara in person, we talked often both online and via text, &  the bond between all of our spoonie sisters is something I don’t think anyone else can understand. Tara was a bright and enthusiastic part of the online spoonie community. She was always peppy and smiling, she shared her experiences with others to help them know what was coming their way, and she was never afraid to speak her mind.

It’s terrifying and shocking every time we lose a sister, it’s heartbreaking losing her, and it is scary for each of us, a “it could have been any of us, it could have been me,” moment. It never gets easier, it’s a daunting feeling, it’s impossible to put into words what it is like living with fears like this every day when you’re barely even an adult . We’ve lost some girls who were 16 years old, so imagine being in high school and worrying about dying unexpectedly, not waking up, wondering what your family will do, how will they cope?

I know this may sound morbid, but this is the reality that so many of us live in, and this isn’t the worst of it, but if you are reading, you must want to know about chronic illnesses or about me, and this is part of that. I can’t be 100% positive, it’s not possible, so I’m sharing some of my raw truth with you.

No one should live in fear, life is unpredictable for everyone, not just chronic illness patients. Accidents happen, illness happens, there are so many risks in life, and even if you don’t take any, you still never know what tomorrow will looks like.

Instead of letting this terrible week or fears of the future hold me back, I am going to do my best to push through and continue to find joy and fun wherever and whenever I can – I know Tara would want that for all of us, she loved having fun, loved adventuring.

So I’m going to continue on with my goals of embracing each moment, loving and appreciating loved ones and never holding onto grudges or judgment, never leaving on a bad note.

Stay tuned to hear more about my upcoming risk-taking adventures.

 

xoxo

Adventures of Mummy & Her Little Tubie

I’m excited to share a post written by one of our Newbie Tubie Mamas who is the mama of a little tubie and agreed to share a bit of her journey with us! This is a great opportunity to read a bit about raising a tubie from the perspective of the mother…

“There were times I’d sit and wonder how the hell we were going to get through this, how can we live like this forever not being able to feed our baby who’s starving and also failing to thrive anyway so needs every bit of milk he can get.

Our little man is now 8 months and has all of his nutrition via a feeding tube. Some days your baby’s screaming for milk and you can’t feed him because you can’t get the right aspirate – this could take us hours. It does get easier I promise!

I’m very lucky my husband is amazing with our children. He’s definitely the more practical thinker and I go into full research mode and sit and think what if. I have managed to tone down the googling – my husband made me promise I’d only google it if the doctor had spoken about it or it was in one of his reports and that really does help. Your then looking at specific information rather than a whole load of case stories of children who have completely different medical histories. I do find that being prepared helps my mental health, but only if I’m preparing for the real thing, not something from google that ends up being way far off from what’s really going on.

It also helps that he’s a very hands on Dad so I know when I’m in hospital with our youngest that the others are safe and happy at home with their Dad who also manages to keep the house going while I’m away. They spend lots of time visiting us because at the moment they’d rather be with us at the hospital but when the time comes that they don’t want to do that anymore we will be respectful of this and put other plans in place.

Our children have been amazing, they find it really tough and it’s so important to remember that this isn’t easy on them, either. They’re young, but they see the complexity, they see when we are upset, they want to know, so we tell them what’s happening but also try and keep their lives as normal as you can. We try and make sure they get to all their clubs, they have friends for tea or we get them on days out as we would have done before.

Siblings are a great gift to our tubie, but we have to make sure that each child feels loved, appreciated, and individually important to us and to everyone. Each one makes a huge difference, is an inspiration, a source of strength and light and joy.

During feeds it can be difficult to pick your baby up without messing up the pump, kinking the tubing, or making your baby uncomfortable from the feeds, and as caretakers, moms especially, all you want to do is hold that sweet baby! There are often extra steps when doing these basic, instinctual habits, and when you’re a parents, that can be extremely frustrating and disheartening. Eventually, the medical supplies falling out of all of your closets and the tasks that come with tubes and chronic illnesses become part of your daily routines, it all just becomes second nature – scary thought, right?

It’s all about finding the right mindset, but you first have to almost grieve the life you thought you were going to have with your new baby. I cried for hours that I would loose that bond by holding him to feed him; I can assure you I was worrying over nothing our bond is stronger than ever! We still get plenty of cuddle time and when he’s feeding I’ll often sit next to his cot and hold his hand, play peekaboo or tickle him. There are lots of opportunities for bonding you just have to look for them.

I woke up one day and realized this was our life and we’ve got two choices we get on with it, build our little man up and hope one day he stops aspirating or we sit and sulk about it which gets you absolutely nowhere! Life doesn’t stop for a feeding tube, feeding tubes allow life to get going again, it allows children to BE children, it is just another way to feed your little one.”

-Hayley Smith

If you have any interest in guest posting, I’m always happy to share different perspectives and pieces from fellow writers 🙂 Email me/contact me through the blog if you want to talk about it 🙂

 

Sponsor a Book for our Little Tubies

I grew up with two early childhood educators, so books have been a staple for me since day 1, and that is a true gift my parents gave me. Books help us learn about the world in a fun, visual, and age-appropriate /understandable way, teachings us the simplest of things like letters and animals to right and wrong, to all you can do when you grow up, and how to be the best YOU that YOU can be, whatever that means.

Books are part of what help us learn about new and different things we may come across, and it’s important to give children resources to help them be aware of all of life’s diversities and that being unique is never something to be ashamed of, so authors include all sorts of characters and situations in books that help prepare kids for life, even if the kids think it’s all just a story…. What about books for kids with illnesses? Children with wheel chairs, bald heads, or feeding tubes?

When I started Newbie Tubies I had a goal to help all of my “newbies” have all of the important information and to feel as supported as possible, and to learn love and acceptance for their new gadget and for themselves. Some people have a harder time than others with this, and that is completely fine, but sometimes you need to let those around you help you get to that point by letting them support you and accept you and your tube for you to see that your tube doesn’t change you, it just keeps you around…

Well, back to books, sometimes it can be hard for our littler tubies to adjust when they go to school and all of a sudden are thrown into a world where peers are eating lunch and bringing in cupcakes for birthdays and you’re no longer in the safety of your home, but both tubie and classmates start to see differences, even at a young, young age, and it’s time to bring in the books to help normalize tubes, to make all of the classmates learn through the avenue they know best – books.

For the same reasons, picture books about tubes can also be very beneficial for adult tubies who have young children or work with young children. Visual, audio, and hands on awareness and normalization is more than we can ask for, and starting young, starting by reading these books to the next generation is just awesome.

If you’re interested in sponsoring a book for our packages, we include one in each package we send to our little tubies and we appreciate every donation! I’m attaching the link as well as the list, so if you have a tubie of your own and want to buy a book, there are quite a few great options!

Our “Sponsor a Tubie Book” wish list on Amazon carries some FABULOUS tubie books for our young tubies! Click HERE to go straight to the list, the names of our most used books are listed below in case you shop elsewhere 🙂

 

BOOKS!

“The Adventures of Team Super Tubie”

Kristin Meyer

“Tubie Kids Like Me”

Annette Fournier

“When My Brother Got a G-Tube”

Jordan Tarbutton

“My Belly has Two Buttons: A Tubie Story

Meikele Lee

“Emma’s Special Tummy”

Paula

 

My Tubey Series by Rhiannon Merritt-Rubadue (full series on amazon!)

“My Tubey Goes to School:  A My Tubey Book”

Rhiannon Merritt-Rubadue

“There’s More Than One Way to Eat: A my Tubey Book”

Rhiannon Merritt-Rubadue

“My Tubey: A Day in the Life of a Tube Fed Girl”

Rhiannon Merritt-Rubadue

“My Tubey: A Day in the Life of a Tube Fed Boy”

Rhiannon Merritt-Rubadue

Chronic Illnesses: Who Knows?

In the past few months I’ve seen increased frequency and severity in my symptoms and even new symptoms coming to light. When I have flare ups or new issues I often become more aware of my current physical state, and ironically, while doing so, I usually think I’m better off until these harsh realizations, moments of brutality that shine a light on the fact that no, I’m not better, I’m actually worse, but I’ve just gotten used to being sick, used to this flare up that just never left, that became my new “normal.”

Though I’m used to high levels of pain, severe nausea, frequent migraines, fatigue, etc. when I wake up and have new symptoms or symptoms I’ve had before all of a sudden “amplified,” it can be super frustrating, discouraging – not to mention painful. But when these “flare ups” come about and decide to stick around for more than a day or two, the mind starts to wonder….

Is this a flare? Are these symptoms going to go back to “normal?” Is there something more serious going on?

Pain is a hard thing to talk about and understand because everyone has a different relationship with pain, everyone’s “scale” is their own – my 6 could be your 9 for example – and you can’t really know what anyone else’s is unless you’re living it. My pain has been a totally new phenomenon the last couple weeks, my body is searing, my head is killing me, it’s just relentless. This pain is different from my “normal” pain, though, so it’s kind of hard to compare them severity wise, it’s hard to simplify it to a word like “throbbing, stabbing, burning, etc.” or a number 1-10 – I’m in severe pain and discomfort all over my body and it won’t give me a break — I wish that were enough to figure out a way to help, right?

“What concerns me the most is the unknown….it is just too overwhelming to think about…”

When my symptoms cause me to be even more “disabled” than normal, when I can’t get up or out of the house for a week or more, I’m hardly able to be around others because of the pain and stimulation, and I’m sleeping excessively or unable to sleep at all, it can be hard to find motivation, hard to force yourself to get up and get going, doing something as simple as shower or change into fresh pjs…

“No one really explained to me the depth or the magnitude of that diagnosis, no one explained how serious and life changing this chronic illness can be….”

There are so many unknowns with chronic illnesses, and most of us learn all about that through personal experiences, not from doctors or even google doctor! Living with conditions that even doctors don’t know enough about can be scary, all of a sudden everything you know is just swept out from underneath you, you’re left with so little understanding and no control over your own body, your own life. This is all shocking, it’s devastating, and you have got to find a way to embrace it, conquer it, and grow right along side it, otherwise, it will break you through and through, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, mind, body, and soul.

The Gift of Normalcy

I had a fabulous childhood; I was loved unconditionally, I was supported by my parents in everything I did, and I never felt alone or scared or underappreciated, I always had everything I needed and 99% of the things I wanted 😉 My parents always encouraged me to try new things and find whatever it is that makes me happy.

I’d always been a small town girl, good student, decent athlete, volunteer, etc.; Well, I wanted to be more than just “normal,” more than just small town, so I thought going away for school or finding a job that could set me up for working outside of my hometown & granting me the (financial) freedom to live a lifestyle that I thought was important to me might be my answer.

Like most kids – at least I hope it is this way for most – I was always told I could do anything, be anything or anyone I wanted to be when I grew up, and I embraced that thought and always dreamt about what I wanted in years to come. At 3rd grade I wanted to be a writer, then a cook. In middle school it was a lawyer, then an FBI agent or a behavioral analyst like those on Criminal Minds, and finally, by college, I wanted to be a behavioral therapist focused on autism.

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Did I mention my gift for style?

After falling ill and having two severe “flare ups,” the second of which never passed, has guided me into a whole new set of goals for my lifestyle. Instead of searching for my door to an extraordinary life full of adventure and expensive brands of clothes or my dream car – red convertible incase you’re wondering – I want to focus on something so simple – I want to find my happy, I want to make the most of my NOW, and that’s not money or material, that’s my people, my dogs, my artwork, my small adventures just driving a mile to see the dam in different seasons or try to see the eagles nesting, the bears someone spotted down the road, or just the ice on the trees or the flooding over the bridges.

I went from planning every part of my future and searching for all things perfect to searching for all things normal.

I want to be able to enjoy all of the small things, I want to be able to say yes every time I’m invited to go out with my sisters, I want to be able to make new friends who I can say yes to when I’m invited out …

Hell, I’m not even asking to be able to eat or drink a coffee or a martini, I just wanna go.

 

Chronic illnesses leave you with so little control, losing your ability to make all of the small, simple decisions that most people don’t have to think twice about can be an incredibly difficult thing to adjust to!

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Part of this adjustment is that severe chronic illnesses require just about 24/7 care, as an adult, so alongside the control, you lose any and all modesty and privacy you had left. For an introvert like myself, that’s no easy feat to come to terms with. I’ve never liked being the center of attention, & being sick is not a super easy situation to deal with when you’re shy, I mean just having people ask me how I am all the time has been tough, it’s a balance of how much to share.

It’s a quick second to think through — who is asking, do I know them? Do they know my story or are they just asking b/c that’s how you greet people? Do they want a real answer or are they being polite?

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I started this blog to help update people on my own health, but also to spread awareness so that people know how to handle situations like this, and I hope it is helpful for other spoonies but also for care takers and loved ones who are looking for help and advice so feel confident in your ability to support your loved one during their journey.

I sometimes get an urge to do something that normal people my age should be doing, and sometimes it might be a push for me, maybe even a risk, but sometimes a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do.

These times are those in which I don’t need questioning, doubt, or guidance. I don’t need it and I don’t want it, I just want support, I want love, I want encouragement. I want you to be happy that I am doing something that will make me happy, and we can deal with the repercussions as we go 😉

So, what’s the greatest gift you can give me? The best way to talk to me, best way to treat me?

Treat me like you would treat anyone else.

I can’t speak for every spoonie/tubie personally, but I know that personally, but learning how quickly things can change, how abruptly you can lose the ability to do your favorite things, eat your favorite foods, go out and take advantage of your youth, or even just care for yourself you often reevaluate your perspective and priorities.

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When you hear my name, I don’t want you to think of “oh that poor sick girl,” or “oh what a shame, she was doing great things.” When you hear my name, I want you to think, Rachel, Rachel is going to do great things, Rachel is fun, Rachel is creative, and Rachel is making a difference for others. Rachel is sick, but Rachel is capable. I’m tube fed, IV saline dependent, and I use a wheelchair, but I am ABLE to be me. I have good days, I have motivation, I have goals, dreams, hope, and feelings. I’m just like you, but I have a whole different, deeper understanding a perspective.

I don’t need to do everything in the biggest, grandest way. I don’t need to make a ton of money or have the biggest group of friends. I don’t feel a need to stick out or be recognized as anything more than just being me. Being Rachel.

Where’s the Cake??

Ahh, 23, another year that I fought my body and won- Rachel 23, EDS 0 – unless we are talking about quality of life or day by day challenges, but I made it, and that’s more than I can ask for.

Birthdays used to be SO important to me, like I was planning for my birthday as soon as Christmas was over, maybe before (my birthday is in March), and I wanted themed parties with lots of decorations, my friends, and most importantly, big cakes with lots of ice cream and lots of presents- not sure which was more important but those two were my priorities. I remember being a ball of energy during March, intense and particular, but my parents never failed to create a beautiful, magical party for me, though I may not have realized it the, my parents were pretty rad. I was never disappointed. All three of us kiddos had March birthdays and I was only like 4 when I started planning parties ahead in great detail – I would make a fabulous party planner 😉 I’m thankful to have such happy memories, and though I ate too much ice cream and put on some pounds over the years, I’m glad I enjoyed it while I could 🙂

Birthdays since getting sick have been a lot different! This is my sixth birthday with gastroparesis and dysautonomia, though the first and second year I was still able to eat a bit, so cake still happened in small amounts, but no ice cream, which is my thing. Birthdays are centered around gifts and cake, and that’s how it’s always been, if we put it simply, but things aren’t always simple, even on your birthday!

 

You know people always say, “Age is just a number,” or birthdays are just another day, you were a day from 23 yesterday, you’ve aged a day—yeah, okay party pooper, right? Well at this point, I’m not super concerned with my birthday, and though it is nice to know that people are thinking of me, I just don’t want or need much of anything that I don’t have, and that is a blessing.

Of course I would love to be healed, if you have a cure, lemme have it, but I don’t think this is the year for the cure, though I hope it comes ASAP! I’m hoping for more relief, more energy, and less pain – definitely hoping for less pain and better pain management. Aside from medical wishes, I’ve had a tough time thinking about wants/needs, which isn’t a problem I’ve had a lot in the past 🙂

I would not call myself materialistic at this point in my life. I have so much and I don’t need anything, and I want so minimally, the greatest gift I can ask for is a day full of love, laughter, positivity, and simple pleasures. There’s nothing that means more to me than my family, and seeing them joyful and peppy, feeling at least a bit less of the burden that they face day to day is more meaningful than any gift I could be given. My parents are incredible, and I don’t think I tell them often enough, but they’ve done nothing but care and support us, they stick by us no matter what and do so without hesitation. I’m so thankful to have the parents I do, and I hope they know that.

Though I can’t have cake and I’m not up for parties or gatherings, having people, my parents and family included, celebrate and fulfill traditions that feel almost “normal,” and being treated almost like I’m not sick, like I’m “normal,” is a true gift. Trying to avoid talk about my medical situation and the troubles and challenges and moments missed due to that and having less questioning, less concern from all in my life creates a safe and fun and lovable environment for me as well as for others. A happy Rachel is a happy family, right?

I want to be boring and normal, so treating me like that, though not always easy, is a gift that allows me feel normal, and that’s all I want.

There’s nothing more important to me than my family (dogs included), and there’s so much on their shoulders though out this journey, and that’s hard for me to accept, but the times we spend doing fun things, even as simple as taking a drive, are the best times. I can’t afford to waste time, I can’t afford to hold onto anger or sadness because I can’t waste a “good” day or a good hour, so positive energy, simple pleasures and laughter, joy, harmony, these are all things I strive for.

Though you may not fully understand or even be completely comfortable with my ideas, the best gift is having others who want to embrace those times and help me make it happen; I have to live my life to the fullest, and sometimes that means pushing myself and taking risks, having new experiences, and figuring things out on my own.

My journey has been long and complicated, happy and sad, but mostly joyful and full of love, but it’s not over and I’m hoping that this year I will be able to turn a new leaf and have new experiences that people my age should have, so wish me luck, and thank you to everyone who is supporting me – especially my family and close friends <3

The Rarest of Guest Bloggers: SMA Syndrome

My name is Danielle and I am 26 years old. Growing up I suffered with ongoing stomach issues and doctors just couldn’t seem to figure out a cause. These symptoms would come and go in waves and there were even periods of time where I would begin thinking I was doing okay! Sadly, those times were short lived and when my senior year of college came about, things took a turn for the worst.

In 2015, I became very ill. It began with my endometriosis creeping back in and that was followed with my gallbladder needing to be removed, and despite those things, I continued to progressively get worse – especially stomach wise. I was having severe abdominal pain when I ate, nausea, vomiting, early satiety (I would take a few bites of food and feel overly full instantly), bloating and weight loss. I was only 105 lbs to begin with so I didn’t have any weight to lose so things became critical rather quickly.

In February of 2016 I was hospitalized because at this point I was not able to keep anything down, not even water. I had dropped to 90 lbs rather quickly and we were very scared. My doctor had run so many tests but could not figure out what was wrong with me, until he happened to be in the right place at the right time. He was at clinic where he overheard a nurse, who isn’t typically at that clinic, talking about another girl who had just been diagnosed with this rare condition. He immediately thought it sounded very similar to me so as soon as he was done at clinic, he came directly to the hospital and went to the radiologist. He told the radiologist to relook at one of my CT scans but from a different angle.

They immediately saw the problem and he came up to my room where he finally looked at me and said “I figured out what is wrong with you. You have SMA Syndrome,” otherwise known as Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome.

This condition, SMAS, I’ve never heard of it, I don’t know what is hitting me and how it is going to change things, what my life will look like now, all I know is it is rare, and though it has terrible symptoms, it can be very hard to detect. I had numerous CT scans but until they specifically looked for the compression itself, they were missing it on my scans for the longest time even though it was right there. The compression can be seen on CT scans, angiograms and upper GI studies with barium.

SMAS is an extremely rare and potentially life threatening stomach condition in which the third portion of your small intestine (duodenum) becomes compressed between your abdominal aorta and Superior Mesenteric Artery.

In other words, part of your small intestine becomes crushed and food is not able to pass through, creating a blockage.

This can lead to severe malnutrition, sometimes resulting in death. The mortality rate for SMA Syndrome is so high (1 in 3) because it is so rare and often times there is a delay in diagnosis. As you can see from my story, I was extremely lucky that he found it when he did or otherwise I might not have been here typing this today.

So how is SMAS treated? There is no cure.

There are also 2 types of this condition. One being acute onset, caused by extreme/sudden weight loss often following something like scoliosis surgery. The other being chronic, meaning it develops over the course of their lifetime. Surgery can be done to relieve the compression, or sometimes gaining weight (usually via feeding tubes) can also relieve the compression and allow food to start passing through again. However the damage done before it is found cannot be reversed and often times the symptoms can still remain even after surgery or weight gain, which is why there is technically no cure. In acute cases, the prognosis is better and oftentimes weight gain is enough to correct it and relieve the symptoms.

Chronic cases are a bit different, these cases are where the symptoms can still remain even after medical intervention, they aren’t easily treatable and there is absolutely no cure. That was the case for me. As soon as I was diagnosed I was immediately put on TPN (total parenteral nutrition) to help get me stable enough and I had surgery within 3 weeks. Since then, I have continued to have an avalanche of problems and my symptoms have remained. I continue to have pain with eating, nausea, vomiting, bloating and severe motility issues. The damage done to my body from SMA Syndrome has caused the entire rest of my GI tract to slow down and not function properly, so I have developed other chronic motility issues from it as well (such as Gastroparesis and intestinal dysmotility), which sadly is often the case for many people diagnosed with SMAS.

After numerous attempts to try and get things under control, I had to get a feeding tube placed in my abdomen to help give me the vital nutrition I need to sustain myself. I had a surgical GJ tube placed a year ago. I also am currently on TPN through a central line (port) in my chest due to the severity of my motility issues at the moment and not being able to tolerate my tube feeds right now. So often times feedings tubes are needed even after surgery to help manage the symptoms that remain and to help sustain individuals with SMA Syndrome.

Getting a feeding tube can be very overwhelming. It isn’t easy to process what it is like to have a tube surgically implanted into your body and it is a huge adjustment.

But what made the transition easier for me when I had my surgery was Newbie Tubies. I came across Newbie Tubies on instagram (@newbietubies) and saw that they create packages for people who are getting feeding tubes that are filled with all sorts of awesome things to help someone recover from the procedure and different items for the new tube as well.

The goal is to make the transition easier for someone by sending them a package to brighten their day. You can apply yourself or you can nominate someone to receive a package.

 

When I recieved my package it had things such as a blanket, water bottle, socks, handmade heating pad, tubie pads to decorate and protect the tube, bath bombs and a coloring book. It also included a list of tips for living with a feeding tube for those who are getting their first tube. Also, everything was donut and dog themed to fit my personality, which can be noted on the application to make each package more personalized to the recipient.

I cannot express how much receiving that package meant to me when I returned home from the hospital and how much it lifted my spirits. Newbie Tubies is truly amazing and it is creating an awesome community of fellow “tubies” on social media. It is awesome to be able to connect to others who have feeding tubes as well because you can relate to them and also share tips and tricks with each other to help make living with a feeding tube more manageable.

So if you have a feeding tube, are getting one or know someone with one please go check out Newbie Tubies on instagram. Or even if you just want to help, you can donate money or items to go in the packages sent out. So please check it out!
I share my story and my experiences with SMAS with hope that it will help someone else find their diagnosis and know they aren’t alone in this journey. It can be incredibly hard finding any answers, and I know that if it weren’t for individuals working to spread awareness through social medias and the stories others have shared, I wouldn’t have been diagnosed, I would have continued suffering without answers for much longer.

SMAS is an extremely rare condition, and because of how rare it is it is and due to overlaps with symptoms of many other stomach conditions, it often isn’t thought of. Not a lot of doctors know much about this rare disease, most of the time they have only read about it in textbooks during medical school, but each patient, each case, is unique and complex, not one fitting the case studies or textbooks perfectly.

I had no idea what it was until I was diagnosed, so I hope that reading my story can help someone else out there and just educate more people about this condition. For more information about SMA Syndrome, you can go to https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/7712/superior-mesenteric-artery-syndrome.

 

Post by Dani Fantaskey — guest blogger and newbie tubie package recipient


 

Thank you Dani!! Your post is fabulous and I am SO glad your package made such an impact on you – seeing your positive remarks truly inspires me to keep working hard to individualize each package. I love doing it, so I’m glad it doesn’t go unnoticed 🙂 So happy to have you, keep in touch and I’d love to have you back involved with the project anytime! Lots of love!

If anyone has questions or comments for her, comment below or contact me and I will get you in touch with her 🙂

xoxo

Rachel

Thoughts 6 Years In

I often feel that when I put myself out there and say, “Screw you, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), screw you gastroparesis, I WANT to do this, I’m going to do this,” and I actually DO,  my body comes back at me saying, “uh, hey now, who gave you permission to do that?”

When I do this, I try to compare pros and cons, are these things I want to do worth the payback that will come my way? There are so many things I want to do, and I’m an adult so I can do whatever I want, right? No grounding or taking my phone away, but if I misbehave, my body can punish me in a much harsher manner than my parents ever would.

Yes, chronic illnesses are brutal. Yes I am exhausted and utterly uncomfortable, but now, after years and years of searching for answers or simply searching for relief, I have to learn to care for body and mind, not pushing myself to a point of danger or past a “safe” space health wise, but I also have to embrace what I DO have and what I am capable of. I have to hold onto every bit of the true ME without forgetting where I am in my life right now.

I recently had a bit of medical excitement (a bit of a scare) when a new symptom popped up from out of the blue, but I woke up and honestly thought very little of it aside from knowing I need to be mindful today, just watch for symptoms I don’t usually experience or other warning signs!

So why am I becoming numb to symptoms or complications? Because I’ve seen it happen, because I have hope, but not expectations? I know that many don’t understand that, we all have different ways of coping or different perspectives on the meaning or the terminology — “hope” is relative, similar to grief, we all go through this process with different coping mechanisms. I know that EDS can lead to all sort of complications, it sometimes feels like there’s no end to the diagnoses, every year brings another symptom, another doctor, another diagnosis. I’ve watched it happen to girls just like me; heck, I’ve watched my own health continue to “D&D: DETERIORATE & DIVERSIFY,” so I guess you could say I’m not impacted or fearful in the same way that many healthy people would be when something like this occurs.

Does this lack of reaction represent a lack of hope? Have I built up an immunity to “human” emotions? Do I live life expecting the worst? Fearing or expecting to die? No, I don’t. Though I am forced to consider more seriously some of the not so fun parts of life more than most individuals my age, I don’t plan on leaving y’all anytime soon

So, then, is it a coping method? I suppose, probably, it is. While I prepare for all possibilities, there’s a wall there to protect myself and those around me. There’s no way for someone to focus on something of this magnitude 24/7 without going downhill quickly, so it’s important to me not to let that happen. I don’t want to torture myself mentally by focusing on my physical state all day, every day, but more so, I don’t want my family to have to go through that day after day. They have sacrificed and suffered enough throughout my journey- through thick or thin they are always by my side, but if I can spare them any grief or burden, I will do that. No one should suffer from chronic illnesses like these, but if I have to, I at least want to do what I can to protect others from extra suffering.

Chronic illnesses are nasty and powerful, but they don’t always win. I’m not out of power yet, I have a lot of hope left in me, and even more so than that, I have a will to live. I have a heart that craves more love, a soul searching for MORE adventure and experience, and eyes that WILL get to see the world.

My body may protest, but my will to live and my love for life, my love for simplest of things and the most wonderful people (& dogs) will power me through anything. I believe in the power of love, love is stronger than any fears I come across in my journey, and I am not lacking in love.

(I am single, though, just FYI 😉 )

I have a complex, difficult life, but it is filled with so much good that makes all of the challenges and trials, all of the terrible symptoms and times of questioning or doubt seem so small and unimportant. I am surrounded by love and unwavering support not just from my (biological) family, but also from the incredible community that has continuously come together and shown what true family is. My family expands all the time, it crosses oceans and countries, there are no limitations, just love, support, and acceptance. I’m continually amazed by the incredible, valiant efforts that I never could have asked for or dreamed of and I am reminded often of the true values of life, of friendship, of open mindedness and a judgment-free perspective, etc. I am blessed, I am thankful.

I am sick and I have hardships every day, but I have hope, and I have dreams, goals, and motivation – so watch out world, I’m on a mission and it’s not to the doctors office – and probably not to stand up comedy either.

xoxo