Living with a Rare Disease – Support Rare Disease Day 02.28.14

Rare Disease Day is coming up in the next week.  It’s an annual day recognized around the world to help raise awareness among the public and decision makers about rare diseases and their impact on the lives of those that live with them daily.

This year, CARE is the theme for 2014 and oh my, they couldn’t have picked a better theme than that.

www.mastcellaware.com

This is the logo from http://www.mastcellaware.com, a great resource for anyone wanting to learn about mast cells, what they do and how they misbehave in those of us suffering from this rare mast cell disease.  I was looking for a video, and had in fact planned on doing one of myself this week but unfortunately, the mast cells won.  Even a simple picture of what I looked like this week would not do justice to how I have felt.  It’s a  frightening place when you live alone and are too ill to think clearly and make the proper decisions for your health.  It took me being in severe pain for several days to recognize, with the help of my mast cell peers and my Respirologist that I either needed to be in the hospital or take a few large doses of prednisone to break the reaction.  You would think after this long and having experienced this debilitating muscle spasm type pain before, I would know that.  It’s a deceiving process this illness.  You always think you can manage until its at the brink of anaphylaxis.  My O2 sats having been running low, in the 70’s and my iron keeps dropping.  I know that has some bearing on my thinking processes but ultimately, I’m the only one that has to make those decisions and I’m here to tell you it’s not easy.

There are many great links to learn if you go to any of the sites I have posted previously: http://www.tmsforacure.org, http://www.mastcellaware.com, http://www.meandmymastcells.com, mastocytosis.ca and many others.

word cloudI was going to list the symptoms but last night all I could do was play with word cloud letting it create an artistic list.  There are so many, so different, so unique to individuals its almost impossible to describe.  When I had the last nasty chest wall muscle spasm my immunologist said it wasn’t related because he wasn’t familiar with it. Of course it arrives with various other mast cell symptoms but is a new one for me and the most prominent in these flares.  Well, I’m here to tell you it totally was related, just another way my body was telling me loud and clear that my mast cells had exploded spewing forth hundreds of chemicals into my body, and this time my upper body muscles couldn’t handle the load.

I was in so much pain (and I know I have a high tolerance to pain) that I couldn’t move.  Each movement was excruciating and only the must do’s got done..the rest of the time was spent with a heating pad, medication, and meditation trying to just get through the moments.

We all try so hard to stay positive and caring.  I can say, that besides adoptees, I don’t think I’ve met a kinder, more compassionate group of people than those that have touched my life through mastocytosis.  I have never been my diagnosis and I’m not going to let my life disappear into the abyss of labels.  Some days are harder than others and the mast cells win.

A rare disease is defined differently in different countries.  I the USA it is defined “rare” if it affects fewer than 200,000 people.  The issue with rare diseases is the lack of scientific knowledge and the quality of information often results in delayed diagnosis.  I have lived with this my whole life and I can identify each and every escalation point where my disease jumped up a notch.  If you read my books you will know there were many traumas, each one setting off another step and cascade of symptoms and finally with the discovery of my biological family my mast cells went over the edge due to the stress.  It took many years of putting the puzzle together myself to finally find the answer to both biological and genetic factors leading to a diagnosis.  Unfortunately, I had to go to the states at the time for accurate testing which brings up the need for increased funding for testing in Canada and quality care resources.

I often wonder, what my life would have been like, had it not been always tainted by the “outward” signs of mast cell disease.  The emotions that had nothing to do with depression, the surgical complications, the many heat/exertion related physical disasters nearly killing me one time in the Jungle of Thailand.  I wonder how my adoption reunion would have gone if I had known what was going on besides the normal reunion roller coaster ..was that my mast cell disease had taken over and i was beyond exhaustion and in such a place of physical reactivity. It’s too late now to go back and change all of that but I often wonder. What if I had had proper treatment?  Would things have gone differently? Would my organs be fully functioning now if I had known 25yrs ago?  The answer to all of those questions is of course things would have been different.  Looking back I can see clearly, unfortunately, that’s looking back and I can’t allow myself to go there to often as it can’t be changed.

It’s important that those who care about people with “different” illness’ ..be it in mental health, addiction, rare disease.. support not only the person but the fight for better support and care.

To live with systemic mast cell activation disease is frightening, isolating, confusing and frustrating.  I’m sure I could list many more things.  Isolation is difficult, friends are lost in the shuffle from being active to having days dictated by how you feel.

 Reach out and let people know you are thinking of them.  Pay attention if you don’t see or hear from them.  They may be in trouble with no one around to notice.

I refuse, on okay days, to let this get me down, to let this define what I am and what I can do and be…..on good days.

Treatment

Above is only a partial list of treatments we must deal with .  I feel like the nurse I used to be, when each morning I line up my pill cups and pour the daily meds, only this time, they are all for me.

The purpose of this blog is to educate, to encourage everyone to become aware and knowledgeable about rare diseases and the people who live with them.

Kindness

Living with Mast Cell Disease….Coming out of the Closet

ImageI’m coming out of the closet.  Yes you heard me right.  Not only am I coming out of the closet but because I’m doing that inconceivable “thing” , I won’t be “invisible” any longer.

As I was just writing my adoption blog about letting go of who you thought you were, I realized I have an added dimension to the grief and loss and letting go.  Invisible, chronic, Mast Cell Disease.

I have had to let go of the life I had planned.  The life I had worked so hard to get to.

 You know the one.  Where you push yourself beyond the edge doing for others, providing for your kids, saving for retirement so you can travel and enjoy life.  Yes, that one.

 The one that will never come to fruition.

No one ever see’s me sick.  Well, except for my dear friend Susan, who witnessed my Delhi Belly from hell and was such a good nurse.  Other than that..oh yes, and the time I took my daughter to a Buddhist Retreat in Thailand in the middle of the jungle. Climbing a mountain in sweltering heat and humidity wasn’t such a good idea.

I swelled up like a puffer fish.  I thought I was going to explode my skin was so tight with pain that brings tears to my eyes even now.

 I didn’t pee for three days and my lungs were so congested I knew I was as close to dying as I could get in the middle of the jungle. I was prepared to just roll off the floating meditation floor into the lake where the 75kg Thai catfish lay waiting.  What better place to go than on a Buddhist Retreat?

Who knew?  Mast cell disease did that.

 As it’s done with many things in my life.  Surgery to remove the endometrial nightmare in my belly caused me a three months stay in hospital with pelvic abcess, peritonitis, bowel obstruction and DVT’s.

 Who knew? Mast Cell degranulation of course.  Oh, and the time I was admitted to ICU with cardiac issues and eyes like the ones above.  Throw in a standard diagnosis of pericarditis and a stay of 2 weeks.  Kounis Syndrome.  Who knew?  Mast Cell Disease yet again.

 I could go on and on.  I can identify each and every event that relates back to Mast Cell disease.  Only then, I didn’t know.  How unfortunate for me because every “flare” caused just a bit more damage to organs that had already taken a beating from my “FINDING HEART HORSE” life.

This week has been a tough one.  The eyes that I can’t bear to touch and struggle to see the words on the computer.  The unrelenting pain of a total upper body spasm that woke me up last sunday night.  it was as if an elephant was sitting on my chest and I couldn’t move to do anything about it. The accumulation of fluid outside of my cells called  3rd spacing that is so painful.  A whole week spent in agony.  Who knew?  No one.  Not one single person except my “masto angels”.  That’s invisible…

I shouldn’t be like this.  There are thousands and thousands of us out there.  Not just mast cell patients but many such as Lupus, Fibro, CFIDs.  If it was the big “C” or a broken leg people would see. People would be bringing tuna casseroles and apple pies because thats what you do when someone is terribly ill and can’t manage.  Isn’t it?  It’s what I do when I know someone’s ill.

 I haven’t had a tuna casserole since I was seven.

We have to change the way people think about us, the invisible ones.

 That’s why I’m coming out of the closet.  To educate.  To give visuals.  To answer questions.

 To say..hey wait a minute..I’m in pain here.  Just because I don’t look sick  (well, except for the eyes this week) doesn’t mean I don’t exist.

 That we don’t need a help now and again.

 That the medical system doesn’t need to provide the diagnostic tools our doctors need.

 That the medications we need should be available, the emergency rooms aware of what we need done when we arrive in anaphylaxis.  So many more needs I could list.

And then, of course, just how does one live with an illness like this.  One that no one knows exists.  One where alot of the time you don’t look ill on the outside but your internal body is wracked with pain and your mast cells spewing out chemicals causing havoc with your systems.  Your liver, your kidneys, your spleen.  Every part of you, brain included has mast cells that can degranulate and cause problems.

It’s not an easy place to live..this mast cell hell.

 Priorities change.  Friends stop asking you to go places.  You can’t eat out. Your energy is gone before you have your morning coffee.

Your goal is to keep your mast cells stabilized and the slightest change may bring about chaos.

Attitude is so important.  As I was saying in the adoptee blog post…You have to let go of many aspects of who you thought you were.  

Expectations of others has to be released or you will only find disappointment.  It may take the rest of your life but letting go will ease the frustrations.  None of us are perfect.  

Weed out your friendships.  Surround yourself with supportive, caring people who you know you can depend on.  Illness gives ground for prioritizing friendships.  Our energy only goes so far and we need to spend it wisely.

Don’t become your diagnosis.  Believe it or not, inside this illness lies blessings.  Perhaps you haven’t found them yet.  Don’t stop looking.  Find the things you used to love and perhaps you can change things to enable you to do things, just in a different way when your energy allows.

You still have talents and skills even if you’ve had to stop working.  Inside those skills lie things you were never able to bring out before…find them.  I thought I was never going to be able to hang up my Nursing Cap.  I loved my job.  Now, I write books.  I hope to be able, energy willing to do some talks with youth when the books are ready to be signed.  I would have never been able to do this before.  I’m not saying I don’t have days, sometimes more than one where I can’t get off the couch but I hold the possibility of tomorrow being better close.

One of the most valuable talents you will find you have is simply relating to others who are in the same place, with the same illness or even another.  No one understands what we go through except someone else who is going through it too.  Its the same with adoptees.  We can be great support for many, for each other.  Don’t ever discount the importance of that.  

We can choose how we deal with this illness.  We are also allowed to have our couch days.  We have to learn to be as gentle and supportive of ourselves as we are with others.  Throw the guilt away.  It uses up too much needed energy and gets you nowhere.  We are in this together.

Come on…get out of the closet and stop being so invisible.

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