Willfully Determined

Yesterday I pushed myself to do more and to do different. I decided to be a 22 year old for a few hours, I just ignored the fatigue, took the pain meds, and went to back to back movies (7-11:30pm) with my sister, who didn’t think I could stay out late anymore. It was a gift to both of us to be able to spend that time together, just enjoying doing something that was so out of the norm.

Usually I sleep through 60-80% of movies anywhere we watch them, our basement, my room, the movie theater, other peoples houses… But last night I worked hard to stay awake, and I did a stellar job. My POTS/dysautonomia leaves my body unable to pump blood to my brain when I sit down for too long, so I fall asleep or pass out even if I’m loving a movie or having a great conversation with someone; but usually, if I move around or take a walk I start to feel much more human again and stay awake for at least 10-20 minutes 😉

My family asked me if I really had energy for this, and here is what I told them,

“No, I don’t have the energy, but this isn’t about energy.  This is about desire and determination.”

Sometimes I have to accept my symptoms, accept my situation, and make a choice to push past all of the exhaustion, pain, nausea, and sensitivities so that I can remind myself and those around me that I’m still me, and that there are still things out there, outside of my “safe zone” (aka my house and my room). Watching the world go on without you can be a very strange feeling, it’s like watching from an outside view, looking down on the life I thought would be mine and watching others continue on without me. The world doesn’t wait for anyone.

Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of “nothings” from doctors; some literally don’t have anything to say, don’t answer emails or calls or anything, others telling me they can’t take on my case or I’ve exhausted the options they can offer. It’s a lot of “keep you comfortable” and “manage symptoms.”

After so much of the same, I’m so tired of doctors and meds and tests or treatments that no one actually thinks will work. I want to live. I want to experience my youth, I want to really feel alive and I want to cross items off of my bucket list.

I want to travel and see incredible sites and take countless photos. I hope to visit all of the girls who I’ve met online, the ones who have helped me through these years of illness, and I want to meet new people, and fall in love. I want to get rid of these tubes so I can swim with dolphins and scuba dive, get as close to my mermaid dream as possible.

I have a lot of goals, and I may never accomplish all of them, but they make for some happy thinking & I never pass that up. 🙂

 

IVIG Round 5 & Lots to Consider

Yesterday was round 5 of IVIG (Intravenous immunoglobulin). I’d love to say this was my miracle round and I woke up ready for a huge stack of pancakes or a burger and fries at ihob, but sadly, no pancakes, and definitely no burgers on my menu anytime soon.
 
I had IVIG yesterday (tuesday) at noon; I wasn’t feeling well & I slept through majority of the 2 1/2 hour infusion, so it went pretty quickly. When we finished, I was already experiencing side effects like low grade fevers, extreme fatigue, brain fog, pain, nausea, etc. When my nurse left and I had gotten settled, I slept for four more hours; Mom and Baxter woke me up around 7pm. I got up and took a short walk to get up and moving, out of bed for a bit and get some fresh air. I was asleep again before 9pm but continued to wake up every 4 hours as my pain and nausea medications wore off.
 
Today I’m still exhausted and experiencing a lot of elevated symptoms; by this I mean I am experiencing symptoms similar to my usual pain/nausea/migraine/weakness/etc, but they are kicked up a few notches and much less respondent to my meds.
 
I’m working hard to stay positive and mindful of both body and mind, and I have a long list of things I’d love to accomplish– artwork, tasks for my package project, blog posts/updates, outreach to volunteers and donors, thank you cards, etc.– but my body is telling me in many ways that I need to slow down and remember that it’s okay if I only get one thing done today, it’s okay if all I can do is sleep and recover. I’m doing my best, and there’s nothing more important than my health– or at least that’s what I tell my newbie tubies in their tip lists, so I guess I have to believe it and try it if I’m going to be preaching about it to others…:) 
 
Having a body & mind that are on different pages can be really challenging, but I am constantly learning and adapting as both my body and mind continue to change, often on their own volition.
I hope to see some of my specialists this month so we can determine what the best plan for moving forward is. More IVIG? No more IVIG? Are there other treatment options, or are we back to “keep you comfortable”? It’s all up in the air at this point, but honestly, I just want peace and as much normality as I can get. I don’t want to be stuck by more needles, put in MRI tubes, traveling huge distances to see doctors who spend 15 minutes with me only to tell me the same things I’ve heard before… “complicated” or “medical mystery” followed with, “manage the symptoms” and “keep you comfortable.”
There are no certainties in life, so take advantage of every moment you can, that is exactly what I aim to do.

Tips for Tubies: Tubie Love & Acceptance

I never could have imagined needing a feeding tube at 18 years old, and now, at 22 years old, I am still relying on my tube(s) — now I have two tubes and a central line. I’ve had tubes for so long and learned so much that now I’m able to teach others about them! My life took a huge change in direction when my health took a turn for the worst and had my tube placed; suddenly I was experiencing so many changes in my lifestyle and my body. I began to feel like I had zero control over my own body, and everything I had planned for my life, my future, began to slip away with every day, month, year, that my illnesses progressed. My feeding tubes took a little while to get used to, physically and mentally, because they cause bloating, they stick out through certain clothes, and they can leak and be kinda gross…but they also saved my life.

Learning to love your feeding tubes as well as yourself, both your body and your lifestyle, can be a challenge at first…I struggled for a long time to find confidence and acceptance of both my body and my tubes, I still struggle almost every day to pick out a shirt that doesn’t hug my tubes or my central line too tight or pants with a waistline that doesn’t hit my jtube… it’s not easy to feel confident when you feel like you’re the only one who looks like this, the only one with tubes, alone in the journey you’re facing.. my goal is to help others feel less alone.

Here are a few of my tips for adjusting to tube life and learning to accept the tubes as well as all of the way those tubes affect you, your body, and your lifestyle..

 

1. It can be hard adjusting to tube feeding and not feeling in control of your own body, but you should never feel ashamed of the tubes or the changes they can bring to your body. These tubes keep you alive every day. It may take time to come to accepting this addition to your body, and that’s absolutely okay, totally normal; but always remember that health comes first!

2. You get a feeding tube to restore your body and increase both strength and energy. Feeding tubes may be a bit of a pain, but they are meant to give you your life back, not take it away. Never give up on your dreams or your goals, although everyone’s healing times are different, and we all have different underlying causes/conditions, feeding tubes themselves don’t need to be looked at as a disability or a limitation; in fact, for many, they are the opposite.

3. Trying to eat while you’re a tubie is not anything to be ashamed of, and it does not invalidate your need for your tubes. Many people (with tubes) have a couple “safe foods” or still drink liquids, some can only suck on a piece of candy here or there, but either way, food or no food, you are still you, and only you know your body. If you can tolerate any oral intake and your doctor is okay with it, attempting to keep your system “awake” even with an occasional, tiny snack can be good and in no way invalidates your need for a tube.

4. Try to stay social! Being so sick and having a surgery like this often leaves one feeling exhausted, worn out both physically and mentally from the pain and inability to care for ones self; when getting out of bed is a painful challenge and showering takes more energy than was stored up for a whole week, it’s easy to get discouraged . Getting dressed and going out takes a ton of energy, but it is so good to get out, it’s too easy to become isolated! Friends will only take rejection so many times before they stop asking to hang out; even just suggesting a movie night or spa day at home is a great option to see friends, make plans, but not use as much energy. Your health comes first, but part of taking care of yourself means taking care of your mental/emotional health too, and having a healthy social life and support network is so important during times like these.

5. Feeling down in the dumps? During recovery and during challenging times throughout your journey it is so easy to slip into a “chronic illness mindset,”  which essentially means that to some degree, many have a time of feeling a loss and grievance over a “pre-illness” self, a self that can begin to disappear when illness takes over and we lose some of our abilities to function in the “normal” ways, or in the “normal,” functioning world.

If you sense yourself falling into one of these times, I highly suggest finding a way to remind yourself of your goals, your dreams, yourself. Try creating a vision board, definitely one of my favorite ways to remind myself of where I was before illness and where I want to go now, what I want to do in my future, and all of the things past, present, and future that give me hope and motivation. Just begin by thinking of all of your goals and dreams, even the totally unrealistic ones (being a mermaid, traveling the world in 30 days, learning to fly, etc.), and cut out pictures and words and quotes in bright, bold photos or lettering and then make a collage on cardboard or a tack board, heck put it on your wall if you want!  Hang it in a place where you spend the most time and allow it to encourage happy thoughts and positive thinking 🙂

I know people saying “mind over matter” and “just think positively, distract yourself” can be really frustrating or degrading, but positivity really is important if you want to make it through these transition periods and through your journey with chronic illnesses in general.

 

I plan to continue with more tips soon as well as some personal experiences with tubes, both good and bad 🙂 I am also going to be making a new vision board, and I will post a guide of how I did it when I can 🙂

Thanks for reading, don’t forget to check out the tubie items & artwork in the shop! Every purchase supports the Newbie Tubie Project, enabling us to send out another package & help another tubie adjust to life with tubes.

xoxo

 

 

** i am not a medical professional, just an experienced tubie sharing my experiences as well as those of other tubies who help me compile information to help inform others about what “tubie life” is like and how to make the best of it 🙂 Please consult your physicians before changing any medical treatments/procedures.

My Story: Year 3 Tubie

**Happy Feeding Tube Awareness Week! This is the first new post, keep your eyes open this week for more posts including but not limited to : Tips for Tubies, a project update, New tubies: Products to start with and where to get them, more on my personal experiences, and a special video! It’s also a great week to buy a painting or send a donation to Newbie Tubie Care Packages, so click here if you’re interested in more information on that :)**

Next month, in March of 2k18, I will celebrate both my 22nd birthday and my 3 year tube-iversary. In March of 2015 I was in school at UVA where I celebrated my 19th birthday on March 8th and then was admitted to the hospital the next week with a blood infection from my central line, which was keeping me nourished and hydrated at the time. On March 24th I was again admitted to the hospital for surgery to place my first long term feeding tube, a GJ tube that went through my stomach and into my intestine where I get my feeds.

 

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Our first admission– Dec. 2013, I was 17 and a senior in high school
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My admission in Dec 2014– first year at UVA but about to get a picc line!

 

Although I’ve had gastroparesis since high school, I never could have imagined that my case would become so severe, leaving me with a feeding tube(s) that could be part of my life indefinitely, taking me out of school, and changing the way I was able to plan for the future. When I first got my tube, my doctors hoped it would only be for a few months or maybe a year if I was really struggling, but we had no idea that my “flare” was about to become my new normal. Instead of having a few months of worsened symptoms like I had in the past, I waited a year… and then another year… and now another year with no relief.

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March 2015; I did a trial feed with an NJ tube and then scheduled surgery!

 

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That’s my GJ tube in the fall of 2017, before surgery!

After I finished my first year of college my health was at an all time low and I wasn’t able to go back to school in the fall. My tubes did help my nutrition, but I never tolerated them well enough to get in as much feed as the doctors wanted me to, never enough to gain a lot of weight back. It’s been three years on medical leave now; my classmates, my friends, will graduate in the spring and I won’t have had another day to be there with them.

My parents and I worked so hard to find answers, anything that would bring even partial relief; our original goal was that I could go back to school, but after a year and a half of incredibly severe symptoms and the addition of 3-4 new diagnoses, our goals became things like, “getting Rachel out of the house more… helping get her able to volunteer or babysit sometimes,” and at my worst times, it’s just “getting Rachel more energy and less pain/nausea so she can get out of bed…” From the Fall of 2015 through Summer of 2016, I saw at least three different specialists who are top in the nation on my conditions. Sadly, there are only a few medications that are used for gastroparesis, most of them not even FDA approved, and they can have nasty side effects.

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4 hour cardiology/EDS appointments are always an adventure 🙂
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Family road trip to Cleveland! They try to make these trips somewhat enjoyable.

My last (and current) motility specialist is at the Cleveland Clinic and is considered to be one of the top specialists in the world on gastroparesis and dysmotility conditions. He did extensive testing to find a root cause of my GP and to try to find a treatment option, but what we found out is that my gastroparesis had gotten so bad that the numbers were matched with only one other girl’s testing as the second worst cases in CC records. I actually met the other girl online and have been able to talk to her and compare notes and, sadly, she’s still struggling in huge ways—she could use your thoughts/prayers.

Because my dysmotility (lack of motion, “motility”) has moved into my intestines and almost stopped my colon’s motion (colonic inertia), my options are very limited. I had one viable treatment option that we were told was a long shot at working, but it’s my best/only shot. We have been working for over a year now to get IVIG (IV immunoglobulin therapy) approved, it has been a long and tedious attempt that has involved 3 doctors and multiple infusion centers, lots of disappointment, and plenty of reality checks. There isn’t a great chance of it working, but it’s essentially my last major treatment option, so it’s what we have to keep fighting for.

Last year around this time, a few months before, I started having a lot of trouble with my GJ tube flipping up into my stomach leaving me unable to do feeds. Because it was happening 2/3 times a month, I was getting malnourished and dehydrated and had lost even more weight—my all time low. It was decided that I needed to have a jtube placed, one that goes straight into your intestine, not through the stomach first, but it took us awhile to make that happen.

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Tubie bear needs an update- surgery!
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Recovery is the hardest part….

 

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Double tubie at Christmas time

 

It took me almost another year to get that surgery done due to my malnutrition and some complications with doctors and finding a surgeon who would take on my case, but on October 18th I had surgery for my new feeding tubes. There were some complications during surgery as well as in the week post-op, and recovery was long and extremely painful. But, during that time I came up with my plan for my new project, Newbie Tubies, and now that has come to life and is such a wonderful part of my life.

I may not have ever been able to imagine my life turning out this way, but I have learned, been inspired, shared my knowledge, and seen things in a new perspective. I couldn’t do it without the support of my family, I’m so, so blessed to have parents who are willing to do anything needed to care for me and help me be comfortable.

 

Being a tubie is just a part of me now, and I’m more than happy to share all I can about that for Feeding Tube Awareness Week. <3