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.

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

Newbie Tubies Round 2

I’m so excited to start year 2 of Newbie Tubie Care Packages (NTCP), after such a successful first year, I can only imagine what 2019 is going to bring. As we begin this year, I want to update you on our progress & how you can continue to help us make this project possible.

We just had a feature in my local paper, and I’m so excited to have had that opportunity! Newbie Tubies isn’t just about packages, it’s about bringing together tubies new and “old,” and to create a space where we can learn from one another and create friendships. Newbie Tubies is also aimed towards the caregivers and loved ones of tubies or spoonies, we want to support everyone as much as we can, in any way we can, for as long as that person is around, tubie or caretaker.

To keep this project up and running I have worked endlessly to find people willing to donate to this cause, or even better, others who are as passionate as I am and are ready to be part of the NEWBIE TUBIE TEAM, and though I got turned down or ignored more times than I can count, I did find a few ladies who are a true part of the team and help whenever they can.

Most of my donors are or were sick themselves or caretakers, and that’s why they make items like tubie pads and thermo-bags for IV fluids, etc. Our donors know the importance of this project, and I am continually amazed at the empathy and support I have gotten from these individuals who I have never “met.”

That said, my 3 tubie donors and 1 heating pad donor, as incredible as they are, they’re also trying to make money from their products, many to pay medical bills. I can’t ask 4 women to donate enough for over 100 packages!

I am always looking for more individuals or groups of people who feel inclined to join Newbie Tubies and the VIP donor program, which means I do everything I can to send people in the direction of the shops who donate to us, and I post on all platforms (FB, IG, blog, twitter, in boxes, etc.) both to thank our donors, but also to “pay it forward” in the way of sending people their way.

If you ‘re interested in being involved but don’t know how to sew or aren’t crafty, I always have tasks I could use help with. We want to include as many people as we can, both on the team behind the scenes, but also for the members of our program/follow our accounts to continue to learn through blog posts and tip lists while also having a chance to interact with others who are also going through this journey.

So, I’m going to share below some of the things we need in order to keep Newbie Tubies as active as I hope to.

 

WAYS AND RESOURCES FOR GETTING INVOLVED:

DONATIONS: what we need and how you can find it

EASY OPTION!

I have multiple lists on amazon, etsy, and simply items you can find at the dollar store or the mini-item aisle at walmart while you’re grocery shopping! I try to make it very easy.

You can also purchase products like art work and vinyl products that I make but put all profits back into the project – every sale helps!!

            We also have guides and lists for what we use and where you can find it! It can be as simple as buying some extra chapstick or germ-x when you’re shopping for yourself.

Amazon link:  http://a.co/4VCstGg
http://a.co/8DNAefV

Link for Sponsoring a book for our “littlest tubies” : http://a.co/1yuuZO2

Etsy link: https://www.etsy.com/people/rsb4fc?ref=hdr

Link for “Tubie Shopping Guide”/ our shopping list: https://positivelyrachel.com/category/newbie-tubies/

Volunteer Survey:

I have so many projects I’d love to do, but I myself am a tubie and a quite sick one at that, but I do all the packing of boxes with the help of two fabulous ladies who come over almost every week to help, and from my Mom, who is also passionate about this subject. When I started the project, I never could have imagined that I would send out over 100 boxes in just a year! Because of how much NTCP grew, and how quickly, I can use help from anyone who feels called or inclined to be involved.

Specifics:   I need some individuals who are blessed with an understanding of technology, something I lack. A few examples:

  1. Etsy! Anyone up for helping me get my page set up? All profits from my sales go towards NTCP, so I would love to sell more, but I’m struggling with the technological aspect of that goal.
  2. Google Drive – I use google for most records and organizational guides/notes/etc. If you know a lot about that, that would be beneficial!
  3. Graphic design and artistic minds
  4. Social media help; posting, advertising, sharing, interacting – I would LOVE for our IG page to be more interactive, people commenting, sharing, getting to know one another, but I don’t do a great job keeping up with it and making it happen
  5. Keeping track of boxes; who got them, who didn’t, how many we do, etc.
  6. Finances and Inventory – track how many packagegs we send out but also what donations we get- money or product, as well as my own sales that go towards it, and the amount I end up spending out of pocket to complete packages

OUTREACH – looking for new donors, sharing posts, and watching for sales we would be interested in.

a. Find other blogs, pages, or articles that relate, we share them or guest post to spread awareness and find new people with their own experiences that we can learn from!

b. Watch for sales, giveaways, and new shops for donating as well as for individuals who may have extra tubes we could use for tubie animals-– often kids who don’t need them and had an extra gtube at home, and it is no longer needed, etc.

Your own PRODUCTS, what do you make? (if anything)- like tubie pads, tubie clips, other medical items, or any other “carepackage” items like bath salts, lotions, soaps, etc., we would love to hear from you!

1.Tubie pads/clips/go bags

  1. Feed Backpacks – converting kids backpacks or adult backpacks to hold tube feeds, pumps, and such.
  2. Tubie Friends: stuffed animals with tubes for little kids – two part project…
  3. Finding the tubes through hospitals, facebook, and contacting the manufacturers and seeing if they would donate any sterile tubes but ones that are either expired or have defects that make them unusable—explain what we are doing and see if they’ll send us tubes- especially button tubes of any kind, but we take anything we can get! (g, gj,j tubes more than NJ/NG.)
  4. Making them! Do you make these or know you can? That could be another upcoming thing based on donations/tubes we can acquire.

 

There are so many ways you can help this project, just sharing it and telling others about it is helpful. We are looking not for more applications – we get countless applications – but for awareness and depth and support from the “normal” world. The goal is to make this terrible thing into something slightly more tolerable through creating resources and opportunities to be yourself and feel what you need to feel, but also to learn and be prepared for all that could come your way ; I work hard to create a resource that gives you so much more than doctors or healthy individuals can.

 

Happy Feeding Tube Awareness Week and thank you for being inclined to read and learn about this fabulous project!

New Years Thinking

Every New Year I like to think, this is my year. I look back on the last year, or really just on my journey in general, and I think of course of my illnesses and my desire to find a cure or a treatment that would lead me to a more “normal” lifestyle, but year after year that doesn’t come. This year, I’m not relying on specialists with new perspectives or treatments that will be approved by insurance, I am instead looking at myself and my situation and thinking how can I work to maximize my experiences and the value of my time? I may never have my cure, and I may not get rid of my medical devices, but I can make the most of the life I have, and now that I’ve been through all the tests and all the procedures and I’ve seen the biggest and the best doctors out there, and here I am, how can I help myself?

I have just as many goals and dreams as I did when I was 16 and healthy, but now they mean even more to me. I want to get back to who I was, who I am, as much as I can. I don’t plan to achieve all of my goals this year, but I think setting myself up with healthy goals and positivity, a hope for a fulfilling life, could be the most effective “treatment” I can have.

I want to be more active, both in a sense of being able to spend more time outside of my home but also being stronger and feeling more fit and less frail. I want to make friends who are here for me regardless of my health and all that comes with that.

I want to fall in love, I want to feel like I am loved and adored no matter what my stomach looks like, no matter what I can or cannot do, no matter what date night looks like. I want to know there is a person out there who doesn’t need to see past all of my greatest insecurities, but is understanding of all I’m working through.

There are so many places I want to go and things I want to do, and I want to be able to do it without limitation, but if I have to work around things, I will. I can’t do a lot of the things on the top of my bucket list right now – swim with dolphins, scuba dive, snorkel in the tropics, etc. – but I can work up to it. If I’m facing a lifetime with health complications, I’ve got to start embracing that and working with it even more than I do now.

It’s not as if I can pick up and go today, I’ve got a few things to try to manage a bit better before I go too crazy, but it’s only January 7th so no one is too far into resolutions, right?

I have to learn to push myself in healthy ways but form a relationship with my body where I am able to feel more control while still continuing to listen to my body. I’m going to start with keeping up with the blog, revamping and working hard on Newbie Tubies, and trying to be more active.

 

Happy New Year 🙂

Delivery Day

Ice ice everywhere! Our first bout of winter weather came to town this week, and it was enough for two snow (ice) days for the kiddos, pretty much the most exciting thing back then. Sadly, I’m no longer an exited 6year old whose biggest worry is whether or not there will be school tomorrow, and though I still love waking up to a winter wonderland, snow days are a lot different for me now.

I live in the woods, and my driveway is a gravel mountain itself, so when the weather is bad, we are often stuck here for as long as the ice is. This ice storm came through on a Wednesday night/Thursday, which of course, with my luck, is the day my medical supplies are sent out (Wednesday) and delivered (Thursday). I rely on all of these supplies to stay alive and out of the hospital. My entire week’s worth of food (tube feeds), hydration (IV saline), and the medications and supplies that are vital for keeping me going are in one, very heavy, box.

My home health/ pharmacy does everything they can to make things run smoothly, but they can’t/won’t send packages early, so during a winter weather storm like this, things can easily get lost or delayed. I received an email from my pharmacy saying the supplies hadn’t gone out on time and weren’t able to be delivered on Thursday, so it became a question of how long would it be until our driveway would be passable, giving us the chance to go and others to come.

That said, it doesn’t necessarily all ride on them, my network goes much further that that, and in ways some may not have ever thought to take time for Before. I received an unknown call on Thursday, and I was surprised when it was my delivery driver from FedEx! He called me to let me know he wasn’t running his route today due to the weather and the road conditions, but he saw my box and knowing how important it is, he called me personally to see if there was any way for him to get it to me. So even though he wasn’t working his normal delivery route, he took time to call and was ready to put forth effort to get that box – filled with those important medications and fluids to me in any way we could. How incredible is that? Just the offer was so genuine and an incredible inspiration, a true member of my team.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, because this isn’t the first time I’ve had interactions with him—always positive ones. This man has always been incredibly kind to me. I’m almost always home alone during the day, he sees me hooked up to my IV pole and a total mess lookin’ straight out of bed, always trying to control my crazy dogs, but no matter what the chaos is, he is always smiling and helpful. You don’t come along delivery drivers who are always ready to do more, to push the job requirements and just be compassionate and accommodating, but anytime he sees an opportunity to be helpful, he is there.

Putting for that effort without being asked to is such an incredible gesture, I know not everyone would do that. I feel incredibly grateful to have such caring and empathetic people in my life, even someone who just knows I’m young and sick and get weekly medical supplies. There’s no limit to who can share and spread love and support, and I couldn’t ask for a better reminder of that. There are so many members of my medical “team,” and you probably don’t automatically consider a delivery driver to be a key member, but in bad weather, lost boxes, damaged product, etc., you better believe that these individuals are key to your treatments, your well-being.

In a time during which I am feeling a bit lost when it comes to doctors and support (aside from my fabulous parents <3), having these individuals who really do care and put forth such effort is an incredible blessing. This week I was reminded of that, reminded to appreciate everyone who puts forth effort into my journey, some of whom don’t even know they are participating while others are doing work behind the scenes that I don’t know about.

I urge you all to think about each member of your team, including all of your (kind/helpful) nurses, the x-ray /IR techs, and your pharmacy or delivery service, home health, etc. Think it through, make a list if you are as forgetful as I am. And then let them know you’re feeling appreciative! Bake cookies or write a thank you card, you never know who might be in need of a little appreciation.

Spread the love, and never underestimate the impact someone can have or how much just one small act of kindness can change the course of someone’s day.

 

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.

Tips for Tubies: A Tubie’s Guide To Success Vol. 1

 

  1. The doctors work for YOU. Not the other way around. If a doctor (or a nurse, tech, or anyone else in the medical system) treats you with any less respect or dignity than you deserve, consider finding a new specialist.
  2. No question is a bad question. There are awkward questions and there can be a boatload of questions, but all of them are important. Ask until you’re satisfied, even if the doctor is acting rushed or distracted. Your health and confidence is more important than anything else.
  3. Some surgeons aren’t big talkers – they like to get the job done; make a list of questions and concerns and make sure to ask them the first time you see them pre-op/post-op or during your follow ups, it could be the only time you see them!
  4. Recovery can be even more challenging than surgery itself. Have people who will be around to help you or at least set up some people to come visit and check on you each day. Before surgery, set up a place by your bed or couch where you can keep some essential items so you won’t have to get up and down every time you need something.
  5. Don’t push yourself! There are no “shoulds” with chronic illnesses or tube feeding. If recovery is taking longer than planned, take some time off from school or work if you are able to! Learn that it is okay to say no when your friends want to go out to eat or get drinks late on a Friday night, if you feel cruddy or just don’t want to be around food, it’s okay to stay in or suggest a different plan. No guilt.
  6. Learn to advocate for yourself. It can be hard to really get doctors to understand what you truly feel and then to get what you need to be comfortable. Be persistent and thorough in explaining symptoms and how it affects your life. If you aren’t good at being forward, take a parent, spouse, relative, or friend who can help make sure everything gets covered.

 

These are just a few of the major tips for getting started with “tube life,” but they’re applicable throughout the journey with feeding tubes and really with any chronic illness. Learning to manage your case, advocate for yourself, and stay on top of appointments/doctors, questions, and treatments both past and present can be a big task, but staying organized and figuring out early on what methods work best for you to manage it all is really beneficial in the long run.

Keep your eyes out for more tips, the next round will be more tubie-specific regarding tube care and what to look out for vs what not to get freaked out over! 🙂

Thanks for reading and  I hope it was helpful! If you have questions or suggestions don’t hesitate to comment or message me!

 

 

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

The Start of Newbie Tubies

During recovery from my second tube surgery just 3 months ago, which I admit was long and pretty brutal pain wise, I realized how lucky I am to have such an incredible family support team working around the clock to help make me as comfortable as possible. I know so many people, of all ages, are walking the same journey but don’t have the support system that I do, and because these conditions are so uncommon, most people have never heard of them or have no idea that anyone can require a feeding tube no matter how old they are or how healthy they have been.

 

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3/2015– In the hospital for a picc line infection and the decision was made to place a surgical feeding tube
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10/2017– first week of recovery from jtube surgery; the pain was unbearable, my sweet dog by my side 24/7 and constantly alerting me to pain and tanking blood pressures.

Sadly, most of us –myself included– just have to learn from experience, both our own and from online connections to people who are also experienced tubies or caretakers. I’ve had tubes for 3 years now, so I have a lot of first hand experience as well as what I’ve learned from my online community; so, if I can use my experiences and my knowledge to help bridge the gap and make the transition to tube life at all easier, I can’t imagine not doing it.

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2016– me on a “good” day; a summer day embracing my tube and my central line and not being afraid to let the world see those parts of my body that keep me alive
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3/2017- My post-surgical, bloated tummy with both a gtube and a jtube; sadly my tubes haven’t helped me gain weight, yet!

In December I began looking for small businesses, mostly on Etsy, that would donate tubie products and a few other care items to my cause and throughout the holidays I used my own funds to buy other products that were on sale, some items included were microwave heating pads, cute socks or fuzzy socks, soft throw blankets, journals and motivational books/journals, etc. I have a more detailed list I will share later on 🙂

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One of my first big donations–  heating pads from DivineComfortRicePks on Etsy; definitely recommend her products 🙂

In January I had enough to begin! I set up an online application and at this point (January 12) I’ve already had 10 applications! I’m so happy to have another way to share my knowledge, advocate, and most importantly, just to help others who are going through the same/similar things I have/am. It is amazing and inspiring and I couldn’t be more excited.

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My first package, it was smaller and more simple than what I send now, but it was for a beautiful friend who was anxious about surgery and it inspired me to continue with this project.

As excited as I am, I just can’t fund it all on my own. I use all of the profits from my paintings (whatever is left after canvas, paint, mediums, etc.) as my main fund, but that’s limited and depends on how much art I can sell. I do have a few other fundraising ideas, but I will also need to find more donors who are willing to help just because they feel that my cause is worth it.

 

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11/2017– My first public art sale/”show” at a local elementary fundraiser; I sell my paintings on my blog, on facebook, and just through friendly conversation/inquiry 🙂

Depending on the products I have on hand and the person (based on age and needs of the tubie), each package has a value of $25-$50, and that is without shipping. Shipping can cost a minimum of $14-$15 but can be as high as $30, again depending on weight and size of items and whether or not they will fit in flat rate boxes.

Right now, I’m still working with some donated items to create each package; right now, it is mostly tubie pads, some self care/pampering items, a handful of heating pads, blankets, and some extra little do-dads. But I’ve made a large dent in my supplies, so I am thinking a bit more about how to acquire some new donors and brainstorming some opportunities to find new products either by donation or for major discount!

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One of my favorite tubie pad shops, tubie whoobies, donated some incredible tubie pads for us.
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Some of my “do-dads” that just add a little fun, color, or comfort to a package for kids, young adults, or even kids/siblings of the tubie!

I love supporting small businesses and I include a card in every package with the information of each (business) donor so that my newbie tubies will be able to purchase more of any product they find helpful. I also post any business/shops that donate to my instagram, facebook, and blog, which ends up hitting over 3k people, many of whom are facing chronic illnesses and make great customers.

I know I have so many loyal followers who like to support all I do, and I don’t want anyone to feel any pressure to donate when it is not convenient for you; honestly, I’m sure I’ll be posting my amazon lists or shipping needs fairly regularly, so if now is not a good time, please do not feel a need to donate or purchase anything for me!

 

That said, here are a few ways you all can help right now:

  1. I accept re gifting!

**Did you receive some Christmas gifts that you know you aren’t going to use? Maybe too many of one item? I know many spoonies end up with lots of coloring books and fuzzy socks!

Or do you just have some extra stuff you aren’t sure what to do with? If it’s something someone could love, it’s package sized, and its in good shape, don’t throw it out!

Way too many adult or child coloring books? How about gel pens, markers, crayons, or any other drawing/writing instruments??

Small toys for children, stickers, etc? Common one, too many stuffed animals?

An extra planner? Fuzzy socks or small throws?

I guess you can say that I will be your “goodwill.” Let nothing go to waste or sit around unloved, instead, donate it to a good cause!**

See the lists below for more information about helpful products/items; I will take a lot of small items to save for someone who would love them!

 

  1. Purchasing a painting

**My art directly benefits my project! You can order my paintings on the blog or by contacting me directly through email or facebook.

Any profit – what I don’t use for paint/canvas/pouring mediums/etc.—goes straight into shipping and shopping for Newbie Tubies!

If you are local, we can meet in person to avoid shipping costs.

 

  1. Donations

The last option is just making a donation. If you want to make a monetary donation that would likely go towards sponsoring shipping for a box (or two!), you can do so through pay pal, send a check, or if you’re local we can work out a time to meet up for a cash donation if you prefer that.

I am also including my amazon wish list, “Newbie Tubies Wish List,” and my Etsy list, that have items, labeled/listed by priority (amazon), that I update based on what I could use at any given time.

If you are local and would like to donate but would rather pick up an item or two at the store when you go, I am including a list of other items as well. They can be dropped off at multiple locations, so please email me and we can make a plan (or if you work with my parents they will take the items as well). 🙂

If you are a small business, or know others with small businesses, and would like to directly donate products, you can contact me at positivelyrachel101@gmail.com about what product you have and how we can best go about shipping/picking it up!

Thank you so much for reading through all of that, if you made it! Below are each of the lists I have talked about; please, feel no pressure, it is just an option for those who have expressed an interest in helping out 🙂

Click each link below to go to said list:

Amazon list

Etsy list

A detailed list as well as my paypal account can be found in a separate post, here!

 

Thank you all so much!

Welcoming in a New Day

Another year gone, already?! I’ve read and heard so many people saying that time is flying by or posting long facebook posts about all that was accomplished or what they learned in 2017 and what their goals are for the new year. And yes, sure, I could do the same, but in all honestly, my illnesses have changed my perspective on the passage of time and watching one year pass and another begin just isn’t as huge of a celebration anymore.

My life has changed drastically over the last 5-6 years and I’ve grown and learned so much, but I’ve also lost many parts of myself and so many aspects of my life that used to create that excitement and significance of a year passing.

I’ve been out of school full time for three years now, and by leaving school I also left my friends, my social life, and my education behind. At the time, I had no idea I was leaving for an indefinite amount of time, and now I’m watching my friends graduate, some of them have even gotten engaged (s/o to my first year hall-mates who just got engaged to their high school sweethearts <3), and many of my high school classmates have even settled down and started families.

Before leaving school and having my illness progress into an extremely severe case, I had so many goals and plans for my life, but being dependent on feeding tubes and a hickman line (a long term IV in my chest) for nutrition and hydration and being dependent on my parents for everything from setting up feeds and sorting my daily meds to driving me to appointments and staying endless nights in the hospital has really changed things for me.

I no longer look at the long term or “big picture,” but instead focus on getting through each day. Some days I just focus on getting through each hour, trying to survive the time between each dose of nausea or pain medication. My every day life can get monotonous at times when I am home bound or bed bound, sleeping more than I’m awake, awake only to take medications, go to the bathroom, start new feeds, etc. The days blur together when you do the same things every day and have little to look forward to. Although many of my days are full of pain and discomfort, its always possible to find something to laugh at, smile over, or appreciate.

Instead of looking back on what has gone on in the last year or thinking of what I can accomplish in a new year, I continue to focus on each day and every small beauty and accomplishment that occur in that day. Although I don’t have any huge plans for my future, I do have dreams and goals, and I’ve gotten really good at appreciating the small things in life, if you take time to look, there’s something positive in every day.