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.

The Rarest of Guest Bloggers: SMA Syndrome

My name is Danielle and I am 26 years old. Growing up I suffered with ongoing stomach issues and doctors just couldn’t seem to figure out a cause. These symptoms would come and go in waves and there were even periods of time where I would begin thinking I was doing okay! Sadly, those times were short lived and when my senior year of college came about, things took a turn for the worst.

In 2015, I became very ill. It began with my endometriosis creeping back in and that was followed with my gallbladder needing to be removed, and despite those things, I continued to progressively get worse – especially stomach wise. I was having severe abdominal pain when I ate, nausea, vomiting, early satiety (I would take a few bites of food and feel overly full instantly), bloating and weight loss. I was only 105 lbs to begin with so I didn’t have any weight to lose so things became critical rather quickly.

In February of 2016 I was hospitalized because at this point I was not able to keep anything down, not even water. I had dropped to 90 lbs rather quickly and we were very scared. My doctor had run so many tests but could not figure out what was wrong with me, until he happened to be in the right place at the right time. He was at clinic where he overheard a nurse, who isn’t typically at that clinic, talking about another girl who had just been diagnosed with this rare condition. He immediately thought it sounded very similar to me so as soon as he was done at clinic, he came directly to the hospital and went to the radiologist. He told the radiologist to relook at one of my CT scans but from a different angle.

They immediately saw the problem and he came up to my room where he finally looked at me and said “I figured out what is wrong with you. You have SMA Syndrome,” otherwise known as Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome.

This condition, SMAS, I’ve never heard of it, I don’t know what is hitting me and how it is going to change things, what my life will look like now, all I know is it is rare, and though it has terrible symptoms, it can be very hard to detect. I had numerous CT scans but until they specifically looked for the compression itself, they were missing it on my scans for the longest time even though it was right there. The compression can be seen on CT scans, angiograms and upper GI studies with barium.

SMAS is an extremely rare and potentially life threatening stomach condition in which the third portion of your small intestine (duodenum) becomes compressed between your abdominal aorta and Superior Mesenteric Artery.

In other words, part of your small intestine becomes crushed and food is not able to pass through, creating a blockage.

This can lead to severe malnutrition, sometimes resulting in death. The mortality rate for SMA Syndrome is so high (1 in 3) because it is so rare and often times there is a delay in diagnosis. As you can see from my story, I was extremely lucky that he found it when he did or otherwise I might not have been here typing this today.

So how is SMAS treated? There is no cure.

There are also 2 types of this condition. One being acute onset, caused by extreme/sudden weight loss often following something like scoliosis surgery. The other being chronic, meaning it develops over the course of their lifetime. Surgery can be done to relieve the compression, or sometimes gaining weight (usually via feeding tubes) can also relieve the compression and allow food to start passing through again. However the damage done before it is found cannot be reversed and often times the symptoms can still remain even after surgery or weight gain, which is why there is technically no cure. In acute cases, the prognosis is better and oftentimes weight gain is enough to correct it and relieve the symptoms.

Chronic cases are a bit different, these cases are where the symptoms can still remain even after medical intervention, they aren’t easily treatable and there is absolutely no cure. That was the case for me. As soon as I was diagnosed I was immediately put on TPN (total parenteral nutrition) to help get me stable enough and I had surgery within 3 weeks. Since then, I have continued to have an avalanche of problems and my symptoms have remained. I continue to have pain with eating, nausea, vomiting, bloating and severe motility issues. The damage done to my body from SMA Syndrome has caused the entire rest of my GI tract to slow down and not function properly, so I have developed other chronic motility issues from it as well (such as Gastroparesis and intestinal dysmotility), which sadly is often the case for many people diagnosed with SMAS.

After numerous attempts to try and get things under control, I had to get a feeding tube placed in my abdomen to help give me the vital nutrition I need to sustain myself. I had a surgical GJ tube placed a year ago. I also am currently on TPN through a central line (port) in my chest due to the severity of my motility issues at the moment and not being able to tolerate my tube feeds right now. So often times feedings tubes are needed even after surgery to help manage the symptoms that remain and to help sustain individuals with SMA Syndrome.

Getting a feeding tube can be very overwhelming. It isn’t easy to process what it is like to have a tube surgically implanted into your body and it is a huge adjustment.

But what made the transition easier for me when I had my surgery was Newbie Tubies. I came across Newbie Tubies on instagram (@newbietubies) and saw that they create packages for people who are getting feeding tubes that are filled with all sorts of awesome things to help someone recover from the procedure and different items for the new tube as well.

The goal is to make the transition easier for someone by sending them a package to brighten their day. You can apply yourself or you can nominate someone to receive a package.

 

When I recieved my package it had things such as a blanket, water bottle, socks, handmade heating pad, tubie pads to decorate and protect the tube, bath bombs and a coloring book. It also included a list of tips for living with a feeding tube for those who are getting their first tube. Also, everything was donut and dog themed to fit my personality, which can be noted on the application to make each package more personalized to the recipient.

I cannot express how much receiving that package meant to me when I returned home from the hospital and how much it lifted my spirits. Newbie Tubies is truly amazing and it is creating an awesome community of fellow “tubies” on social media. It is awesome to be able to connect to others who have feeding tubes as well because you can relate to them and also share tips and tricks with each other to help make living with a feeding tube more manageable.

So if you have a feeding tube, are getting one or know someone with one please go check out Newbie Tubies on instagram. Or even if you just want to help, you can donate money or items to go in the packages sent out. So please check it out!
I share my story and my experiences with SMAS with hope that it will help someone else find their diagnosis and know they aren’t alone in this journey. It can be incredibly hard finding any answers, and I know that if it weren’t for individuals working to spread awareness through social medias and the stories others have shared, I wouldn’t have been diagnosed, I would have continued suffering without answers for much longer.

SMAS is an extremely rare condition, and because of how rare it is it is and due to overlaps with symptoms of many other stomach conditions, it often isn’t thought of. Not a lot of doctors know much about this rare disease, most of the time they have only read about it in textbooks during medical school, but each patient, each case, is unique and complex, not one fitting the case studies or textbooks perfectly.

I had no idea what it was until I was diagnosed, so I hope that reading my story can help someone else out there and just educate more people about this condition. For more information about SMA Syndrome, you can go to https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/7712/superior-mesenteric-artery-syndrome.

 

Post by Dani Fantaskey — guest blogger and newbie tubie package recipient


 

Thank you Dani!! Your post is fabulous and I am SO glad your package made such an impact on you – seeing your positive remarks truly inspires me to keep working hard to individualize each package. I love doing it, so I’m glad it doesn’t go unnoticed 🙂 So happy to have you, keep in touch and I’d love to have you back involved with the project anytime! Lots of love!

If anyone has questions or comments for her, comment below or contact me and I will get you in touch with her 🙂

xoxo

Rachel

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 🙂

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.

 

IVIG Round 5 & Lots to Consider

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

My Opiate Crisis

The opiate crisis. Two words, so much baggage.

I think it’s reasonable to say that most individuals over the age of 15 living in the US today have at least heard something about the opiate crisis. Opiates are bad. Narcotics are addictive. They ruin lives and have a high risk for overdose. Opiates are a gateway drug and lead to use of street drugs & illegal self-medicating. (5th-10th grade health class, yah?) That’s what we learn about the opiate crisis, bad bad bad.

Opiates/narcotics can be dangerous…if used incorrectly or illegally. But for people like me, who are living with multiple chronic pain conditions, this opiate crisis is affecting our treatment plans and more importantly, our quality of life & ability to function.

That said, and all dramatics & sarcasm aside, for those of us living with chronic illnesses, the opiate crisis is not the same crisis that you hear about in the news or in a doctor’s office…

My opioid crisis involves trying to make the very limited quantity of pain medication last the whole month, every month….

and then I have to trek back to the doctor to try to advocate for myself and my needs when a change in dosage or medication is needed– I’m really shy/bad at confrontation and in person advocacy so this is a big stress for me.

My opioid crisis is struggling to make each dose last long enough; dealing with a connective tissue condition and genetics that make my body metabolize pain medications too quickly has made treating my pain very hard, high doses of pain meds are hard to get with all of the new FDA laws that are in place due to recreational users and ODs, which of course have nothing to do with my case, but laws are laws and now it’s been made my crisis, your crisis, and that of every addict or legal pain patient who uses these meds.

My opioid crisis involves choosing between being able to function during the day or being able to sleep at night. I’m an artist and a writer, but I can’t paint or write because of the pain in my hands, wrists, and arms. I can’t stand too long, sit still, or lay down without having severe pain in my back and hips. When does the pain end? What is more important, sleep or being productive and (semi)functional during the day?

My crisis means facing the consequences of others’ actions; I don’t abuse drugs nor do I purchase them illegally or without a prescription. I use pain meds because I am unable to really live without having a way to try to manage the pain, no different than how I work to manage my nausea or my migraines, any of my symptoms that can affect my quality of life.

My opioid crisis may not be “normal,” but it’s real. I know so many other girls going through these trials, we are lucky to have each other, but the stress and the guilt and the disappointment from disappointing doctors and failed treatments or lack of access to medications can be overwhelming. There are no words to explain how deeply the system can affect us– and not just because of opiates.

I would love to find something aside from narcotics that would relieve my pain effectively. I want to paint for hours with no shooting pains in my arms, hands, or back, and I want to type without my wrists feeling like they’re black and blue with bruises every time they hit the laptop/keyboard. I want to sleep all night and run a full bag of tube feeds without waking up in too much pain to sit up.

I don’t want to be on narcotics. I have so many goals, and none of them include narcotics, but they also don’t include severe, widespread joint and nerve pain. I also understand why there are strict rules on medications like narcotics. I wouldn’t want them to be easily available to everyone. But that doesn’t mean that those who are truly, legitimately suffering– whether it be acute (post op, injury, car wreck) or chronic (fibromyalgia, arthritis, ehlers danlos syndrome, CRPS, etc.)– should have to continue to suffer when there are actually medications that could make a difference!

Not all of my conditions have treatments. Not all of my symptoms can be managed. So if I find something that helps, and I have doctors saying it makes sense, why does it have to be so damn hard to get a hold of these medications? This system is just mind boggling sometimes.

I want to be a person, not a patient, not a statistic in a research study, just Rachel.

That’s a glimpse at my opiate crisis.

 

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

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!

Living With Overstimulation and Hypersensitivity

When I was little I could only wear my socks inside out because I couldn’t stand the feeling of the seam rubbing on my toes. We tried buying “seamless” socks, but let me warn you, they still have seams, they’re just really, really thin. I would fuss and cry and refuse to put on tennis shoes because the feeling of that seam rubbing on my foot caused me extreme discomfort, if not true pain. Back then, my family thought I was just a crazy kid who hated socks and couldn’t have any bumps in her hair for a ponytail, but none of us had a clue what was really going on.

You may wonder why the heck it matters that I hated socks as a child, but I’m getting to that. “Overstimulation” is a term that most people don’t often think of in reference to adults, but its something that greatly affects me in my every day life. No, I don’t have ADHD and I don’t have autism, but my Dysautonomia functions in the same area of the brain as ADHD and Autism and can affect the same nerves in my frontal lobes that would be affected if I did have ADHD or Autism.

Because I have both Dysautonomia (dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system) AND chronic migraines, plus both chronic joint pain and fibromyalgia, my sensitivities have just kept growing and growing. It started with socks and small sounds that I just could not get over—people chewing loudly, my window fan making the smallest clicking or rattling noises that no one else could pick out, or birds waking me up by cheeping outside of my window, giving me headaches and starting my day out in a funk on beautiful spring mornings. Now, I hear everything, and it echoes in my head making not only my migraine worse, but causing me pain throughout my whole body.

I’ve had headaches for as long as I can remember; in 5th grade I was complaining to my parents and my doctors about painful, daily headaches, but since I was around the time of hitting puberty they figured my hormones were starting to change and it was due to that. It wouldn’t be until about 5 years later that I saw my first neurologist and finally started making some progress towards figuring out exactly why sounds and lights and touch could be so hard for me.

I was diagnosed with Dysautonomia/POTS and chronic migraines. They called me their guinea pig because I was their youngest patient to date and they just couldn’t figure out all of the pieces, but my neurologist helped get me on a good migraine medication that helped minimize symptoms for awhile, until I started building up tolerances and developing new symptoms. It only took about a year to be sent to new specialists at a different hospital, and eventually higher level specialists in a new state, and then even higher level doctors in a specialty clinic over 7 hours away.

Six years later and my migraines are still not managed and my sensitivities to sound, noise, touch, and even smell are more sensitive than ever. When you hear someone say, “migraines are more than just a headache,” it’s no joke. Just my family members eating cereal or soup and having spoons hitting bowls repeatedly is enough to send me into full body pain. Having the TV on and conversations going overwhelms me so much that I end up fully zoning out and having no clue what the person is saying to me. I can’t be in the same room with my own family when there are certain noises or activities and that is extremely upsetting both for me and for them. It’s taken time for them to realize it’s a real, explained symptom for me and it is still hard for me to grip without feeling a lot of guilt and sadness.

Today, my nerve pain and sensitivity keeps me from wearing jewelry on my wrists or neck. On bad days, I can’t stand to have my hair touching my neck or the cord of my heating pad rubbing against my leg in bed. On worse days, I don’t want to be touched or even touch my own skin because my body feels like one giant bruise. I can’t put lotion on, get dressed, take a shower, or do any daily self-care tasks without being in pain on these days.

I carry earplugs and have a noise machine to try to block out the sounds that cause me distress or pain. I hate these sensitivities because they steal so many moments, so many memories from me. They cause my family anxiety and stress and they cause me frustration, pain, guilt.

Overstimulation and hypersensitivity aren’t anything to take lightly or shrug off if someone opens up to you about their struggles with either/both, try to listen and understand and if there’s something you can do to help make that person comfortable, try to do it. Changing something small like how loud your music is or whether you eat with a metal spoon or a plastic spoon doesn’t matter in the big picture, but being able to share that extra moment with a loved one or a friend because of that small effort can mean so much more than you may realize.