Relapse Struggle

I’ve begun this blog so many times, but the wording always seems wrong. Either I’m far too upbeat, or I’m far too pessimistic. This is my attempt to just be honest.

About a month ago I began struggling with increasing fatigue. The weather here has been more hot and humid than usual, so I told myself it was just my neurological issues acting up. I’d also had a rather nasty seizure due to a delay with filling one of my seizure medications, and my rather stupid decision to go for a long walk without drinking enough water. One of the issues I struggle with when my stomach acts up, is that I really don’t feel hungry or thirsty, until quite late in the day. The seizure led to a nasty infection in my hand, because I’d managed to give myself road rash from thrashing around on the really disgusting sidewalks downtown.

Now, at first I chalked up feeling like crap, to the antibiotics I had to take for that infection. Since I’m immune compromised, they’d done a massive IV infusion, then really major oral antibiotics afterwards. I think I was in denial, but I kept thinking about the cold I’d had, and telling myself, “You had a nasty summer cold, the weather has been hot and humid, you were on antibiotics,” etc. I basically just kept coming up with options other than a relapse. Then the bleeding started.

My GI bleeding isn’t exemplary in terms of amount, but it is exemplary in both persistence, and the obviousness of it being from my actual intestines and not my rectum. I did have rectal ulcers, and one oh-so-lovely genital ulcer, but none of that was bleeding. I could feel the stabbing pain in my colon, as well as various points in my intestines, and the color wasn’t bright enough to have been strictly caused by the rectal ulcers. Try as I might, there was no denying I was at the very least, having a GI flare up.

Things only went downhill from there. My appetite became so poor, along with my thirst, that I began purchasing Gatorade and Boost. Then the shaking began. I’d been dealing with morning shakiness for a while, but the amount of time I spent violently shaking became longer and longer. I would get up at 9 or 10 in the morning, and shake until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. My service dog in-training was a bit annoyed that I needed him wearing his harness at all times, because I couldn’t trust my footing in the house. Soon I was using my walker again. I fell into the dishwasher, pulling it loose from the wall, and even fell a few times while outside.

I was lucky enough to finally get my primary care doctor to inject me with steroids, but I haven’t tolerated the oral steroids, meaning I’ll likely go in next week for more injections.  I’ve begged my doctors to allow me to self-adminster IM injections at home, but they’re all insistent on going the oral route, or going into the office for the injections. My primary care doctor, and neurologist, have both decided that a lightweight wheelchair is a good decision. I won’t use it all the time, but on days when I’m feeling weak, it’ll lessen my fall risk. I also hope that it will enable me to return to work, as disability was denied again. Now they’re saying I have to weight 18-24 months for a court hearing, even though the state failed to process my neurological issues, which is one of the biggest reasons I can’t work reliably, along with the GI issues, of course.

It’s hard to know what to feel. I have this overwhelming urge to stay positive, but I’m pissed off. I had my last round of chemotherapy in April. I relapsed 4 months later, with my severe symptoms cropping up around 5 months after completion. I spent more time going through chemo, than I did in remission. While I’m beyond grateful that my neurological issues are stable, I’ve had to face that I will never be neurological “normal.” After breaking down in my neurologist’s office, he suggested that I was emotionally unstable. I wanted to smack him. Of course I’m emotionally unstable, my body continues to let me down, even when I do everything in my power to try and give it a fighting chance.

So that’s where I am as of right now. Financially struggling, emotionally struggling, but still determined to find a way to live my life. At least once my wheelchair comes, I can begin to make plans without worrying that I’ll be too weak to participate. I have a backup option for mobility. I’ll also (hopefully) stop falling like a drunkard while walking around downtown on hotter days. I still worry about things, like finding love, and settling into a family someday, but I just have to hope that it all works out. First and foremost I need to find a way to persevere, even if my body seems determined to drag me down.

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Relapse Struggle

My Disappearance

I’ve been in this odd place where things are going better with the Behcet’s, but not better overall. To say it’s discouraging feels like an understatement. My neurological issues haven’t gotten much better, despite my Behcet’s being relatively in remission. For a while I had no symptoms, but due to repeated infections, I had to stop taking Cell Cept for a while. I’ve noted some ulcers on my legs, but nothing like the ones before chemotherapy. My stomach has not responded as well as I had hoped.

Weight gaining happened, but it’s not because I’m eating healthy. I cannot digest things that are difficult to digest normally. No meat, no dairy, and definitely no raw vegetables or fruits. Greasy foods also give me issues. Today I noted a decent amount of blood when I went to the bathroom, which is frustrating. My neurological symptoms have been brutal, and my belief is that it’s related to my stomach issues. I cannot digest well, leaving me either dumping food through very fast, or (more commonly) having food sit in my stomach for hours upon hours. My heart rate and blood pressure are still erratic. Seizures have been relatively well controlled with the addition of a new medication, but consciousness isn’t going great. Heat, stress, and fatigue, all cause me to see stars and black out.

The financial toll has been severe. I’m looking at trying to return to work because my disability was denied, but no place near me works with my health. I can’t lift, bend, walk, or stand, for any prolonged period of time. I also know that any job, even if it met my physical limitations, would be hard to keep because of my fluctuating health. One day I feel great, the next I have the shakes and can’t get out of bed. There isn’t a warning, either. I literally wake up some days, and my body just can’t function. I’m hoping neurology will officially diagnose me with POTS, the hyper adrenal form, and begin the process of getting me a wheel chair. I personally hate the idea of people seeing me in a wheel chair, but I also hate having to avoid things on my weaker days.

Behcet’s takes a toll on your body, as do the treatments for the condition. I don’t know that I’ll ever experience a true remission, because symptoms seem to linger even when the disease isn’t very active. My fatigue is brutal, and neurologically it would appear that I’m doomed to have issues regardless of the status of my Behcet’s. POTS is a secondary condition that a lot of people with autoimmune diseases experience, but diagnosis is difficult. I did a 24-hour urine years ago to test catecholamine production, and the results did show an elevated level of catecholamines, but at the time we were looking for adrenal tumors…I had none.

I’m frustrated. I know my body, and I know medicine, so it isn’t difficult for me to put together my symptoms and recognize how clearly hyper-POTS fits my set of symptoms…but I can’t do anything about it. The doctor has to diagnose me, and thus far all he’s stated is that I have autonomic neuropathy of some sort. When I see him in a few weeks, I plan on bringing up POTS specifically. I hate being the patient who tries to diagnose themselves, but then again, how else do I push for my needs?

My roommate is pushing for me to get my license back, but it isn’t that simple. Even if I could go six months without a reported loss of consciousness, I still wouldn’t be able to drive in a lot of circumstances. My ability to focus, sit up, and not black out or get dizzy, is very limited. Additionally the stress of going back to work, would mean that I wouldn’t be able to drive safely anyhow. He means well, but he just doesn’t get it. Not having a license sucks, but it’s also a reasonable safety measure that I understand. I may get warnings before seizures, but that doesn’t mean I am safe. Even if I can pull over and relax, it can take hours before I’m okay enough to drive.

Life just feels like it’s slipping away. I want so much to get into a normal routine, work, dogs, food, friends…but it feels like a pipe dream. I just don’t know anymore. I don’t know how to be myself in this damaged body.

My Disappearance

Then There Was Cancer (Maybe)

In December I had an abnormal PAP smear. I didn’t stress. There had been talk of HPV a six months prior, and while my doctor at the time of the HPV drama had been a bit of a pain, he had stated that the type I appeared to have was very low risk. It didn’t cause cancer, and it wasn’t something most people even had symptoms of. I had an impaired immune system, so I had symptoms, but eventually I’d clear the infection, and be totally fine. At least that’s what he said. I opted to see an OBGYN before starting Lupron during chemotherapy, and that’s when I’d had the abnormal PAP.

Initially I worried. They wanted me to come in for a colposcopy, but I couldn’t drive, and was seriously ill from the chemo. My new doctor assured me that I could wait for the colposcopy. It took a long time for cells to change, and the external lesion that I’d noted didn’t even appear to be HPV. She told me it was likely a skin tag, or a result of my Behcet’s. I went through my chemotherapy without really thinking much about the abnormal PAP smear. What where the actual chances that I’d have all of these things going wrong at once?

On Friday I went in and had my colposcopy. I was nervous about the pain, but otherwise okay. What were the chances? They had a screen where you could watch the procedure, and so I watched…until I realized that something was wrong. Very wrong.

I stared at the screen. I wasn’t exactly sure what a cervix should look like, but I knew that there was something seriously wrong with mine. The edge was bleeding, which the doctor said wasn’t totally uncommon, but the rest of it looked foreign to me. A large white mass covered the majority of the surface, breaking the line of skin cells that mapped out the edges of the cervical surface. The doctor informed me that they’d need to do a biopsy. She turned off the screen saying that it wasn’t fun to watch yourself be cut.

A medical student held my hand, and the biopsy was quickly taken. It didn’t hurt as badly as I thought it would, but my head was swimming. The doctor told me to be prepared for the call, that the changes were moderate to severe, and more towards severe. We talked about HPV and cervical changes, and I asked if I had any options. She said that did, but that we needed to talk once the biopsy results were in.

I haven’t gotten them yet, but I’ve talked to friends who were in similar situations. Cervical cancer is this odd taboo subject. There are odd staging levels. Even if you’re in the very early stages, it’s still cancer, but it’s approached as though it isn’t. They’ll just shave off some of your cervix, or cut out some of your cervix. My friend has miscarried, once in her second trimester, due to issues with her cervix from the procedures she had to undergo. Other women have the “cancer in situ” treated via these removals, but still end up having to go through hysterectomies, because it returns.

I’ve fought through six months of chemo. I’ve accepted limitations based on odd occurrences with my autonomic nervous system. I’ve told myself that I will still find love and start a family someday, even though I’m embroiled in a long and bitter divorce. I push and push, and then the unimaginable comes form left field. Nobody was sure if I had HPV or not. They were all fairly sure I didn’t, or if I did, that it wasn’t a strain that caused cancer. Now? Well, barring a miracle that shows it’s some odd lesion related to Behcet’s, I’m facing cervical cancer. Now I have to grasp at the hope that it’s early in the cancer game, and limited to an area that can be treated without impacting my fertility.

Of course the doctor told me point blank that I am, and always will be, a high risk case. I have to see a high risk OBGYN before becoming pregnant, plan carefully, and be followed closely. People think my depression or anger over my divorce is somehow related to jealousy, jealousy that he’s living with his girlfriend, and that they have a baby. I am jealous, but not just of him. It’s this overwhelming jealous anger at the universe, because people around me have solid careers, homes, families, etc. They’ve happily fallen into the life I’ve always imagined, while I struggle to just hang on to the bits and pieces of what I’ve managed to assemble for myself.

I want to be loved, and be in love. I want to have a family. I want to have a career that enjoy. I know that life isn’t that simple, and that nothing is as perfect as it seems, but when you’ve fought as hard as I’ve fought, just to have life kick you when you’re just starting to get up…it’s hard. I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me. I’m waiting for the call, and dreading it, all at the same time. Bills have mounted, and yet I can’t even try to find some work from home work, because if I even work just a little bit, on record, my disability could be denied. I have backpay that I’m owed, that I need, because my credit card debt is brutal.

There has to be something more than this. There has to be something better. I’m so sick of finding out that the light at the end of the tunnel is really just an oncoming train.

Then There Was Cancer (Maybe)