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

Passion Over Predictability

Its really easy for my mind to go towards thinking about how my illnesses have stolen any predictability about my future; how they took me out of school, have forced me to accept that I may never have my “dream” job or may not even be able to work a “real job” at all. For someone who loves to plan and always wanted to know what was next, living in such uncertainty can be daunting. I fear living a life lacking companionship and never getting to fall in love or find my true soul mate, but then I’m reminded that my illnesses have brought to light so much in myself  that I never would have discovered if I hadn’t gotten so sick in the first place.

Instead of focusing on the things I likely won’t be able to do, I’ve started to consider all that I CAN do. I’ve discovered so much about myself that I didn’t even know was there; I have new passions and I’ve discovered talents I had no idea were hidden within me until I got sick and I have a new understanding and a new level of empathy both for the people and the world around me.

Ive strengthened relationships with my loved ones and lost many people who weren’t able to stick by me through my trials, I’ve broadened my outlook and see things in such a new and brighter perspective, and I’ve found passions that give my life more meaning than just being the “sick girl,” no matter what my body has in store.

Although I can’t eat, I’ve developed a relationship with food through cooking meals for my family. I love creating new recipes and trying new techniques with home made goods. Some people are shocked by my love for cooking, but it’s something I’ve always loved and now it’s a way for me to “enjoy meals” with my family.

I’ve rekindled my passion for photography and developed a love for painting– this one I don’t think anyone would have expected. I’ve never been the artist of the family, and although I can’t draw anything, I do have an eye for color, and I’ve found some painting techniques that work for me. Because I’ve discovered these passions and because people (not just my parents 😉 ) started buying my paintings, it has given me hope that even if I can’t graduate from college or work as a full time behavioral therapist like I had hoped, maybe there’s something more out there for me.

I’m blessed to have a community here at home as well as through chronic illness support groups online that support me in every way they can. I’ve had so much support from my local community and I’m so so thankful for each and every one of you. I also have a truly amazing family that does everything from help me with medications/treatments, drive me places, and help with any other around the house/medical things I need and they also help me be able to follow my passions and set me up for success. Not everyone in my situation is so lucky.

Chronic illnesses are exhausting and isolating, they take away so many parts of our lives that we use to identify ourselves. If you’re going to survive it with some sanity, you have to make a choice to not let your illness be the only thing that defines your life– it is always part of what defines you, but if you don’t have other distractions and passions, you’ll just about lose your mind.

 

My Relationship With Chronic Pain

For the past few years, I’ve been very honest and open about my journey with Gastroparesis, it’s been one of the main chronic illness I talk about. So I decided to talk about another pretty major part of my life.

My relationship with chronic pain started when I was 12 years old. It was winter time, and I was doing a indoor winter conditioning camp for softball. During the camp, after a throw my right shoulder started hurting. Turned out, I tore my labrum pretty badly. So at age 13, my first surgery in was done in January and my surgeon cleared me for surgery that following season. I think I was cleared too soon to return to playing softball again because soon it was re-torn. I managed to play through the season, pushing through the awful pain I was eventually placed as a designated hitter. That was my very last season of softball, one of the biggest passions I’ve ever had.

Eventually I couldn’t handle the pain any more and hoped a second surgery at age 17 would fix my problem. But I was wrong. I remember the pain from that surgery being so extreme, I slept in a recliner for weeks. I’ve done so many hours of physical therapy for my shoulder, and it’s never really helped. Unfortunately the 2nd surgery was also unsuccessful.

During a follow up with my Orthopedic Surgeon, I decided to mention to him how I was also having pains in other joints. Hips, jaw, back, knee for the past 2 years. So he ran blood work, and sent me to a Rheumatologist. The doctor I saw, did some tests and gave me a diagnosis of ” fibromyalgia with hyper mobility” then handed me some brochure, and a handful of different medications. Unfortunately there weren’t very many in the area at the time so it was hard to find a good one. My body was so overwhelmed with all the different meds, all it did was make things worse. They upsetted my stomach, or made me extremely tired. So durning my Senior year of high school, was spent doing a lot of sleeping.

For a while I was able to manage, especially the pains in my shoulder. The other pains bothered me, but I was able to push through them. Lately, the chronic pain has been a struggle. I get muscle pains all over; my legs, arms, back. I have instability in my shoulder so it often feels like it’s not sitting in its right place. And at times that can be so painful it’s debatating. Some times it gets very frustrating, but I’ve learned to use certain coping skills when I know I need them. On bad days I’ll try to surround myself with things I like. I’ll listen to my favorite music, go and be outside, etc. 

Two different surgeons have told me a 3rd surgery probably wouldn’t help, so I’ve had to accept that in all likelihood this will be a part of my life, for the rest of my life. I know a lot of my friends can relate; they as well have painful illnesses that help them understand. It’s nice being a community that constantly amazes and inspires me. So, because of that, I guess my relationship with chronic pain will continue on as “it’s complicated.”

 

 

A great piece by one of my close friends and fellow chronic illness warriors, Sarah! Follow her blog at chronicallywandering.wordpress.com 🙂

A Word From Many: Ehlers Danlos Syndrome

As part of Ehlers Danlos Awareness Month I asked a large group of women with EDS to describe their journey with this condition in one word. Whether it be their most common symptom, an adjective that explains how their life has been affected, or an emotion that describes what EDS means to them, I just wanted to hear what EDS is to each person. I took all of these words and put them together to share in hopes that they will show how brutal EDS can be to so many people, but also to show the incredible strength that it brings to it’s sufferers and as a reminder that no one fights this alone.

So again, these words come from over a hundred different women– not just me! Many of the words were suggested by more than one person; the most commonly used ones are in the largest print. I don’t share these seeking pity, but because those living with EDS live complicated lives full of so many symptoms, emotions, and stressors that go unseen. Awareness month may be over, but every day we will continue to fight for better treatments, more awareness and understanding, and we will continue to fight for our lives.

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Ehlers Danlos Syndrome: When Things Went From “Promising” to “Progressive”

I was diagnosed with my first “real” chronic illness at age 16. In reality, I had been having symptoms for a long time, but they had always been passed off as hormonal symptoms, asthma, growing pains, etc. At the start of my junior year of high school I was diagnosed with Dysautonomia/POTS along with three other types of tachycardia and Occipital Neuralgia. I was experiencing severe, daily headaches, chronic fatigue, hypotension, tachycardia, pain, and a myriad of other symptoms. Although the doctors I was seeing did tell me that these illnesses were chronic, they also told me that because of my age and how the illnesses presented there was a high likelihood that I would grow out of them by the time I was in my early 20s. Although I was struggling at the time and had to change many aspects of my lifestyle to cope with these new symptoms, my parents and I had hope that this was only temporary and we would see improvement.

About a year later when I had just started my senior year of high school I was just getting over pneumonia when I started seeing an increase in my fainting and then began having gastrointestinal symptoms. Within a few weeks I went from vomiting once or twice a day to not being able to keep down any of my meals. By November I was taken out of school and placed on homebound due to my inability to attend classes regularly; my state of health was in rapid decline. In December I was admitted to UVA hospital where they were finally able to put a name to what was going on… gastroparesis. My stomach was essentially paralyzed and had stopped being able to process or move food through. At the time they told me it was a chronic condition but that in young people with no other pre-existing conditions it is often post viral and will go into remission or can even go away completely within 9-18 months. They fully expected me to fall into this category and told me that adjusting my diet and taking nausea medication should get me through until this time passed.

Although I did see temporary improvement with my gastroparesis, it obviously did not pass. About a year after my diagnosis I had my second “flare up” and ended up re-hospitalized at UVA and eventually ended up with both a central line and a feeding tube. After seeing multiple specialists including cardiologists, electrophysiologists, motility specialists, neurologists, GI doctors, a psychiatrist, rheumatologists, dysautonomia specialists, and I’m sure I’m missing something, I ended up finding out that my POTS and my GI dysmotility/gastroparesis is likely all caused by a genetic condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). This diagnosis is what changed the dialogue surrounding my health.

EDS is a group of connective tissue disorders that are passed down genetically and cause a defect in the collagen in our bodies. I have hEDS (previously EDS type 3), which is also known as hypermobile EDS because one of the most distinctive factors is having hypermobile joints (having hypermobile or double jointed joints does not mean you have this condition, so don’t worry!). Because of my collagen defect, my joints are loose and my connective tissue is “stretchy,” leaving me with joints that sublux or pop out of place frequently and are prone to dislocation, skin that is stretchy and bruises and scars easily, and a body that bends and folds in funky ways. EDS also causes me extreme pain almost 24/7, it has caused osteoporosis to develop at age 20, led to chronic nerve pain, and it affects every part of my body down to my eyesight, my hair and nails, and my organs.

For me, EDS is the most likely cause of the autonomic failure that has caused my Dysautonomia as well as the cause of the failure of my GI tract. The tests I had done last fall showed that my entire GI tract is now affected, meaning the paralysis and dysmotility has moved beyond my stomach and into my intestines and my colon. Sadly, EDS is a lifelong condition that has no cure and very few treatments. When I got diagnosed with EDS, doctors stopped talking about growing out of it and starting talking about “comfort” and “symptom management.” The dialogue changed and things got a lot more serious. We have a lot of hope for improvement in my symptoms and my quality of life and we hope every day that someone will discover more answers for me and everyone else who is living with these illnesses, but EDS changed the game for me.

I don’t write this to scare you or ask for pity, I write it because it’s awareness month and I think it’s important to understand that there are illnesses out there that go unnoticed and unfunded and you only hear about it when it hits someone close to you. Heck, I had no idea what gastroparesis, POTS, or EDS was until I got diagnosed, but now my life is literally forever changed by them and even I don’t have answers. Doctors don’t have answers. So I write, I share what I do know, and I hope that maybe the next girl will find out a little sooner or find the right doctors a little faster. Awareness is important, so thank you for reading and thank you for sharing!

Adventures of a Tubie

Have you ever had to make a decision between what may be smart or practical vs. what would make you happy or what would be fun? People often make these choices in small ways every day when it comes to choices about what’s for dinner, whether to study or go out with friends, what to wear, etc. One of the biggest lessons I have learned in my journey with chronic illnesses is that life is short and sometimes it’s worth a little bit of impracticality if you’re just in need of some fun.

I spend a lot of time taking care of myself and majority of the time my health comes first. I have a lot of doctors appointments and I spend anywhere from 16-20 hours a day hooked up to my IV pole on various tubes for infusions and feeds. I take countless daily and as needed medications and require a great deal of rest due to chronic fatigue and pain. That said, after a rough recent admission—which you can read about in a recent article here—my parents and I decided that I am in need of some fun.

I have some fabulous friends who live with similar health conditions that I do, but most of them live hours, states, and even countries away! Taylor is one of my best friends and she lives in Texas; she has two or three of the same conditions I have and has a feeding tube! Taylor came to visit me and our other friend, Macy, last summer and we had an amazing time! We have had two other trips planned but both fell through due to our health at the time.

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You’d never know each of us have tubes, central lines, and a handful of chronic illnesses! This time together was so precious.

Well, even though my health is not currently considered “good” or even stable, I’m going to go visit Taylor! I will fly to see her and spend a week with her in Texas! Considering most days I hardly leave my house right now, this is a huge undertaking for me, but it will be so good for my spirit. And although we are both in our early/mid twenties, Taylor and I are both quite sick and have similar restrictions so we will be good company for one another 🙂

I am so excited for this trip. I do have some anxiety about flying and traveling by myself and I know that I will need a long time to recover when I get home, but it is totally worth it. Although I can’t escape my body and my illnesses, I can take a small break from all of the stress that comes along with appointments, phone calls, insurance, etc. (or at least I can try!).

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Sometimes you just gotta pretend you’re a normal 21/24 year old and duck face it out 🙂

This trip does not mean I’m feeling better or I’m recovering, it just means I’m doing something that is fun and something that will make me happy. I’m taking time to be young and savor this part of my life as much as I can. We don’t have time to waste, so even if all Taylor and I do is watch movies and talk and nap, it is so worth it. Even if it takes me two months of sleeping when I get home, it is so worth it.

Don’t forget to choose the option that will make you happy sometimes, even if it may not be practical.

Thanks for reading.

xoxo

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❤

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) is a group of genetically inherited connective tissue disorders. EDS causes a severe defect in the production of collagen, which is the part of the connective tissue is what provides strength and elasticity to major structures in your body such as your skin, joints, and blood vessels. EDS can range from being mild to being life threatening from person to person.

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EDS mama and nurse 🙂

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is considered a rare disease, and although I have the most common type, EDS type 3 or hypermobility type, there is still a major lack in research and funding. There are six different types of EDS, some more severe than others. There is no cure for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and very few treatment options.

EDS type 3 is diagnosed based on clinical evaluation and family history. Doctors look at joint hypermobility using a nine-point scale called the Beighton scale. I scored an 8/9 on my clinical evaluation, you generally need a 5 to be diagnosed, but it varies some. Other things they look for are easy bruising and scarring, stretchy and soft skin, subluxations and dislocations, joint and back pain, GI symptoms or bowel disorders, dental crowding, and postural orthostatic tachycardia. I have all of these symptoms and we found that my mom fits much of the criteria for EDS as well.

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My shoulder is in the process of sliding out of place in this photo, just because of how I was selfie-ing! Oops!

That’s a simple medical definition of EDS, but it is such a complex illness and causes daily symptoms and complications. In my case, we believe EDS is the underlying cause for many of my other conditions. It is likely that this genetic condition predisposed me to the autonomic dysfunction that led to Dysautonomia (POTS & NCS) as well as the failure of my GI tract. I have also been diagnosed with scoliosis, osteoporosis, and have suspected fibromyalgia that causes severe nerve pain throughout my body. My EDS causes severe joint pain and chronic back pain that often leaves me bed bound as well as constant subluxations and dislocations of my major joints such as my shoulders, knees, hips, thumbs, wrists, ribs, and collar bone. I rely on my feeding tube for nutrition and my port for hydration because my stomach and intestines/colon no longer function properly due to gastroparesis and generalized intestinal dysmotility.

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My feeding tube goes through my stomach and into my intestines so that I can bypass my stomach and receive nutrition.

Because I have low bone density (weak bones) and experience regular subluxations (joints popping in and out of place), I have to be extremely careful not to hurt myself. I can fracture bones much more easily than most and my skin bruises from things as simple as crossing my legs the wrong way or wearing boots for long periods of time. I used to be extremely active and adventurous and I loved to run and swim, but now I’m lucky to be able to take a short walk or do simple floor exercises a couple of days a week. My chronic fatigue syndrome leaves me in bed anywhere from 16-22 hours a day sleeping and resting and even when I’m awake I’m usually still just at home because of pain/nausea, daily migraines, and fatigue.

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome has changed my life, just as it changes the lives of everyone else it affects. I have had to leave school and am unable to work due to high levels of daily pain, constant nausea, and extreme fatigue. One positive thing that has come from my diagnosis is the many friends I have been able to make from the online support communities that I joined once learning I had the condition. Making friends who are going through the same things that I am has been such a gift, even if most of them live in different states and even different countries.

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My first ever EDS friend! She also has gastroparesis and Dysautonomia/POTS just like me!

February 28th is rare disease day, so take time to be aware and spread awareness for rare conditions like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome today. These conditions need more research, funding, and awareness so the millions of people living with rare conditions can move towards finding cures.