Embrace It

Illness is not easy in any way, or for anyone. When your life is suddenly pulled out from under with little to no warning, and by something that no one, yourself included, has ever heard of nor can anyone begin to understand, boy does life change.

I got sick in high school, and thanks to some ignorant doctors, my parents were pretty sure I was going to be better in no time. I was a young female so of course the daily, crippling headaches were hormones and all the pains in my joints, nerves and ribs were simply growing pains, because as my lovely doctor said, “it’s normal for young women to be in pain.” Right. Helpful

Well when I got to 2 months of being unable to keep down most foods and was on homebound because I could hardly stand up from bed or be on my feet too long without passing out, nor could I eat or stay awake during school… I finally got admitted and got my diagnosis. Gastroparesis. What the heck is that, right? I don’t even think my doctors knew, because no one told me that it would change my life , forever.

I’ve come across so many medical professionals who have no idea what I’m talking about when I tell them about my health conditions…. EDS, POTS/Dysautonomia, Dysmotility/ GP, SIBO, migraines…. Is it so hard? Well maybe, but it shouldn’t be for doctors.

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My family was and continues to be incredible and supportive in every way they can – even if I don’t always want comfort or support for myself. My mom grew up in a family where the flu wasn’t a real risk, a fever was just to keep you flushed and warm, and complaining wasn’t an option. What’s a doctor, right? As long as you could walk and your eyes looked strong, you were good to go – dress nice to feel nice.

To the point, my mom quickly adapted and came through for me and after some rough times in the earlier years, we grew closer than ever as she became my home nurse doing anything from making and hanging my feeds and fluids, sorting my weekly meds, helping me shower when I can’t do it on my own, brushing my hair even though I’m terrible about it because it hurts… I don’t know what I’d do without Nurse Bibi.

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My dad and I have a different relationship, but it is so important to me, even if I have trouble showing it sometimes. He’s here for me no matter what, any time, any day. We go to out of town appointments and listen to fun music, joke around, etc. He helps me relax before appointments when he knows I’m anxious. He also lets me sleep or supports me when I want to do something else.

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That reminds me so much of my year round, travel swimming days when Dad and I would drive to the meets just the two of us because I was so shy and didn’t have friends on the team, but I got dad to myself and we had so much fun. Dad also taught me how to drive 🙂

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My little sister, Laura, has been majorly affected by this situation. She was looking forward to be the only one left at home while I was at school, but here I am. She graduated high school and is now in college. Pretty soon she will be ahead of me. Shes beautiful and gets more attention from boys than I ever did, even before I became the lost girl in the woods! But Laura harbors a lot more feelings and trials than she lets out. I’d do anything to take that back, but I don’t have many options. I’m sorry to put you through that, Laura. I wouldn’t wish any of this on anyone.

Mom and Dad have different love languages, and so do I, but I have to remember how much my family does for me, and I have to put aside any pet peeves that I can in order to truly show my appreciation and love. I’m not great with words right now, I don’t love physical touch, but I do well with actions and giving gifts or sending/writing out my feelings. That, however, is the opposite from others in my family. Dad loves physical touch/hugging, mom loves actions, Laura… probably actions that follow words. Don’t lie. Don’t make anything up. Don’t take credit for something you didn’t do and don’t deny something you did do. Make sense?

Life is short, right? So  embrace every day, and then really embrace the people you love. Can you make a sacrifice or step out of you comfort zone for a 15 second hug? Or a dollar store gift? It’s the thought and the effort that count, most of the time 😉 Family, by blood or by love and loyalty, are the ones you end up needing. It’s never too late to start appreciating people more and treating them as such.

Chronic illness can affect more than just the patient, when you have caretakers and live at home with family members, parents, or your spouse, they all suffer and worry and work so hard throughout the journey. So when you think about the patient and regularly check in or want to be of help, I can tell you that the caretakers (For me, my parents and my little sister) need just as much TLC as I do. It’s also so important for me, the patient, to take time to appreciate each of those people in my life, make sacrifices for them as they do for me, and treat them in the best way I can, even when I’m feeling terrible. This isn’t a battle anyone should fight alone.

 

Love and be loved, go out of your way to support and care for those in need, it’s the best thing you can do for yourself as well as for others.

 

Father’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

I love you Dad, Happy Father’s Day!

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

My Little Sister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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