My Holiday Inspiration

I was listening to a Christmas CD tonight while I was painting and I was struck by the lyrics of one song in particular. I don’t know what everyone else thinks or feels about this season (and really any time of the year), but I’m a strong believer in the power of love and this song just really hit home for me.

The song said, “The story of hope and joy and peace…. let anger and fear and hate disappear and let there be love that lasts through the year.” (Alan Jackson- Let it be Christmas)

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Christmas Paintings!

Maybe it’s just because I’m exhausted and emotional from post surgical pain, medications/side effects, and insomnia, but this just made me stop what I was doing and really ponder and appreciate. Christmas is my favorite time of the year, but it’s not always a picture perfect holiday. We’ve dealt with years of illness, our fair share of (extended) family drama and arguments, tears on Christmas Eve, and anything else a “normal” family (hah, normal?) may see. However, in the end, we come together and we celebrate love and we spend time together and that’s what matters.

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The day after hearing that song, my good friend posted this amazing post on Facebook about love and family and again I was just struck with how much I related to that post and how again the power of love was shining through and someone else was recognizing and sharing that. I’d like to share that post with you…

” People always ask me how I stay so strong and how I’m so positive. Well, I’m not always strong and sometimes I feel like nothing will ever be okay, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. I was born into a family of warriors. After each punch life throws at us, we help each other up and we battle it together. No one fights alone and every one of us has scars of courage to prove it. At the end of the day, our love outshines any cloud of darkness. Together we can do anything through love.”
-Carolanne Monteleone

My family and I (parents and sisters) have been through hell and back just trying to stay on our feet through each “punch”, each trial we’ve been through, but the key to that is that WE go through each trial. Together. I am never alone through this long and challenging journey I am on because I know my family will never leave my side. Sadly, I am one of the lucky ones; I’ve seen first hand that not everyone, not even every family member, works that way.

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Decorated IV pole

Love is one of the most powerful emotions a person can experience. It can make you do crazy things, but it also brings about the best things in life. To love unconditionally and to be loved unconditionally is one of the best gifts you could ask for, and you rarely find that outside of your family (until you get really lucky 🙂 ).

Families should always share unconditional love– parents, spouses, siblings, grandparents, cousins, everyone included! Life is short. Life is full of ups and downs, arguments, differing opinions, heart break, annoyances, cold shoulders, and regrettable moments, but it’s also full of laughter, hugs, big smiles, great photographable moments, tons of joy, milestone moments, and most importantly… LOVE. So why do we waste so much time being angry? Holding grudges? Arguing over the past? We should be together celebrating, making memories, being joyful, sharing happiness and love.

This Christmas season I urge you to love unconditionally. Find forgiveness in your heart for those who have wronged you. Don’t ever take being treated for less than you deserve, but always remember that life is short and relationships with loved ones are precious. Let only positive thoughts into your mind and share those positive thoughts with others; always try to focus on the good, there is so much of it.

Spread love. Laugh endlessly. Find your happy and share it with your loved ones.

Happy Holidays!

Father’s Day

People always say that everyone knows each other in a small town; well I grew up in a small town where my dad was the principal at the local elementary school, so in my experience, that statement in pretty accurate. For as long as I can remember I’ve had strangers coming up to me in stores, schools, restaurants, and on the sidewalks just to tell me how amazing my dad is or reminiscing about their times with him.

My dad isn’t just known around town though, he is known throughout the county as the best administrator and an all around great guy. When he left one elementary school and moved to the next, teachers from the first applied for jobs at the new school to try to stay with him. When he left the last school and started working in Central Office, teachers and parents were devastated; it’s been a year and I still have people telling me how much they miss him and all he did for that school.

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Dad did a fundraiser and got taped to a wall! Did I mention he has a great sense of humor? 🙂

My dad is known to be incredibly smart and empathetic; his co-workers used to tell me all the time that they loved him so much because he cared about everyone. He will always listen and he will always do his best to help someone if he can; he’s about doing what’s right and what’s going to help people. He always wanted to help the children, the parents, and the teachers and their families. I could tell so many stories, but watching him work and do all he did for his students made me so proud to be his daughter.

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One of our favorite places! And of course, laura photo bombs!

 

Dad loves his job, and he has always been incredibly passionate about it, but if there’s one thing he is even better at, it’s being a dad. (sappy, right?) Dad was blessed with three daughters—we like to joke about how surrounded he is with females all the time 🙂 If you have daughters, you know we can be a… challenge. We can be stubborn, have attitudes, have boy problems, give killer silent treatments, hold grudges, be a little emotional, and pout like crazy. But we also love hard, show gratitude, laugh a lot, give great hugs, aren’t afraid to express emotion, love family time, and so much more. I think my dad would tell you we are worth the hard work.

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I’ve looked up to my dad for as long as I can remember. He used to tuck me into bed and say my prayers with me every night. We had “special time” with Dad when we were little where he would take us girls out without mom and we would get pretzels at the mall or see a movie and he would buy us presents. I was SO excited when I found out he would be my principal in 3rd grade, even though it meant we had to move to a new town. We shared a love for oreo ice cream. He took me to all of my swim practices and out of town meets. My dad taught me how to drive, I went to the same college he did (hopefully I’ll go back!). Now he drives me to the doctor all the time, spends countless hours talking to doctors, nurses, insurance agents, and pharmacists on the phone, and is by my side no matter what.

Life is unpredictable and it’s thrown a ton of curve balls at us, but my dad is always around to help figure it out.

I love you Dad, Happy Father’s Day!

Happy Birthday, Mom!

I’ve always been told that I’m a lot like my mom. We are both strong willed (maybe stubborn), hardworking, and loving women. My mom is more free spirited and outgoing than I am and loves to be spontaneous; while I tend to like to have a plan, she’s always up for adventure. Although I’m slightly more “rational” as we put it, we both always look for the positive in the situations we are in and help each other hold on to hope.

I am so blessed to have a mother who not only went above and beyond in my childhood but who continues to care for me today– in my adulthood! Not everyone is lucky enough to have even half of that.

My mom goes above and beyond each day to help me and my sisters be as healthy and as happy as we can. She works a full time job and parents full time for 3 of us! Having a grown child who is as sick as I am is more than a full time job in itself, yet she manages a job and my sisters as well. Of course having a wonderful husband and father helps, too 🙂

Although my mom never planned for it, she has become my at home nurse. She overcame her squeamish side and learned how to change a port needle, prep feeds and fluids, handle all of my feeding tube supplies, deal with my fainting, and so much more. She’s incredible.

My mom is also one of the strongest women I know, both emotionally and physically! Neither one of us is great with expressing ourselves emotionally, but she’s been through so much yet remains so strong. She supports me and the rest of our family through everything and always advocates for us without hesitation.

I could go on and on about my mom and all of the amazing things she does, but this is a post to celebrate her birthday! So, happy birthday, Mom! I hope your day is fabulous. I love you so much. I wouldn’t be able to do this without you. Thank you for fighting beside me every day❤

My Little Sister

The day my little sister was born, two days after my 4th birthday, was one of the most exciting days ever – okay maybe just the most exciting I’d experienced so far in those four years, but that’s still pretty exciting. 😉 I loved dolls and dress up, so getting a baby to bring home—a real, live baby — was a dream come true!

I practically lived in Laura’s crib. I loved cuddling her and helping mom get her dressed, fed, and bathed. She was super exciting, even though she pretty much just slept, cried, ate, and pooped. (Sorry, Laura 🙂 ) I did, of course, have a little jealousy since I wasn’t the baby any more and I had to share everyone’s attention, but in general I loved the new baby.

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To the point, Laura’s all grown up now and today is her 17th birthday. I can’t believe what an incredible person she has become. If you know Laura, you know she’s full of spunk and passion. One of the things I admire most about Laura is that she is totally confident in who she is. She likes to be appreciated and recognized for what she does, but she doesn’t need approval from others to feel good about who she is. I wish everyone (including myself!) was that comfortable in their own skin. She also has such an incredible view on the world and always stands up for what she knows is right. Whether it is to a friend, a stranger, a teacher, or a parent, Laura always speaks her mind and she does so with great passion and articulation. She is brilliant with words and is strong enough to speak out—something else I, as a huge introvert, greatly admire about my younger sister.

Laura is beautiful both inside and out—she takes kick ass selfies, something I’ve always envied. 🙂 She is also full of compassion and love. Laura has grown up as the younger sister of a “sick kid,” which is an extremely difficult role to play. Since Laura was in middle school, she’s had to watch me be passed from doctor to doctor and grow sicker and sicker all while she is trying to live a normal life. The stress that puts on her is huge, but she handles it with such a great attitude.

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Because of my illness, my needs are often the priority in our family. My parents have to focus a lot of time and energy on me. They spend a lot of time taking me to appointments, helping me with medications and tube feeds, and doing other things that are required because of my health. Although my parents are incredible and juggle having both of us here at home so well, it is still really difficult on Laura. However, you hardly ever hear a negative word about this situation come from her.

Laura was supposed to be the only child left in the house when I graduated from high school 3 years ago, but instead, I got extremely sick (again) half way through my first year of college and had to come home. Since then, I’ve been at home and my illnesses have gotten progressively worse. For Laura, this means she has watched my health deteriorate over the last 4 years while she is just trying to make it through the crazy high school years.

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Laura has traveled to different states with me for doctors appointments, stayed with me countless days while I’ve been inpatient in the hospital, laid with me in bed when I was in too much pain to move, and literally picked me off the floor when I’ve fainted. She also regularly brushes and braids my hair when I’m too weak or tired to do it myself, she (and her boyfriend, Sam) pick me up or drive me places when I can’t drive, she gives me piggy-back rides to help me save my “spoons” (aka energy), and she is always looking out for me and making sure I’m as comfortable and cared for as possible. Laura is one of my biggest advocates and supporters through this crazy journey. She’s always spreading awareness and reminding people of how lucky they are to be able to eat or go to school or work when some people can’t do any of that because of illness. Laura has let this situation shape her into such a wise and mature person and I’m so proud of who she is becoming.

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Being the sister of a sick kid isn’t easy, but Laura is incredible and I’m so lucky to have her. Laura is often greeted with things like, “Hey! How is your sister?” or “Is Rachel feeling any better?” Although Laura knows why people so often ask about me, she struggles during my hard times, too. Being a loved one of someone who is so sick is extremely taxing, so I encourage everyone who knows Laura or anyone else with a sick sibling or child to ask them how they are and express interest in their lives before asking about the other person. Laura has a passion for animal rescue and regularly fosters dogs, she is a great artist and writer, and she loves her criminal justice classes and is looking forward to a career in that field. Laura is so smart and has such a great perspective on things; if you get a chance to have a real conversation with her, definitely take advantage of it.

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I’m so grateful to have Laura as my sister. Although my illness causes us all great stress and worry, it has also brought us closer as a family. Laura has become one of my care takers, my biggest support, and a best friend. Happy birthday, Laura! I love you to pieces!

Upcoming Birthday

As my 21st birthday approaches (less than 2 weeks away!), I have been reflecting a lot on all that has changed this year and how crazy my journey with chronic illnesses has been. My life is so different from what I used to imagine it would be at this “milestone.” I never could have predicted the many things that have shaped me into who I am today, but I’ve made it another year and that’s something.

When I was younger, I always imagined my 21st birthday would be celebrated with food, friends, family, and of course, my first legal drink. I figured at this point in life I would be in college studying and living like a college student. I got one year in at UVA before taking medical leave; I am still working on getting back two years later. A part of me still feels like I am a first year at UVA, yet I see all of my friends getting ready to finish their third year! I can’t believe it.

This year, my illnesses have progressed to the point where I’m not able to intake almost anything orally, I have trouble even tolerating my tube feeds, and most days I spend much of my time in bed. My migraines make me extremely sensitive to sound and light so I get over stimulated very easily. I am 100% dependent on my feeding tube and my port for nutrition and hydration and I am on around the clock medications to try to control nausea and pain. My symptoms and lack of energy make it hard to plan ahead and make it so that I’m most comfortable just being at home.

My 21st birthday won’t be celebrated with food or alcohol. I likely won’t see friends or have any sort of “party.” My mother does like to try to be sneaky, so if you hear of any secret plans, feel free to inform me. I’m not a huge fan of surprises 😉  My birthdays now are usually a quiet affair celebrated with just my family. I don’t tell you this to complain, this is just how it is; for me, simple and peaceful is usually just right. Since I can’t eat and my energy levels are extremely low, I don’t require much. Chronic illnesses steal a lot from you, but they don’t have to prohibit you from having fun or enjoying special events.

Although my 21st birthday is not what I would have imagined it to be, and my life has taken some unexpected turns, I feel blessed just to be here and to have an incredible family here to help make the day as happy and celebratory as possible. My illnesses have taught me to be so appreciative and thankful for all of the small things in every day, and I know my birthday will be wonderful, even without cake or alcohol 😉

A “Non-Hallmark” Christmas

Let me start by saying that I love Christmas. I’m one of those people who is ready to start baking Christmas cookies and watching Christmas movies right after Thanksgiving (much to the dismay of my sisters 😉 ). The whole season just seems so… jolly! I love seeing people light up with holiday spirit; it just seems to bring out the best in people.

This holiday season I feel incredibly blessed in so many ways. We recently moved into a beautiful new home on an amazing piece of property. Although I sometimes miss our old house, I love living in the woods and our new home is so accommodating to my needs with my illnesses as well as the needs of my family.

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The new house!

I’m also so thankful for my family who continues to be by my side through my toughest times. I could (and probably will) write a whole blog post about how amazing my family is, but for now I’ll just say that I literally wouldn’t be here today without them.

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My family (minus one!) in NYC last Christmas! That trip just about did me in, but it was so fun!

I’m thankful for all sources of warmth—my home, my bed, my heating pads, my hats and coats, and all my fuzzy blankets. Of course I’m thankful for my dog, Baxter who keeps me company every day and brings so much joy to my life! And I am thankful to have good health insurance and a great set of doctors working with me to find a good treatment plan as my health continues to be a challenge. The list goes on, but the general idea is that I’m overwhelmed with gratitude during this holiday season.

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Little man in his Christmas sweater 🙂

That said, even though I love Christmas and I feel blessed to have so much to be thankful for this holiday season, over the years I have also come to understand that not everyone has a perfect “Hallmark Christmas.” Many of us are plagued by illness, loss of a loved one, poverty, family discord, and other things that may affect our holidays.

This will be my 4th Christmas living with severe chronic illnesses. My illnesses never keep me from having a joyful Christmas, but they do affect how I get to celebrate. My day won’t consist of eating Christmas brunch or Christmas dinner with my family, there won’t be any sweet treats in my stocking, and I won’t be running around outside or wrestling with my cousins like I used to do or sitting and sipping wine with my aunts and grandma.

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My delicious (not) Christmas dinner! At least my pole is festive 🙂

This time of year is actually when my illnesses tend to be at their worst. My pain levels are high, my nausea is relentless and completely overtakes me at times, I have daily migraines, and many days I’m asleep more than I’m awake. I’m incredibly thankful that this year I have the means to stay at home and out of the hospital for the holidays by relying on my feeding tube and my port (a central line in my chest that acts as a long term IV) to stay hydrated and get in enough nutrients to ride this flare through.

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Pretty much me right now.

My Christmas Day will include IV saline, tube feeds, nausea and pain medication, and napping in place of breakfast casseroles, eggnog, cookies, and snowball fights, but that doesn’t mean I won’t love it. My family helps make Christmas special for me every year; it may not be ideal, and it may not include any Christmas miracles, but I have so much I am thankful for and I will have so much to enjoy on Christmas day.

 

Not everyone has a perfect “Hallmark Christmas,” but that’s okay. Celebrate as much or as little as you are able. Celebrate in what ways make you happy. Take care of yourself this holiday season and help others do the same.

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Having these illnesses has really widened my perspective. It is important to keep in mind that not everyone has a perfect holiday as we go about celebrating this season. The holidays are a time of joy, love, generosity, and gratitude and it is so important that we keep that in mind as we share this time with our loved ones as well as with those we may not know as well. Not everyone is full of holiday cheer, and that isn’t a crime. I encourage you to always give people the benefit of the doubt and simply spread love this holiday season.

 

 

 

Chronically Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving!

For me, Thanksgiving is a little different since it obviously won’t revolve around food. I rely on my tube feeds and IV fluids for nutrition and hydration, and food isn’t a big priority for me. Because of this, I get to focus more on the real meaning of Thanksgiving: it is a celebratory day at the end of harvest where we express gratitude for all that we have.

I may not have had a harvest, but I have so much to be thankful for. Some people are surprised at how often I post about my gratitude and positivity towards life, but my illnesses have only made me more thankful for all that I have. So, while I won’t be saying thanks for a good meal or a nice glass of wine this Thanksgiving, here are a few things I am thankful for…

  1. My family

Okay, the first one is a little cliché, but for me, my family is more than just a family. At 20 years old I still live at home full-time with my parents and younger sister. My parents are my caregivers; they take me to appointments, make my tube feeds, pick up medications, and on my worst days help me in and out of bed, mom washes/brushes my hair, and they do anything else I may need. My parents and sister are also my best friends. I spend almost every day at home and they are pretty much the only people I see (and Sam– Laura’s boyfriend 🙂 ); they work hard to find things to do to try to entertain me and keep me occupied. Without my family, I wouldn’t be here today.

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  1. My dogs

My rescue pup, Baxter, is my #1 form of therapy. He is better than any medication I’ve tried. Being home alone a lot is made so much easier by having dogs. Baxter is always by my side and knows when I’m having a bad day. He loves to cuddle up with me (and my heating pad) when I need a nap, sit in the sun, take a walk, or just lay in bed and watch some Netflix. He is a fabulous buddy to have around 🙂

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  1. Tyler

Almost five years ago I was blessed enough to be assigned Tyler as my challenger baseball buddy. Every day I am thankful that he came into my life and that he continues to make it brighter every time I see him! It has been such a gift to see him grow and to have him by my side to shed some light on things throughout this journey!

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  1. Insurance

I’m thankful for my health insurance. Even though it can be a pain in my butt when it doesn’t cover something or fights me on a medication/treatment, I will always be thankful that I have it. Some people are not so lucky.

  1. Living in a beautiful place

We recently moved into the woods in Union Springs. We are surrounded by trees and live a short drive/walk from a reservoir and several ponds and creeks. It is so peaceful and beautiful up here and we live in an area with such gorgeous mountains, farms, and parks. I love having such beautiful sites, it is such a gift to be able to go for a drive and see such incredible views so close to home.

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  1. Doctors and Nurses

I can’t forget all of my great doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. They work so hard for me and for all of their other patients. I have amazing nurses who work around the clock helping me communicate with the doctors, schedule appointments, and think through symptoms and minor medical dilemmas. My doctors work so hard with patients whose cases are so complex. And my pharmacists help keep track of my meds, interactions, and refills. I literally wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for them.

  1. Warmth

I’m always cold. September-April you can count on me being bundled up and under a heating pad. I am thankful for my sweaters, hats, heating pads, heated blankets, fuzzy socks, and mostly for my comfy bed! Also, of course, for my home and heat; not everyone is so lucky, so take time to be thankful for warmth this year!

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  1. Community

I’m also very thankful to have a supportive and loving community. My community here at home has shown my family and me so much support throughout my journey with chronic illnesses and it has made such a difference for us. Knowing you have such a big support team is such a gift, and not everyone has that.

I’ve also found a community of people living with illnesses just like mine through online support networks. These sites have let me connect with people from all over the world who are going through the same thing that I am. I’ve made great friends who really understand what I am facing and I’m even lucky enough to hang out with some of them in person!

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My list could go on, but there’s a taste of what I’m thankful for! I also think this year it is important to remember that many of our Native Americans are facing brutal conditions in North Dakota while they fight for their right for clean water and for their sacred lands at Standing Rock. Thanksgiving is a day that celebrates a peaceful meal between the settlers and the Native Americans, yet this year there is no peace at Standing Rock.

There are many things we often take for granted, and today is a day to be reminded of how much gratitude we should have for all of these things. I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving and can find lots to be thankful for!

First Post– Holiday Spirit

Hey guys! So, for my first blog post I didn’t want to start out with anything too heavy, but with Thanksgiving only a week away, I thought why not write a bit about what the holidays are like for someone living with chronic illness!

This will be my 4th year of holidays majorly affected by Gastroparesis. In fact, my Gastroparesis started in November of 2013, right before Thanksgiving. Little did I know, three years later I still wouldn’t be able to eat a Thanksgiving meal!

Although I really miss all of the delicious foods that I loved eating throughout the holidays and sometimes this time of the year can be stressful; for the most part, I still really enjoy the holiday season. I love to cook and bake for others and occasionally I can make something that I can have a bite of, too. I also just love the holiday spirit that seems to brighten everyone’s mood during this time of the year.

My health has really taken a hit this year, and I’m not able to do a lot of the things I love to do like volunteer, babysit, go to school, and regularly spend time with people outside of my home. However, I do intend to make the most of the holidays in every way I can!

Here are just a few of the things I love about the holidays:

  1. Picking out and decorating the Christmas tree
  2. Baking Christmas cookies of all sorts
  3. Snow—even though I barely leave the house when it’s so cold!
  4. Christmas movies
  5. The gift of giving— whether it’s Christmas shopping, giving away Christmas cookies, or donating to the less fortunate, I always find that the holidays are full of generosity and I love to participate in the giving 🙂

This holiday season I will be taking each moment to enjoy life’s small gifts. I encourage you to appreciate everything you might normally take for granted—a functioning GI tract, the roof over your head, a mother who cooks for you, and just being here to celebrate another holiday season.