Self Advocacy and Research

There is a fine line between becoming a Google doctor, and self advocacy along with research. When it comes to having something like Behcet’s, the treatment options are really all borderline experimental. We can treat the symptoms, get into the more extreme treatments, and then when those don’t work, what happens? Well, you end up like me…tripling your immune suppressing drugs, going on a six week steroid taper, and sleeping more than a sloth in a coma.

When I was having severe neurological symptoms, there was discussion amongst myself and a well educated friend, about things like plasmapheresis and IVIG. The former seemed the most promising, with the latter seeming like an option should they find out my immune system was also somewhat deficient. Plasmapheresis was an interesting find for me, because it has been cited as putting many patients with many different autoimmune disorders, into remission, or at least into periods of remission. I know I’ll never be off of immune suppressing medications…but the idea that I could be free of steroid tapers, and symptoms, is kind of everything to me. I mean, I can’t imagine what it would be like to make plans, ahead of time, and not have to worry about fainting, seizing, and of course, how to eat properly so I don’t pass out but also don’t vomit.

So how do I take what I’ve learned online, and apply it to real life? I don’t know. I’m not that patient who suggests things to their doctors, but I also have come to realize that my doctor is open to my ideas at this point. We didn’t think chemotherapy would fail. To be honest, we’re not totally sure why it failed in such an extraordinary fashion, though my suspicion is that I got a nasty cold, right around the time I began to be exposed to some really nasty stuff in my apartment. My immune system was triggered, I had to lower and even stop the Cell Cept, and that is the perfect storm for relapse. Initially we thought it was minor…but now I’m thinking it was just the beginning of this larger relapse.

Dizzy. Nauseas. Exhausted. In pain.

That is how I spend my days. One weekend rallying to spend time with friends, even though we didn’t do anything insane, turned into me laying in the grass because my legs literally stopped working. The steroids have at least encouraged my appetite, though they haven’t done anything to really help me digest things appropriately. At least the GI bleeding has taken a hiatus.

I want to tell my doctors that we need to try more, that I’m not ready to give up and just accept my life is how it is. I also don’t want to suggest something, only to have them scoff, become annoyed, or worse, try it and have it fail. Where is the line? What is helpful versus ridiculous? I honestly don’t know, but the struggle is becoming insane. One vaccine has left my body struggling to function. My diet cannot sustain what I need to function properly, either. The pain, the exhaustion, it’s all just so overwhelming.

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Self Advocacy and Research

GI Behcet’s, Neuro Symptoms, and Livedo Reticularis

So one of the hardest part about this relapse, has been adjusting back to a life where I really don’t eat effectively. I’ll be calling a gastroenterologist, and nutritionist, but I know the testing they’ll force me through will be miserable. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been scoped, and we never learn anything new. Major gastritis, the occasional rectal ulcer, and overall miserable inflammation. I know I have other ulcers, but I’ve never been able to manage getting scoped during a severe flare. While I realize it would be theoretically valuable I’m not sure what the actual point is. We know I have Behcet’s. Hell, the mention of potential vascular digestive disease, was noted years before my diagnosis, but never mentioned to me. The doctor actually wrote, “possible GI Behcet’s,” with a question mark, in my chart, but never informed me, or my primary care physician.

A few years ago I’d adjusted to the fact I didn’t eat much. I was losing dangerous amounts of weight, of course, but it hadn’t really even phased me. I didn’t feel hunger, or thirst. Often I’d go until the evening before realizing I hadn’t eaten anything, and had only had maybe one drink. As dehydration became an ongoing concern, I made sure to drink…but it took force for me to do it. Eating never seemed like an actual priority, because I wasn’t hungry. There were times when I’d eat a granola bar, and feel sickly full for the rest of the day. I’ve eaten breakfast, and thrown it up at bedtime.

When I’m home alone, I don’t really think lately about how I’m not eating much. I force myself to put Boost on some cereal in the morning, and then drink G2, or Powerade Zero throughout the day. I opt for those, not because I want to avoid calories, but because they’re not as strong flavor wise as full on Gatorade or Powerade. Lab work has shown that my potassium and calcium are barely within the normal range, so I make sure to go for electrolyte drinks whenever I can. I’m already noshing on Tums like it’s my job, so I’m not totally sure why my calcium is low, but I can only do so much.

In public, my inability to eat is a whole different matter. It’s embarrassing. I met a friend for the first time this weekend, and it was so awkward to take her to brunch with a mutual friend, or order in food, and have to explain to her that I couldn’t stomach it. I ate half a piece of plain gluten free french toast, and felt like I was full of razor blades. I later forced myself to finish another full piece, and a half of another half, before having to call a quits. This was after the benefit of Zofran, and carafate. Following that it took several hours before I was comfortable enough to move around, and ultimately some medical marijuana to prevent the nausea from consuming me that evening.

After a weekend on the go, my body was protesting violently. I was drinking as much G2 and Powerade Zero as I could stomach, medicating appropriately, but crashing hard. On Sunday we were all going to the botanical gardens, and I figured if we parked close, and only did the gardens, I could push through it. There ended up being an event going on, and I couldn’t bring myself to refuse the idea of walking through the park. I knew on the way back from the fountain, as I insisted I needed some sort of beverage or preferably an  snow cone, that I wasn’t going to make it long. I’d accidentally left the G2 in the car, and even if I’d had it, my legs were just giving up the fight. Through the weekend I’d had neurological issues in terms of my heart rate and dizziness, but I’d managed with both medical marijuana, and some newly prescribed klonopin. (At night I use clonidine.) We all approached a shaved ice truck, but it was too late. I knew I was going down, and the only thing I could think of was to gracefully plop down in the shade under a tree, lay back, and try not to cry.

In the end my friend who was with me through chemotherapy, and everything else for that matter, came over, and noticed the tears in my eyes. The new friend was getting our drinks and shaved ice, and he assured me that it was okay. Nobody was judging me, and I would be back on my feet in no time. I just sat there, cursing my body for failing me. After a few minutes I was able to push myself into a sitting position, but I’d lost all feeling in my legs. They rewarded me occasionally with some muscle spasms, but remained totally numb. I was literally poking myself, and I couldn’t feel it. This was scary because while I’ve experienced the sensation of not knowing where my legs are, I’d never actually tried hitting or touching them to see if I could at least sense external stimuli. The answer apparently, in bad situations, is no.

Eventually I ate some ice, rolled a cold water bottle on my legs, and was able to walk to a bench with assistance. My new friend was sweet about the whole thing, and my other friend brought the car around. I was just embarrassed. I was also angry. I’d spent the prior week preparing for the trip with an ER trip, two doctor’s appointments, and IV steroids, as well as oral ones. (I’m going on a two week taper starting tomorrow). We knew I was flaring up, but I thought I had a handle on things, I just hadn’t known where the flare was headed.

One new sign of my Behcet’s has been the annoying development of something called lived reticularis. From what I understand they aren’t totally sure what causes it, but it’s found in patients with autoimmune conditions, and is thought to be an inflammation  and/or spasms of the blood vessels near the surface of the skin. Unfortunately for me, mottled skin in the abdomen is also a sign of some pretty serious, and even life threatening conditions. It’s also not as common in the abdomen, as it is in the lower limbs, which made the whole thing a huge concern for my doctor. It was such a concern, that when I emailed her on a Sunday about whether or not I should make an appointment for steroid injections for my other symptoms, and mentioned the “rash” with an included photo, she immediately responded and suggested I go to an ER for an exam, and IV steroids.

I wasn’t that concerned, but went into the ER anyhow. I’d been having GI pain, and figured maybe it would be a good idea to get the damn thing checked out. Plus, Sunday nights are usually slower in the ER, more so than Mondays, and my primary care doctor was on vacation. The ER was slow…but because of my medical history, and the look on the triage nurse’s face when she saw my abdomen, I was taken back quicker than usual. I also saw a doctor while I was still finishing putting on the gown. Blood work was taken, IV’s were started, and a CT was ordered. During the blood draw I kept clotting in the tubing. My IV actually blew, filling my hand with saline, and requiring a second IV. At this point they were very concerned about my vascular system. They informed me, up front, that there was a good chance I was throwing clots in smaller vessels, or even in larger ones, and they were doing the CT to check for abnormalities, the blood work was for the same reason, perhaps even more so given my severe allergy to CT dye.

After the IV steroids, I cried. The rush from the steroids, combined with finding myself in the ER, facing potential admission to the ICU, was just too much for my tired brain to process. When you spend six months enduring chemotherapy, only to face such a potentially severe complication of relapse, a part of you breaks. Luckily for me, a 4-year-old who was in a car accident with her parents, was put in the room next to me, and she was hysterically funny. This kid took an airbag like a champ, apparently had an abrasion on her forehead from it, and was laughing saying, “Balloon go boom in car, right on face!” Her parents were crying, and this kid falls off the damn hospital bed, lands on the hard floor (I heard her), and laughs going, “haha I fall!”

That kid pulled me out of a panic attack, allowed me to find a way to get the TV in the room turned on, and settle myself down.

In the end my tests were normal, but I was given the option to stay if I wanted to stay. They couldn’t guarantee that the vascular pattern was totally benign, but I also wasn’t ready to stay in the hospital. I went home, promising to follow up with both my rheumatologist, and PCM. I saw my PCM three days later, where I was informed that livedo reticularis, in my case (as well as in the case of many others), is merely cosmetic. Since being on low dose steroids, the appearance has lessened to some extent, though it hasn’t totally disappeared, and has had moments when it is definitely worse than others.

Additional issues have included an overwhelming increase in fatigue, as well as a significant increase in heat intolerance. I’ve spent an uncomfortable amount of time laying on my bathroom floor after baths, and really need to get a shower head that detaches so I can wash my hair easier. I gave up standing in the shower a long time ago, unless it was to rinse my hair, but even that has become a rather dangerous endeavor.

GI Behcet’s, Neuro Symptoms, and Livedo Reticularis

Hello Remission!

On Monday, April 17th, I had my sixth and final round of Cytoxan. It almost didn’t happen.

When I went in, they did the standard laboratory work, and I was a little worried that my counts would be off. I’d been feeling rundown prior to the infusion, which wasn’t usually the case. Sure enough, the nurses returned and informed me that my potassium levels were low. This was a big concern for me because during one round of chemo, I’d had low potassium and calcium levels, which led to a massive seizure, and a night in the hospital. It should be noted that I despise bananas. My doctor cleared me for the infusion, but ordered two potassium pills to be taken prior to the infusion. She was coming in anyhow that day to discuss plans for future treatment.

So, potassium down the hatch, and then I did something idiotic…I ate during my infusion.

I don’t get nauseas during the infusion, or after, because of the glorious medications I receive. I do, however, develop an aversion to whatever I’m eating during the infusion (or drinking). This has caused me disgust at peppermint after the first round, and a lingering desire to only eat sweets after eating chips during that first round, too. Long story short…I’ve developed a sweet tooth. I stupidly ate Sour Patch Kids, which I have grown to love despite previously hating them…and my “friend” had recently purchased Swedish Fish scented vape juice just a day before. I thought it smelled wonderful.

Now? Nope.

This past week I felt like death rolled over and wrapped in horse manure. I’m staying with my “friend,” and I don’t really remember much from the first few days. I knew my potassium was still low because of the muscle twitching and pain, but I was too queasy to give a shit. I stuffed my face with potatoes even though I really didn’t want them, and then gagged whenever my “friend” would use his vape. Even now, with the nausea nearly gone, the scent of that Swedish Fish vape oil, is just too much.

Remission? My doctor seems to think so, though I guess it’s important to note that I will always have Behcet’s. I have this urge to go out, find a job, do everything a healthy person would do, but I just can’t. I’ve even pushed myself too fast already, with walks, and the dog park, and payed via sheer exhaustion, and dizzy spells. I will be taking Cell Cept, which is still a pretty strong immune suppressing drug. I’d thought remission would mean no more drugs, but apparently that isn’t quite how this thing works. I think a part of knew there would be maintenance medications, but you always want to hope that you can be “normal,” whatever that is…

My neurological issues are a whole different situation. I still have and seizures, issues with heat, muscle weakness, and tremors. My heart rate and blood pressure make no sense what so ever…which is why my neurologist is confident about his diagnosis of autonomic neuropathy. It was a blow to be told I had a form of dysautonomia, especially since diagnosis of autonomic neuropathy is based a lot on symptoms, instead of laboratory analysis.

When you’ve spent your entire adult life, and much of your childhood, searching for answers, you expect the answers to have some tangible legitimacy to them.

Of course, my heart rate fluctuations alone have given doctors pause for quite some time. In the hospital they thought the machinery was malfunctioning, because my heart rate would drop into the mid-thirties while I was asleep, and them soar to 160 when I sat up. Welcome to dysautonomia, can I take your order? 

The reality is that many Behcet’s patients suffer from some form of dysautonomia, though from what I’ve read there doesn’t appear to be a clear reason for why this happens. There aren’t a ton of us Behcet’s patients, which makes it hard to study comorbidity scenarios…but still.

Where does this leave me? I will likely have to take seizure control medications my entire life. This means I will also require antidepressants, since I have issues with depression because of the high dose anticonvulsants. If I can keep my Behcet’s in remission, I can hopefully wean off of the nausea medications, and have more of an ability to tolerate medications by mouth. I’ve already put on 40 pounds, and would love to drop some of that weight. It is hard to see my body change so drastically, but I’m grateful that I am capable of digestion again. That being said, I will also still deal with motility issues because of the dysautonomia, and because of my limited diet and hunger during my serious Behcet’s issues. I haven’t had any issues with my balance and coordination, though I do still have hyperactive reflexes. This, I’ve been told, is related to the autonomic neuropathy, which I’ll be investigating with my neurologist over the next several months. I’m also a new and proud supporter of medical marijuana. It has saved me more times than I can count in the last few months, and particularly during this last round of chemo. Without it, I’m not sure I’d have lasted the full six months.

My divorce still isn’t finalized, because my ex is controlling. It bothers me that we’re still legally married, and that I have my married name. It doesn’t bother me that he’s trying to keep control by dragging out the divorce. I am happy, and focused on my life, and he’s not able to hurt me any longer.

His words still echo in my mind though, that nobody will ever love a sick girl like me. What if that’s true? What if I’m destined to be alone like my father? Sure, he has friends, and I’m sure he dates, but he won’t open up to anyone, largely because of his illness. He’s told me that he’s better off alone, since he’s sick, and that could be a burden. I don’t think he realized I was listening when he said it to me, and he definitely didn’t know that I would one day develop my own serious health issues.

I’m in this odd place. I know what I want in terms of a career and a family, but I don’t know how to get there. How can I have children with my health the way it is? Who would want to have children with me? Will anyone love me enough to see past my health issues? What if my dream career isn’t fully possible with my health limitations?

You know you can adapt so much of the world to fit your abilities, but you also hesitate to ask for help with adaptation, because you want to be seen as equal to those around you. I want to be loved for who I am. I want to be seen as a human being first and foremost. I know that my disabilities are a part of who I am, but I don’t want that to be the first thing others notice about me.

There are times when I know I would need a wheelchair to do certain things I’d love to do. Take walking around Comic Con festivities. I know that the heat will break me down. I know that I would be spent by the time I walked from my apartment to the waterfront. If I had a wheelchair, I could take the stress out of the mix, assuming I had the strength to propel myself in the chair (or if I had a power chair). Still, who is going to look at me, in a wheelchair, and think, “That right there is girlfriend material!”

Sometimes I let myself wonder if my “friend” could be more, but then I take a step back, and evaluate the situation. He’s an amazing guy, with drive, and ambition. He’s attractive, kind, and comes from a good family. There is probably a reason I’ve been thoroughly friend-zoned, and it’s more than him not knowing what he wants. We all question where we’re going in life. but if we see someone who feels like they fit into the equation, we know. I don’t fit, and it’s taken me a while to accept that. So while this is fun, and a big part of me wants it to go somewhere, I’ve accepted the reality that it won’t. Guys like him don’t settle for girls like me, and no, that isn’t depression or anxiety talking. Like I said, I’ve made my peace with it.

I do want to be loved though. As much as love terrifies me, I want it. So I guess I’ll just keep fighting my illnesses, and celebrating the victories. As soon as I move into my new apartment, I’m having a post-chemo celebration. I want to have a major victory dance over the end of this chapter of my life. Eventually I’m going to head to Vegas to see one of my favorite DJ groups perform.

I’m going to live life.

Hello Remission!

Depression Depression Anxiety

It’s like a really miserable game of “duck duck goose” in my head right now. I can’t figure out if the depression is making me anxious, or if the anxiety is making me depressed, but it’s probably a combination of both. The doctors told me during the first round that it was normal to have a dip in energy levels around nadir, because that was when my blood counts were at their lowest. Accepting that is what is happening, has been a lot harder though.

I don’t feel like myself. When my hair started falling out during the steroid taper, and I cut it shorter and shorter, I kept trying to find a new identity along with it. Coloring it fun colors, and denying that my life was changing as the diagnosis got more severe, and the treatment options more debilitating. When the first round of Cytoxan left me holding clumps of hair, I felt empowered for about a minute after having what hair remained, off. Then I felt lost. My wig doesn’t fit me well, and though I can go to the wig shop and have a new one made, and fitted, the process of getting myself there is difficult. (The shop is about half an hour from me, and I cannot drive.)

Friends have fallen from my life, and the people I expected to reconnect with upon returning to San Diego a year and a half ago, haven’t all been understanding regarding my limitations. Why would they be? Some get it, but some don’t, and almost nobody understands the emotional aspects of it all. I have no hair. My once clear skin is red and bumpy. My weight fluctuates 10 pounds constantly due to not eating, then eating whatever it is I happen to be hungry for.

My primary care doctor increased my depression medication upon my request, but I haven’t found a psych doctor that I like yet. The practice that takes my insurance and is within reasonable distance cost wise for commuting, has really odd opinions on medications. Mostly they push what the drug representatives drop samples off of. They are making a move away from controlled substances, despite the fact that I do well when I have Xanax or Klonopin to take as needed. I will get my medical marijuana card renewed so I can get new marijuana strains that work better for my specific needs, but even that wouldn’t help me much right now. I can use it to cure nausea and help me sleep, but it doesn’t do much for depression.

Nothing really can, because my reasons for being depressed are completely logical. I don’t look like myself. My divorce has become bitter and hostile, despite the fact that we initially were in total agreement regarding terms. Things with “the guy” are still comfortable, but as I become uncomfortable in my own skin, I risk everything around me, including our situation. Both of us tend to be anxious people, and when my own anxiety and depression mounts, I have to distance myself to spare him added stress. I know he’d do his best to cheer me up, but ultimately be brought down in the process.

Is it really depression, though, if someone is going through all of what I am going through? I’m positive that I’m chemically imbalanced, given what I take for my Behcet’s and PTSD, and my limited diet…but how does that differ from depression in someone who eats normally and has no other underlying medical conditions? Depression in the chronically ill, or terminally ill, isn’t a new issue. There is a reason that mental health questions are asked prior to each chemotherapy infusion, but that doesn’t change the internal struggle I have with myself when these moods come on. I’ve lived with PTSD for a little over 10 years, and the symptoms have decreased, only to increase with this recent loss of self identity.

For so much of my life my identity was defined by what I did for others, and who I was to others. Now that I’ve finally been forced to focus on myself, there is a shock value associated with it. Suddenly I’m thinking about where I want to be, and go, in life, and then I see where I am now, and it all becomes overwhelming. There are things we can do as people to get where we want to go, but there are so many things out of our hands. When your health becomes a roadblock to success, you feel vulnerable, and exposed. A huge part of me feels unloveable. A friend has suggested that I have been uncomfortably comfortable in the situation with the “guy” because I don’t think I deserve more.

But how could I look for more? Right now I’m barely capable of maintaining myself, let alone a relationship with another person. Financially, emotionally, physically, I’m struggling, and while there is a huge part of me that lusts after the comfort of having someone there for me in a more concrete manner, I have to recognize that I’m not in a place to return what I would take out of a partner, at least not without sacrificing some of my own health in the process.

It boils down to wants versus needs. I have to recognize that my body is a need state, I need to do what I need to do to knock Behcet’s down, so I can pick up the pieces and build the life I want. I just wish I knew how to kick the depression that bogs me down in the fight. This last few weeks has been absolutely miserable. The treatment is never fun, but this time around it was more painful because I went alone, on very little sleep, with a ton of stress mounted on my shoulders. Going alone made me realize that “the guy” could and would be there when and if I asked him, and if he were available, but that I had to lean on other friends, and myself. In that moment, I wasn’t strong enough, though. I went into that treatment on the brink of collapse, having shaved my head the night before, and dealing with stress from my ex.

I am depressed. I am anxious. I am chasing both of those conditions around and around, to the point where I must look somewhat manic to the few people who choose to still remain close to me. As I focus on my needs, and give into the sleep my body craves, I hate my body for it. I pretend pain that I feel doesn’t exist, and that I can do things I know I can’t do simply because a huge part of me wishes it were true. That I were capable of achieving whatever I set my mind to. I pretend that it is me walking my dog for an hour along the bay. I pretend that it’s me, dancing downtown, and living it up. I can only pretend for so long though, before I succumb to the sad reality of the four walls of my bedroom.

There are inspirational quotes around, and jokes, and funny photos and movies…but there is also reality. Sometimes it’s just too much to deny. Sometimes you just have to cry, and accept the raw pain of a chronic illness, and serious medical treatment.

Then there is chemo-brain, which I almost forgot to mention (ironically.) Some people have said that the chemo-brain scenario undoubtedly contributes to depression, because you’re in a fog, an you’re operating slower. It’s definitely a real phenomenon, and I’m grateful I’m only taking anthropology during chemotherapy (thus far anyhow) because the professor agreed to let me audit the course from home versus come in and do the labs. (I still need to sit in on the course in six months when it’s on campus, but that’ll be doable, hopefully.

If there was anything I clung to, it was that I was in graduate school, and I had a plan for myself. When that all went out the window, I lost my identity as a student. Now that I have one class, I’m thrilled, but I’m still freaking out. What if I don’t do well in this class? What if they can’t fix the filing grade I got from taking an incomplete and not finishing within six months? (I took the course during Rituxan, couldn’t finish, and then the first month of chemo fell RIGHT on the six month mark, so I obviously missed making it up.)

I’m the one who tells everyone where everything is, courtesy of PTSD hyper vigilance now I’m the one running late due to misplaced keys, or sim,ply running into a room to get something and forgetting what I came for. My identity has been stripped to the bare bones, and it truly is a struggle for me to figure out what I’m going to do at the end of the day to define myself i na positive way. Right now I just feel like that “sick” girl.

Depression Depression Anxiety

Cytoxan: Round One

It’s Thanksgiving, which was never a favorite holiday of mine. As a kid we had church donated food, and it was good, but it was also a reminder of what we didn’t have. Then there was my issues with eating due to anxiety, and then by my teen years I was having Behcet’s symptoms, but of course, it wasn’t acknowledged until my twenties. In any event, I have always looked for ways to duck out on this particular holiday. When I worked retail, I’d volunteer for dinner shifts, same for when I worked in a hotel. The last two years, however, haven’t exactly worked out simply. Last year I had knee surgery two days before Thanksgiving. This year I had my first round of chemo on the Monday before.

I went in optimistic. My thought process was that I’d feel sick Monday night, Tuesday, and maybe some of Wednesday, but by Thursday I’d just be tired and a little hungry. That hasn’t been the case. During the infusion I started to feel nauseated and honestly thought I was going to both pass out and throw up. I had the guy grab a nurse, mostly so he wouldn’t see me toss my cookies if it happened, but they stopped the medicine, gave me more fluids, then continued, and it was fine. I just felt very tired. (I had received Ativan due to muscle spasms in the beginning. They claimed it was anxiety, but I’ve had them for years.)

Each day has been worse, and it’s because I’m not drinking enough water. It’s hard to drink water when even the smallest amount of food or liquid trigger your urge to throw up. I’m not capable of ignoring that signal from my body. Some people can power through, and be like I’m nauseas, but I’m going to sip on this or that…not me. My mind is firm. If I’m nauseated, nothing shall pass.

I had Zofran with the infusion, then my usual at home dosages of Zofran, but it wasn’t enough. I used some promethazine to switch it up, and had some relief, but mostly I just slept. The problem with that is, while I need rest, I’m not getting fluids if I’m asleep. I finally asked a friend to bring me a strain of marijuana that was good for nausea. I wanted something with low THC, because I didn’t want to feel high, but enough that I wouldn’t feel like my stomach was going to kill me.

It worked.

I went from stuck in bed, to being able to slowly walk my new dog around the block. I didn’t feel 100%, but I felt so much better than I had. Today I used it again, and I may just have to smoke regularly to get through the next few days. I hate doing it, because it makes my mouth and throat dry, but I have lemon lozenges for that. I just wish regular meds worked for me. Then again, why are we so against marijuana when it clearly works wonderfully on illnesses like mine? Why am I denying myself medication that could make me functional. Make me able to get out of this damn bed and do something? I used it for what today? Water and putting the dishes away. Seriously.

My mother is in denial. She believes what her friends have told her. How I shouldn’t feel nearly as sick as cancer patients, and how the side effects for me are lower because the dose is lower. She’s wrong. The dose is the same, the frequency is different. I will feel shitty because I am nuking my body! It’s frustrating because we don’t really have a relationship beyond pretending, and now she’s attempting to become involved when there really isn’t room for her nonsense.

Side Effects

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Body ache
  • Sore throat
  • Abdominal pain
  • Yeast infection?
  • Bleeding? <—

So there is a really bad side effect that can cause severe bleeding from your bladder. It’s bad. I don’t have that, but I am spotting which is odd. I do have a history of getting my period when I’m not eating enough, which I’m not courtesy of the nausea, so I’m guessing the existing yeast infection has melded with the spotting to produce what looks like a bizarre period or some sort of weird bleeding situation.

In any event, I’ll take bleeding if it’s period related, because that means that I’m still technically fertile. Of course it’s old blood, so maybe it means nothing. Maybe its’ my ovaries bidding a final farewell to a world they didn’t get to know. Maybe I’m just melodramatic because my life is in a major upheaval and I want things to even out so that I’m not constantly waiting on pins and needles for the next horrifying development.

I’m supposed to be done with graduate school…if I’d never taken time off…it’s a depressing realization but it’s not like I can do anything about it, There is no way in hell I could manage classes like this, so I’d have to miss 1/4 of my next three laboratory classes, which means I could potentially graduate, but not with a good grade. Worse, I’d be exposing myself to a massive amount of germs while I have no immune system to fight them off.

Life is what it is, though. I make decisions because I have to make decisions. It’s not like I wanted to have chemotherapy. I’d hoped for some sort of IVIG therapy, or something biologic, but because of my resistance, and the likelihood I’ve developed antibodies to TNF blockers and other drugs, this was the last resort.

The whole irony of this is of course the nausea. My severe GI Behcet’s is what triggered the IV medication route, because oral routes weren’t working. I was pretty much inflamed from stomach to colon, and they knew periodically there had to be ulcers because of the bleeding. So now I’m on chemo, because I basically have severe systemic Behcet’s. Eyes, nerves, stomach, it’s all involved, and oral medications that are strong enough are too strong for my stomach to process. Chemo may make me sick, but the medication is still in my system.

So yeah, I’m tired. I’m feeling like a waste of space and time. I’ve never loved Thanksgiving, but it’s hard because I want to be normal again. my next treatment is December 19th, and honestly, I really want to do something with someone for Christmas. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to be left out. I don’t want to be me, or at lest the version of me that is stuck in bed sleeping and attempting not to throw up. It doesn’t have to be the guy, though that would be fun, it just has to be someone, anyone, who wants to see me that day. (Let’s be honest, the guy would be fun, especially since he’s out of town now, and will be again the first week of December.)

Now, before people judge me, “You’re trying to date while having chemo? Focus on getting well!” <—-

I am focused on getting well. The guy is the guy because it is what it is, I’m letting him choose, and while it isn’t always easy, in the end, I’m accepting of whatever comes of it. Plus if he can’t handle sick me, then the doesn’t deserve not sick me. My ex couldn’t handle my sicknesses, neither could my mom, so I’ve learned to expose people to the reality of who I am early on. Friends, potential people to date, doesn’t matter. I have this, it changes how I do things, take it or leave it!

But I still wish I didn’t have to do that.

See, the reality, the true, no bullshit reality, is that most of us, deep down, want that quintessential American dream. Nice place to live, maybe few kids, traveling, having someone to come home to, blah blah blah. I hate that in my core, that’s what I want, too. I want someone to go travel with even though I hate flying. I want to knock items off my bucket list, save up, and buy a house or condo. I love the idea that I could find someone who would be okay with buying a condo instead of a house, since my ex was completely against it. I want kids some day. Marriage isn’t important to me, which is an odd development, but I’ve realized that the legality isn’t what makes it important to the two people involved, it’s what makes it legitimate to the people around them.

Sitting here, nauseas, in a headscarf crafted by the guy’s mom, I wonder what my life will actually be like. Will I travel? Maybe it’ll be alone. I try and come to terms with who I am, who I want to be, and the reality of my potential future. Most importantly I close my eyes, and I whisper internally, “remission,” because until then, I can’t accomplish much. Does’ mean I won’t try, but it does mean accepting the reality of limitations.

Cytoxan: Round One

8 Days Later – the Hospital Stay

On the 15th I had an MRI appointment. I woke up that day with wobbly legs and figured it was good my neurological symptoms were acting up. Maybe this would explain to my doctors what was happening with my body. I knew I was walking weird, and the heat wasn’t helping things. By the time I got to the hospital they had decided it would be better to wheel me to the MRI than have me walk. Afterwards I was sent to the ER by my neurologist, and sent home without an explanation. I was given a walker (with no wheels), which just felt like a convenient way to break teeth. A friend drove me home.

On the 16th things got worse. My arms were impacted and my hands felt like someone was mashing on my funny bone. By the end of the day I called the neurologist’s office, and the nurse said to return to the ER, and have them call the doctor’s personal line. I obtained a ride, somehow made it into and out of the car. I was in agony. The ER didn’t do anything. The doctor did a basic exam, notice I had out of control tremors, no muscle control, an when he did get a hold of my doctor decided to send me home anyhow with instructions to follow up on Thursday (two days later) since I already had an appointment.

My roommate picked me up and had to load me onto a luggage cart to get me up to our apartment. A friend came over and helped me undress and shower. I spent Wednesday in bed, surrounded by food and drinks. I let the dog out on the porch twice, falling hard once while I did it. In typical Behcet’s fashion I felt like I was dying without a reason. You get anxiety, like maybe this is permanent, maybe this is the lesion that ends your ability to walk, or see, or do something you’ve come to take for granted.

On Wednesday night my friend (the guy) came over and was pretty much ready to take me to the ER that moment. I insisted we stick with seeing my neurologist the next day because I refused to go to another ER and be sent home to to wait for the impending appointment. By this point I couldn’t open anything but my thumb and pointer finger. My core was starting to twitch with the responsibility of holding up the rest of a body that refused to coordinate itself. I would lay calmly for long enough and the tremors would stop, but I would feel tingly and floaty. The second someone asked med to move, or moved me, the shaking and tensing would begin again. The neurologist immediately seemed to be out of his league and shocked at the extensiveness of the movements. He told me initially we could try a medication used for Parkinson’s but that he wasn’t sure it would work. by this point I’d been constantly moving for 3 days. I broke down, the sobbing started which made the shaking worse. I couldn’t feed myself. I couldn’t walk. He told me the medicine would make me vomit, which made me wonder how I would handle the task of sleeping around the toilet that night.

I was sent to UCSD ER immediately.

The first ER doctor I saw wasn’t too big on the whole admitting me for sure process. He said that of course my doctor wanted me to be admitted but it was up to their neurology team to decide. The hospital was full, with some patients waiting in ER beds for 54+ hours just to get a hospital bed. I didn’t care. I was done. My body hurt. I wanted someone to fix it or stop it. My friend (the guy) stayed with me until neurology 100% said I wasn’t going home. I may have to spend the night in the room in the ER, but I wasn’t leaving the hospital until I’d been fully worked up. Another friend came by with my original MRI even though the hospital planned on doing a repeat exam as soon as possible.

They moved me that night to another ER room with a hospital bed, and a TV. Medications were adjusted, but in the morning it was clear that had only made things worse. I woke up with my jaw locked. A team of neurologists came in, and so began the process of becoming a science experiment.

When you have a rare condition, you attract attention, and it’s not good attention, at least it doesn’t feel that way. While I was pleased to have teams of doctors working on my case, it started to become dehumanizing. Tests, family history, lather rinse repeat. The following evening I had a hospital bed, and a relaxed jaw. My body was still useless.

My roommate was an amazing woman, who trained service dogs. I told her I didn’t mind if she was up early watching TV, or up late watching TV, that at home I had the TV on a lot and it didn’t bother me. We chatted, eventually peeling back the curtain. My MRI was for Saturday morning (I think). Her dogs were coming to visit, and I was beyond excited. Then things got dicey. I had to receive all of these drugs for my MRI so I was up most of the night thanks to the steroids. The Xanax/Benadryl cocktail did make me sleepy, but I still needed to be restrained for the MRI because my movements were periodically uncontrollable. Even asleep, the noise from the MRI would startle me, and cause the jerking to begin again.

Things got bad. I woke up and they injected the dye, and I felt my stomach drop. I assumed it was just from being on my back so long, and the IV injection. Once back in the tube, I realized it was an aura. I was going to have a seizure. In an MRI tube. Restrained. I focused on breathing, I just needed to stay calm and squeeze the emergency release ball. Only my hand was locked, and I couldn’t. The last thing I remember thinking was I hope the padding is enough to protect me as I let go of the ball.

The rest was told to me by my friend Amy, and others who were around. I apparently took the technician about a minute to notice the small movements were getting larger. When the took me out, I was in full seizure, strapped on my back, choking on saliva. They unlocked parts of my restraints, got me to a hospital gurney, and called a code blue. My heart rate was erratic, my oxygen saturation was okay, with oxygen and suction, but I did not, in general, look good. I guess that is kind of inferred by the code blue.

For some reason they’ll start working on you in a hallway, but they take you back to your room to process the code. They pulled my friend Amy out, and closed the curtain. They charged the defibrillator, and were arguing over whether I needed to be intubated. Amy was screaming, having heard the code blue call through the hospital when I was in MRI, and so she just knew it was me. She was shouting at nurses asking if I was okay, but they wouldn’t her in. She said all she had seen was my limp white body on the gurney, with white foam all around my mouth.

I was lucky. The massive doses of seizure drugs stopped the seriously long seizure that had nearly stopped my heart, and my breathing. When I woke up, for some reason the only thing I could think of was the dogs. I kept saying dog, and the kept thinking was confused. MK, my roommate let them know I wasn’t nuts, that she had service dogs with her, and I kept saying dog. Rocky, the sweet lab I’d been interested in, came over, and they were the first eyes I saw after coding. The concern in his face for me, a human he’d never met, struck me to the core. He rested his head on the gurney and I drifted off to sleep.

They moved me to a private room, one step below ICU. I got to visit the next day with Rocky’s brother dog, who was with a sweet man and his wife. My friend Amy, pushed to her breaking point, had verbally assaulted my friend (the guy) into coming to the hospital because she needed a break. She couldn’t stop seeing me the way she’d seen me, so dead.

Lumbar punctures. Blood draws. Eye exams. Another MRI. Two more seizures, one major, one minor. Medication adjustments. Three days of hard IV steroids, and finally I was discharged.

Officially? Probably Behcet’s, but they can’t prove how or why. I do have seizures. The doctor told me the pseudo seizure or anxiety/conversion disorder diagnoses that had been previously suggested, were absolute garbage. Everyone who witnessed me seize, and the description of the partial seizures, was enough for him to realize this was actually happening pathologically, and not emotionally. Nobody knew why I had nystagmus when I was admitted, but it was gone by the time the steroids and eye drops had begun.

The eye doctor found anterior uveitis, which explained the sudden blurred vision. This means a month of eye dilating drops when my eyes are already dilated, and steroids drops for at least a week. He said conclusively it was Behcet’s related, completing any other questions doctors had regarding the validity of my diagnosis.

I’m lucky I had friends to visit, to keep me grounded. I lost count of needle sticks. The blood thinning injections, blood sugar checks because of my high doses of steroids, insulin to adjust my levels, and of course blood draws, and IV replacements. There was talk of placing a PICC line, or other venous catheter because it was becoming increasingly difficult.

Now I’m adjusting to a new life. Waiting to see if I get to the clinic at NYU. Waiting to call Monday to set up my follow up appointments. Accepting I need the walker to get around, and that I am very weak. Desperately trying to raise funds to cover the expenses I’ve been left with since dis ability has been screwed up, and not all my medical care was covered. I also really feel like Rocky is the service dog meant to be with me. The way he looked at me with such concern, I just felt an instant bond. I know I’d be lucky with any of her dogs, but Rocky and I had this connection like we wanted to care for each other.

I made a Go Fund Me, but I worry nobody will contribute. I keep staring at my walker, at my life, and hoping things improve, but knowing that until I get to NYU I won’t know the significance of all of it. I know blood work is coming, lots of it, and that through it all  won’t have income. It’s scary, and terrifying, but it’s my life, and I have to accept it for what it is.

Bruised. Battered. Wobbly. But not Broken.

8 Days Later – the Hospital Stay

Feeling Useless, and Calling Out Fakers

So my doctor has decided that the Azathioprine needs to stay in rotation, but we’ve cut me down to 25mg for a week, then increasing to 50mg after that…if I’ve tolerated the 25mg. The thing is, who decides what “tolerating” a drug means? For the past two days I’ve opted to take it in the mornings vs. the evenings thinking taking it with more food, and less of my other medications, would mean less symptoms. I did do a little better, but I also felt like sleeping all day. I could probably go back to bed right now and sleep until tomorrow. Of course this could also be my Behcet’s flare so who knows.

As much as I hate feeling sick, I hate feeling useless the most. I’m someone who enjoys having a job. I enjoy spending time with the people I care about, even though I’m introverted, and when my illness takes that from me I end up feeling completely useless. The worst part is when someone you think is a friend, someone you expect to understand it, not only fails to understand you, but attacks you publicly for it.

My ex and I had a bad marriage, and as a result of some things that were said, and mistreatment, I took the step to get a no contact order. It was better for my health not to deal with the stress of dealing with him. A friend of mine had the nerve to insinuate I was weak for doing this, because my “recovery” would suffer. Apparently the only way to conquer abuse is to allow your abuser to continue to act however he/she wants to act, and “recovery” is having the strength to know that their words are just words, not statements of fact.

Isn’t it possible that both of us are right? That I have the right to legally remove someone from my life, because their statements cause me stress during a medically critical time, while at the same time I’m working on not internalizing their words?

It sucks because this friend would say that she couldn’t handle me venting about how hurt I was over the things my ex would say, because it put her recovery in jeopardy, yet when I took steps to end the contact, suddenly the insinuation was that I was weak. Then I found out she was claiming to have gastroparesis, and I was done. I’m the one who talked to her about what it was, and how to be tested, despite the reality that she didn’t meet a lot of the criteria. Her issue, she said, was binge eating disorder and anorexia. We debated because my diagnosis of Behcet’s also included borderline issues of gastroparesis, likely due to periodic inadequate blood flow.

Then I did something I don’t usually do. I stood up for myself. Hard.

My friend is polyamorous, which is fine, because she insists it works for her. I decided to question whether or not her lifestyle was working for her partners. She would come to me whenever one of her male partners showed interest in another female, something considered acceptable, and then her anorexia or binge eating would flare and she’d end up in the ER. This effectively thwarted any potential meetings between her male partners and their potential additional female partners.

I wasn’t suggesting that she was intentionally sabotaging their attempts to add women to the polyamorous relationship they shared, but instead questioning whether or not there were unresolved issues regarding how she truly felt about it. Her symptoms seemed to flare at very convenient times, which doesn’t necessarily mean what she wad going was intentional, but rather that her eating disorders (anorexia and binge eating) may be triggered by emotional situations she herself hadn’t even really considered.

Except she had considered it. At one point she’d flat out stated that her partners had agreed not to add any additional members to their lives until she was more stable in her recovery. 

I think that’s admirable, that men would have such love for their partner they’d give up their right to seek out additional, and perhaps necessary, secondary relationships, in an effort to support their primary. That being said, there were things that didn’t add up. She stated she was kicked out of an outpatient program for being “too sick,” and that she needed impatient treatment, but that it would have to wait because she had to photograph a wedding. If you are so anorexic you require hospitalization, and you’re openly sharing this information, and you’re so damn insistent about caring for yourself above all things, why would you not check into treatment immediately?

Within three weeks she’d declared herself in recovery, without inpatient care, but her posts suggest that the care she’s receiving, care she laments she had to pay for out of pocket because the insurance companies wouldn’t cover evidence based holistic care, doesn’t really fit the care for a recovering eating disorder patient.

I got called out, online, without being named, for bashing her for not “appearing sick enough,” which was never something I said. She is sick. She does have an eating disorder. The problem is, she cannot and will not admit that the eating disorder is a psychological condition with physical manifestations. She’s on a mission to label herself with things like gastroparesis, so she can blame her vomiting on that versus the reality that binge eating until you vomit is a form of bulimia. Oddly enough, she blocked me on Facebook when I offered to speak with any of her friends, friend who were vilifying me based on the things she’d written, because I wanted them to understand that I am sick, too, and that I would NEVER claim someone didn’t look “sick enough” online, or in real life. My post was polite, and I said that I wouldn’t include her side of the conversation, just mine, out of respect for her privacy, but that I felt I had the right to talk about who I was, and where I was coming from, especially since our discussion had very little to do about health.

She questioned my mental health recovery, in the midst of a physical health crisis, so I questioned hers, and then all hell broke loose.

The irony, for me, is that I got a no contact order, which suggests (according to her) that I am incapable of defending myself or at least weak in my recovery when it comes to self esteem. Meanwhile she not only goes off about how sick she is, earning a massive flood of sympathy, but then proceeds to block me when I ask for the right to explain myself.

How is blocking me from being able to contact you any different than me blocking my ex from being able to contact me? Especially considering you claim the situations are similar, because you’re working on your “recovery.” 

I’m sorry, but seeing someone go to art gallery shows, take trips to Vegas an Tijuana, and live a life they love, until something they don’t want to do pops up, is a little irritating to me. Do you know where I want to be right now? In San Francisco visiting a friend, or at work, or out for a walk, or any one of a thousand things that doesn’t involve sitting on my couch hoping I don’t throw up the lunch and snacks I’ve been able to consume. She claims that she needs days to recover after these events, yet she does nothing to prevent damaging herself during such events. The truth about chronic illness is you miss out on things you want to do because you know your body can’t handle it.

As I sit here, staring down the three weeks until I get my blood tested to see if I should be feeling better, until hopefully the side effects wear off, until I get my MRI and results and my new nerve conduction test, she’s in another state visiting family. I think what bothers me is that there are always people who seem to absorb the illnesses of others, and utilize it for sympathy, and later, to become role models. When she found out about my PTSD, she magically had it, too, even though the symptoms she was telling people about made no sense whatsoever. She was counseling people with general anxiety, and no history of trauma, that even one panic attack meant you could have PTSD, and so people with random depression or anxiety, flocked to her for her PTSD prowess. My dog was a service dog and allowed to live in housing even though dogs weren’t allowed? She had a service dog soon after that.

We had a falling out before, years ago, when she pursued an abortion and bluntly told me, “I wanted a puppy not a baby,” despite knowing I faced infertility issues with my ex. I understand that she was in a bad place with her husband at the time, they were separating, and the whole thing was a mess, but the way she handled it was disgusting. She told people she had a severe illness requiring emergency surgery, and then cancelled photo sessions and apologized that prior sessions would be edited a bit late. I’m not saying she needed to tell her clients she was having an abortion, but even with friends she made it out to be this emergency situation that it wasn’t.

She’s had more abortions since then, and honestly it’s her right, but perhaps the holistic approach to family planning isn’t the best option if you’re constantly having to experience miscarriages or abortions. That’s the thing with her, really, is that the rules apply when convenient, and her friends, like me, often find ourselves fighting for the same rights she affords herself. It’s possible for me to work on not internalizing negative verbiage while at the same time opting to make it illegal for the person causing me so much trauma, to be a part of my life. She decided I was harmful for her recovery, for whatever reason, and blocked me, which should have been an “aha!” moment for her in terms of understanding that you can still be recovering while at the same time choosing to remove people that contribute to the thing which you are recovering from.

Of course I don’t think that was the case. She deleted me because she didn’t want to have to defend the un-defendable. She herself admitted that she handled the situation with one of the potential relationship girls negatively online, but that at the time she felt good about it. That right there I was proud of her for, recognizing she did it, and realizing that to live the life path she’s chosen, means having to have some damn good compromising skills and patience.

I wish I had her as a friend, mostly because her knowledge of medical marijuana and natural ways of treating things was beneficial. I still have to do things like undergo infusions, and take horrible drugs, but having someone around who knows of a non pharmacological treatment for nausea (yay peppermint oil) is helpful. We won’t be friends again, not the way things ended, and it’s probably for the best. When you’ve spent literally years trying to get diagnosed, it’s super frustrating to have someone meander into your life and start hijacking those diagnoses. Even if she does suffer from some medical conditions, the overwhelming issue in her life is that she can’t handle stress, and she loves attention. She gets “sick” then gets “better” and suddenly feels it’s her right to counsel others about their medical and emotional conditions. It’s actually terrifying. She once told me the best option for my severe kidney infection was garlic, which I’ll admit garlic has germ killing properties, kidney infections still require intervention with antibiotics.

I’m just so angry. I’m angry that in the midst of all this stress and drama and physical sickness, someone I considered  a friend, bashed me when I had a high point. I was thrilled about the no contact order, I had scored a couple dresses on sale, and was ready to go to LA for two days with the guy, and wham, she decided that judgment was the way to go in that situation. It’s absurd!

My trip to LA? Fun, but exhausting. I’m still recovering over a week later, because I refuse to accept my limitations. The live taping was amazing, but afterwards we got lost because neither of us had phones (rules of the show, though we found out after we could have left them with the check in people but whatever.) We walked for at least an hour, which would have been okay, but I wasn’t feeling amazing about 20 minutes into it. I’m out of shape from all the bed rest, but I’m also sort of in this uncontrolled on and off flare that sneaks up on me. The next day I woke up and I seriously wanted to die. We hung out by the pool, and talked about plans for that night, but I was sort of please when we went to dinner and he wanted to just go back and hang low. He felt bad, but I was in so much pain by that point, faking being “okay” was becoming impossible.

He saw me at a really vulnerable moment twice during the trip. That night I was curled up in the shower, desperately trying to will away the severe abdominal pains that plagued me. He came in and his eyes locked on mine, and I could see the concern, but then again, this wasn’t something I hadn’t gone through a million times before. I’d ruptured an ovarian cyst, but that wasn’t the cause of all the pain…still I let him sit on that as the excuse. Then my PTSD acted up on the way home while he was angry in traffic, and I was angry with my stomach for being uncooperative. For the first time in months I’d had to tell him to hold off on sex because of my pain level, and while we’d managed to have sex later, it still scared me.

Now he’s out of town, the pain is back, and I’m sitting here wondering how someone who can claim to be as sic as my “friend” is, juggles it all. She touts a support network that seems to be fantastic, but the premise it was built on is falling apart. How can she maintain a sexual relationship with both men, and not feel like she’s dying? (Answer is that she apparently has stopped having sex with the one, for the most part.)

Her attack on me wasn’t just about my ex, but about my insecurities with “the guy,” which honestly just makes me sick. Every person alive has insecurities while they’re seeings someone, regardless of boundaries, labels, etc. I may have additional insecurities because of my current and past situations, but that doesn’t mean I have to launch into some metaphysical analysis of my partnership with him. Nor does it mean I have to lock myself away and work solely on myself because I have the issues I have. I worked on myself, for years, if I hadn’t I’d never have left the abusive situation I was in behind.

All in all, I am sick. I feel sick. I hate admitting it and I hate asking for help, but it’s the reality of my existence. When my roommate judges me for being on the couch day after day when he gets home, I get angry. I pay my portion of the bills, who cares? I make efforts when I can, but it’s a struggle. I sacrifice something of myself to please him, despite the reality that he’s probably still not happy. (Example: I put away the dishes, most of which he made, and then loaded up the dishwasher with his disgusting smelling dishes from the night before. I sit around a lot because I’m basically on a mission to destroy my immune system, with the newest drug metabolizing into what is basically chemotherapy. Sorry if this makes me a little tired, nauseas and cranky!) I cleaned because the smell was making me gag.

He wants me to go out more, to be something I’m not, but then again, I want to go out more, too. The problem isn’t wanting, it’s being able, and my body simply can’t tolerate things like other bodies can. Maybe someday…but not today.

It makes me feel so damn useless : (

 

Feeling Useless, and Calling Out Fakers