Good News– About time!

Well y’all, I have some great news. About time, right? Let me start by saying that I’m thrilled with this news. It’s incredibly exciting for me as well as for my family, but, I am writing this post and explaining this news to you because although it is wonderful news, and it is what I’ve been waiting for forever, it’s not going to be a walk in the park, piece of cake, cure all for me… it’s a complicated treatment that is not widely used for my condition but nonetheless, my best shot.

A couple of days ago I got the news that my IVIG has finally been approved, and not just for one dose, but for 13 rounds.  We’ve waited over a year and seen 3+ specialists in order to make this happen, it’s been a crazy battle to get to this point. On Monday 2/19 I will have my first round!

IVIG is IV immunoglobulin therapy. Essentially it is meant to reboot your immune system and help alleviate or reduce the symptoms of autoimmune or immune conditions. For me, the catch is that I do not have the typical conditions that IVIG is currently used to treat. There are many trials going on with how IVIG can help different conditions, gastroparesis included, but there’s no FDA approval for IVIG as treatment for it yet. That said, this is my only viable option left and because I do have an immunodeficiency, I was finally able to get it approved.

Throughout this process I’ve heard a lot of “slim possibility,” “doubtful,” “statistically…” “honestly…” “be prepared for disappointment…” and all of the other phrases doctors use to tell you they don’t think things will work…

BUT, we heard someone say, “it’s worth a shot,” and here we are today, after a long fight, ready to start a new trial.

IVIG is something my family and I decided was our best chance for change. Not all of my doctors agree, but when do they ever? It’s not a treatment widely used for gastroparesis or EDS/Dysautonomia, but because my immune system is involved, there’s a chance my GI system could respond in some way to it. My motility specialist is the one who suggested it as one of my last 3 options for treatment; today, this is the only one of those three options that I have left.

We don’t expect miracles. In fact, I try not to make expectations at all. I hope it works. It would be incredible. But if it doesn’t, I don’t want to be crushed. I’ve been warned by doctor after doctor that it is likely not going to help, so I’ve pretty much got that in my head, but I also have my own hope and positivity in there thinking maybe this is going to be it. I’m not a blind optimist, but I do have hope. It may be hard for some of you to understand that combination of emotions and feelings, but I’m glad it is, because it means you’ve never had to be this sick, and for that I am thankful.

I wrote this update because I know you all care, I know you all want and deserve an update, but I also needed to share with you how this process is going for me. It’s not going to be an easy treatment. It’s not a miracle drug. It’s not a guarantee of success or relief. It’s a treatment that is extremely hard on the body. It has major side effects. It’s a long shot. But it’s my only shot.

IVIG is what I’ve been fighting for and waiting for for a year. I’m so, so relieved that the fight for approval is over, but that doesn’t mean my battle is over, it’s onto the next step now. My family and I have worked so hard for this; hours of phone calls, emails, paper work, doctor visits, denials, tears…what a journey it has been, and now the journey continues. It will take at least 3-4 months to see any results even if this treatment does work. All great things take time.

What I need in this time is for my support team to just be here for me. I will update if there are any improvements or changes, I will update on how the treatment is going and if I am having any side effects or complications, and I will do my best to post regularly so you know whats happening in general. Try not to set expectations, have no disappointment, no pity or sadness if I see no results, no explanations of why it hasn’t worked or reassurances about when it will, just be here for me.

All I need is love. Support. Laughter. Company. Friendship. Exploration. Care. Distraction.

I’m sick and treatment is hard and unpleasant, but I have my ways of coping and I am still a person and sometimes I just need to be Rachel.

 

xoxo

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 Holiday Inspiration

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

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

IMG_8940.JPG

Christmas Paintings!

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

IMG_8032.JPG

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

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

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

IMG_8035
Decorated IV pole

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays!

A Day with Dysautonomia

I’ve been dealing with dysautonomia since I was a teenager, really even longer before my diagnosis in high school. It started out with shortness of breath and heart palpitations before moving into full on syncopy and fainting spells and eventually complete autonomic dysfunction. Today, although my dysautonomia is in many ways managed better than it has been before, it still affects my body and routine every day.

Although my fainting spells have been minimized by doing twice-daily saline infusions, if you look deeper you find that my dysautonomia is still very much present. I struggle daily with common symptoms like dizziness, accelerated heart rate, and fatigue, but I also have symptoms that are less talked about.

I struggle with temperature regulation, being unable to stay warm if I go anywhere with a temp under 65-70 degrees, even if I’m bundled up and only there for a couple of minutes; this includes grocery stores, cars, outdoors, and my own house during the winter. Something as simple as changing my clothes can send my body temperature drops as low as 91 degrees F – hypothermia is 95 and below. I joke about my “hibernation” during winter, but it’s partially true, being that cold and unable to warm up is not a fun –or safe– feeling. On the other hand, if I’m fatigued or talk too much (no joke), I run low grade fevers and have to put myself in a “time out” to let my body rest and recover.

22278560_10210385324126221_85438315_n.jpg

I also struggle from severe adrenaline rushes. My blood work shows high norepinephrine and dopamine levels which you would expect from someone who is overly excited or even scared, maybe from sky diving or being in a high speed car chase? Well, I get them from standing up or over exerting myself. When your body has to work extremely hard just to keep you on your feet, it sometimes goes into overdrive. These adrenaline rushes either leave me hyper during the day or up all night, but either way, I’m exhausted and weak when they’re over.

My dysautonomia has also contributed to my digestive tract failure and my chronic pain. Although I have other conditions as well, these are all comorbid and interact with one another making it harder to treat. I’m on 24/7 nausea medication and daily pain medication as well. I struggle with daily migraines and occipital neuralgia. I rely on tube feeds and IV fluids to keep me nourished, hydrated, and able to stand up without passing out.

22281085_10210385360447129_81106315_o.jpg

Although there are many other symptoms I struggle with, these are just a couple that are currently having a big impact on my life.

Dysautonomia is an umbrella term for a multitude of conditions and needs more research and awareness. There are way too many people suffering from this condition who deserve treatments and a cure, but we have none.

To each of you reading this, thank you. Please continue to read, share, and educate others on these conditions so that one year we can write about the cure.

A Guest Post: Does My Illness Define Me?

This is a topic widely discussed within the chronic illness community. You’ll see people saying everywhere, “Don’t let your illness define you.”

You know what? No, my illness doesn’t define me, but it is ONE of the things that defines me. But just here is a list of other things that define me:

My favorite color.
My favorite TV show.
My favorite animal.
The thoughts that go through my mind before I go to sleep.
What causes I feel passionate about.
What I like to do in my spare time.
What kind of characteristics I’m drawn to in a friend.
The way I react to specific types of situations.
The little things that make me laugh.
How introverted or extroverted I am.
What situations I tend to shy away from.
How I treat strangers.
How I treat my friends.
My goals and aspirations.
What makes you grateful.
The people you love.

And then there’s the debate. Does my health status go on that list? I’m not sure it absolutely goes on that list. But I can tell you without a doubt that my chronic illness affects almost every single thing on that list. And yeah, that makes it a big part of me in the end.

For example, the things that make me grateful have changed since I became sick. I’m grateful now for things that I previously wouldn’t have even known to be grateful for because of my illness. I treat strangers differently now because you never know what they’re going through. I do activities in my spare time that my abilities allow me to do. I feel extremely passionate about raising awareness for these causes that I may never have even been aware of had I not gone through this.

A very wise woman named Kerri Sparling, who has Type 1 Diabetes, coined the quote “Diabetes doesn’t define me, but it helps explain me.” And to me, that’s an incredible way of saying it.

I think the phrase “Don’t let your illness define you” should change to “Don’t let your illness be the only thing that defines you.” Because it is inherently a part of us, even if we didn’t choose it. But each and every one of us have other things that explain who we are even better than our illness does. And sometimes I do like to choose to focus on that.

 

Blog post by Michelle Auerbach. For more from her, check out her blog at http://www.lovelightandinsulin.ca/?m=1

 

Why I Continue to Avoid TPN as a Young Gastroparesis and Generalized Dysmotility Patient

I’m about to hit my 3 year mark of being tube fed. I never would have imagined that I would be 21 and fed through a tube in my gut, but it isn’t my last choice as far as alternative nutrition options go.

I’ve been asked and offered many times to go (back) on TPN, or total parenteral nutrition, which is nutrition that goes straight into your veins. This option gives you full nutrition—protein, fats, vitamins, etc—and can be tailored to your exact needs.

Because my intestines and colon are delayed (they don’t process food or feeds at a “normal” rate), I don’t get in enough feeds to meet my calorie goals and I haven’t been able to gain back any weight. My BMI is considered extremely low and some of my doctors would really like me to go back on TPN. For those who don’t know much about TPN and for those who have never had to make the choices I have, I’m going to try to explain to you why I – as well as many of the other girls in the same situation—want to avoid TPN for as long as possible.

Although TPN is complete nutrition, and it probably sounds like a great option to many of you reading, it comes with many risks. TPN requires you to have a central line or a long term IV that goes deep into a large vein and then straight to your heart. These can get infected easily and lead to sepsis, which if not caught in time can be life threatening.

While tube feeding is much more natural and forces your GI tract to at least try to function, TPN leaves the GI tract to shut down completely. For someone with dysmotility (lack of movement), this can mean there is little to no chance of returning to tube feeding or eating if another treatment option becomes available after they start TPN.

TPN also puts you at a higher risk for glucose abnormalities and liver dysfunction. The damage to the liver can be so serious it can cause you to be unable to run TPN or even require a transplant if not caught in time. While on TPN, you are required to do weekly blood work, blood sugar monitoring, and weigh ins. TPN can also cause volume overload, metabolic bone disease, and reactions to lipids (fats) such as nausea, headache, back pain, sweating, and dizziness.

So there are many, many undesired side effects from TPN. But aside from side effects, TPN is scary because for those of us with gastroparesis and intestinal dysmotility, TPN is our last option. To go on TPN means to admit that our intestines are no longer functional enough even just for tube feeds. It means we can’t eat, we can’t tube feed, and we may not return to either.

Yes, some people go on TPN and come off of it able to tube feed or even eat again. Some people only use TPN to supplement their tube feeds or oral intake. Everyone’s case is different and TPN helps so many people live a more “normal” life because it does provide full nutrition; it can boost your energy and help you regain strength and muscle that is lost from malnutrition. TPN saves the lives of many starving patients with gastroparesis and generalized intestinal dysmotility.

That said, it doesn’t make it any less scary. Losing the ability to eat is one of the most confusing and complicated things you can imagine. Going from eating orally to being fed through a tube is one of the strangest and hardest adjustments I’ve had to make, but knowing I could lose the ability to feed even through a tube in my gut is even harder to accept.

TPN is a miracle for so many people, but it is also a nightmare for many of us. It’s what can help us live, but also what can put our lives at risk. I’ve been on TPN before, and I fight my body (and sometimes my doctors) every day not to go back to it. You can’t understand what it’s like to go through this until you’ve been the patient, but I hope that everyone—doctors, nurses, family member, friends—can try to understand how hard it is on the patient to make these decisions and all someone needs during that time is support and love.