Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Invisible Illnesses Unveiled- Cervical Cancer and Endometriosis

This photo was taken 2 weeks after I had a conization, a cone-shaped piece of tissue, removed from the cervix. Before that procedure, I had 5 biopsies on my cervix showing precancerous dysplasia CIN3.

A week before this photo was taken, I was told I had cervical cancer. I had micro invasions in the margins where my cone biopsy was taken. Sometimes this procedure removes the bad cells and you are done. However, occasionally the margins are still positive and further treatment is required.

When I walked into the office, having fevers and recovering from the procedure, I came in to follow up and get answers from the pathology. I sat down in her office, distracted by the vibrant decor… black, white and silver glam office, reminding me of a salon or just a really girly office. My nervous mind wandering. What should I do for the rest of the day? Where should I get lunch?

“You have cancer. The margins are positive and this all happened so fast, meaning that it is super aggressive. The area of the micro invasions are up closer to your uterus and blood vessels so I am also worried about it spreading. You will need to see an oncologist for a hysterectomy and possibly further treatment.”

I steered my gaze from the sparking decor and looked her in the eyes, eyes of concern and dread for giving bad news to me every time I see her. My thoughts are whirling as I think about how this can’t possibly be real. My vision blurs as tears welt up in disbelief and fear. I have three kids and an amazing husband that I adore. I have a compromised heart that can’t handle much and still struggle to get my health under control… How can I go through this?

The appointment felt like a break up as I got passed along to a male doctor I have never met, an hour away after finally trusting this doctor and an appointment a couple weeks later, which felt like eternity.

Just before this photo was taken, my husband and I got bikes to ride on the beach. I was feeling great and it was beautiful. I still was processing the news but made the decision to remain calm and patient. We were on a trip in Miami South Beach. After riding the bikes for only a few minutes, I got dizzy and clammy. “Sorry to cut this short, babe, but I don’t feel well and I want to go back to the room.”

My sweet, understanding husband got the bikes returned and we went to our room on the 10th floor with a gorgeous view. A few hours later, I started hemorrhaging. I ended up in the Miami ER for 7 hours, finally being discharged so that we could return home and see my doctor.

Now, as I write this, I am almost two weeks post op from my hysterectomy and my pathology was cleared for no further treatment and I am cancer free. Though I did have to go back to the hospital for two broad spectrum IV antibiotics for two days, I am doing well.

I would not wish this roller coaster on anyone but I am so grateful it wasn’t worse. It could have been worse. I could be still fighting. Before I came in for my one week hysterectomy post op appointment, I said to myself, “If there is more, I am done. I will live my life happy and will not do any further treatment or put my heart through anything more.” I was so lucky. I am so lucky and grateful.

I will say, as someone who suffered from severe endometriosis most of my life, close to two decades, I wish I had a hysterectomy sooner. I put it off for so long, worried about everyone’s opinions and fears. I am excited to start this new chapter of my life of no suffering. I want to buy white pants to celebrate! Two weeks of every month will be mine again, not lost in bed with migraines, severe pain, chest tightness, fevers, fatigue, nausea, IBS and depression.

If you have severe endometriosis, a hysterectomy is nothing but just one last period cramp. You’ll do fine!

Body and Beauty, Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Unveiling Invisible Illnesses – War Paint

I always try to smooth my hair and conceal my tired eyes. I always dust on a peachy pink blush and a fun lip color, regardless of how I feel. This is the mask of an invisible illness warrior. Occasionally, there are days that I struggle to even lift a limb to put on my war paint. On those days when I bare a naked face and join society, I get told over and over and over again, “You look tired.”

When someone looks exhausted or drained, instead try asking if they need anything or offer help, a compliment or anything positive. I wear makeup to hide when my face goes pale while my blood pressure drops and my body starts going numb, ringing in my ears or the sound of my pulse takes over while my vision starts to sparkle or fade. I wear lipstick to hide the loss of color while I brace myself against the wall or casually sit down and continue to smile and listen to your day.

Every day is a struggle, whether it is big or small. On the really bad days, it is a lonely world and it feels like no one understand. When you try to reach out, no one listens because they think you are young and healthy and perfectly fine. It feels dismissive and disheartening, quiet and empty as you hope for tomorrow to be a better day.

Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Unveiling Invisible Illnesses – Ménière’s Disease

I will never stop dreaming. My wanderlust will never die in me. I will never stop wanting my best life ever, no matter how sick I feel. -Leah

Ménière’s Disease is an inner ear disorder that causes episodes of vertigo. Triggers can be caused by stress, pressure changes, emotional distress, certain foods, physical fatigue, additional illnesses and too much salt in your diet. Tinnitus and hearing loss may become worse over time. You may have periods of time in remission or you may also experience continuous attacks. Attacks can appear without warning and can last hours, sometimes taking days to resolve completely. Unpredictable attacks may lead to anxiety and depression.

I interviewed Leah about her chronic and invisible illness. She is an incredibly positive woman who always fights for strength and courage through tough times and often looking at someone who seems poised and put together, we never see their emotional and physical battles. Leah shares her story with us.

What is your official diagnosis?

Ménière’s Disease. Treatment can help but there is no cure. It is a chronic lifelong autoimmune disease.

How has this affected your life? How about your mood?

Ménière’s Disease has affected my life in many ways. I have lost the majority of my hearing in my left ear and also have constant tinnitus, an annoying ringing in the ears. I have random and sudden onsets of severe vertigo that leads to nausea, vomiting, migraines, sweating, irregular heartbeat, sensitivity to light and sound and also sudden drop attacks. As a result, I have had to cut down to working part time which has been a financial strain, limit driving, change my diet and eliminate or lessen certain triggers such as stress, caffeine, alcohol and certain stores like Walmart.

Ménière’s Disease has affected my mood tremendously. Some days are better than others. I have a lot more anxiety and feelings of guilt than I have ever encountered in my life. I also struggle with adjustment issues. As a result, I’ve been seeing a therapist once a week for several months. It is very beneficial to my life and the lives of my family and loved ones.

At a glance, you look healthy. Would you say that people don’t quite understand the severity of your illness? How had this made certain aspects of your life difficult, such as career and relationships?

Absolutely! Friends and coworkers will often say “You look so healthy and beautiful, how could you possibly be so sick?”

I explain to them that taking care of my looks, whether it be styling my hair, wearing make up, or wearing a nice outfit, it helps my mood. I may feel awful but taking care of my physical features helps raise my self esteem when I’m having a bad health day. My illness has affected my career significantly. I have to work in a certain setting that will not induce an episode. Fortunately, I work in a medical setting and most of my coworkers are understanding. My illness hasn’t effected my personal relationships as much, as I am grateful to have very understanding a supportive friends and family. I do at times, however, feel guilty when I have to reschedule plans or cancel last minute due to feeling ill. Feeling like a burden to others has been something I have struggled with, but since I started seeing my therapist, I have learned how to manage and cope with those feelings.

What inspires you?

My family and my pursuit in enjoying all the adventures life has to offer is what inspires me. My children and family keep me strong and motivated to live a happy life. Even though I have this illness, I never ever let it stop me from trying new things, traveling, and adventuring!

What are 3 things you can’t live without?

1. I can’t live without my beautiful loving children, my supportive family and my compassionate friends.

2. Avocados

3. Star Wars

Favorite quote?

My favorite quote comes from The Dalai Lama –

Each of you should feel that you have great potential and that, with self-confidence and a little more effort, change really is possible if you want it. If you feel that your present way of life is unpleasant or has some difficulties, then don’t look at these negative things. See the positive side, the potential, and make an effort. ~ The Dalai Lama

What advice would you have for people newly diagnosed with your same illness?

My advice to those newly diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease would be to not give up on life. Just because there are certain things you have to limit or can’t do anymore doesn’t mean you can’t live a fulfilling life. Make adjustments to accommodate your life. Don’t ever feel like a burden! People who love and support you won’t feel this way. And lastly you are not alone nor invisible. Reach out to friends, family, groups that have advice on your illness and counseling. You can survive this!

*Something I’d like to add is that just like you and so many of us living daily with invisible illness, I don’t let the illness stop me from being a mom of two, working full time again now, and going to school full time, as well as trying to be a decent human being and live all the adventures that life has to offer. Even though it is tough, I want other MD sufferers to know it is possible to go for your dreams and achieve them.

Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Unveiling Invisible Illnesses – Type 1 Diabetes

Frazier has been a diabetic warrior since the age of 12. She is a young, vibrant woman with a fun personality and doesn’t let the illness define her, yet advocates for others and is making the effort to help younger generations on how to cope and live their lives. I interviewed Frazier and around that time she was in the hospital. She rides her sense of humor as a strength to keep her chin up during tough times. Support is everything! It’s not easy and it can be scary but it is important to be happy and take care of yourself.

What is your invisible illness?

Type one diabetes

When and how were you diagnosed?

I was 12 years old. I went in for a double ear infection, got lab work done and I was diagnosed with type one diabetes.

What were your struggles and fear after diagnosis?

At first I didn’t fully grasp the full weight of my disease. Later, I realized how much work it was going to take. I was in denial for a very long time and I thought that ignoring it would make it go away.

Frazier is very involved with Florida Diabetes Camp. She was a camper from 2005-2010, then became a volunteer. She helps the kids learn how to manage diabetes and shows them that they can do anything that non diabetics can. She wears an insulin pump to help regulate her sugars on a daily basis. “I have to count the carbs that I eat, then give myself a dose of insulin to keep my sugar at a normal level. My blood sugar goal is between 80-130. It’s a balancing game that is super important. If I let it get of our control I can end up in the hospital with a DKA, diabetic ketoacidoais. Which is why I’m here now.” (hospital)

What advice do you have for anyone going through a new diagnosis?

Get a good support system. It is very important to have people in your corner. Also tell your friends and close people around you that you have this disease. One day they might save your life.

What are your goals and dreams in life?

I want to be a mom. I have always love kids, even to the point that I geared my education towards a career that includes children.

Three things you cannot live without:

Coffee, diabetes supplies, friends and family.

Favorite Quote:

“I have diabetes, diabetes does not have me.”

Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Unveiling Invisible Illnesses – Endometriosis

Laura Kay Halcom from Rockledge, Florida is 1 of 10 who struggle with endometriosis, a painful disorder in which the tissue that grows on the lining of your uterus spreads to other organs like the fallopian tubes and ovaries. With no way to exit the body like normal menstruation, the tissue becomes trapped and causes pain, scaring, adhesions and fertility problems.

Endometriosis is difficult to diagnose without an invasive procedure, a laparoscopy. Often times it will be misdiagnosed with IBS or deemed psychological. Symptoms can range based on severity but can cause nausea, low grade fevers, heavy bleeding, lower back pain, pelvic pain, painful intercourse, painful bowel movements and fatigue.

Treatment usually starts with birth control hormones to try to regulate your cycle but unfortunately, some women are very sensitive to the hormones and don’t always respond to that treatment. Another option is an endometrial ablation, but it is not always suggested if you plan to have children. A hysterectomy is a final option but there are studies that it still is no cure and it is a rough surgery. If your endometrial tissue grows onto other organs, removing the uterus is not going to help. There are studies that nutrition can play a big role. An anti-inflammatory diet can help minimize symptoms.

Avoiding gluten, red meat, sugar, caffeine and alcohol can help alleviate symptoms and inflammation. Having a well-balanced diet full of nutrients, antioxidants, fatty acids and iron rich foods is important. Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory compound that you can take as capsules or sprinkle on your food. Having plenty of rest, staying hydrated and support will be your best friend for this diagnosis.

Meet Laura

What is your invisible illness?

Endometriosis, Depression, Anxiety

When and how were you diagnosed?

Endo: June 2017 by laparoscopic surgery. It took 12 years and dozens of tests for me to be diagnosed. I have had anxiety & depression since I was 16.

What were your struggles and fear after diagnosis?

There is no known cause, and no cure. Now, the treatments of birth control and antidepressants are just making things worse. I also fear infertility.

What advice do you have for anyone going through a new diagnosis?

Be patient with yourself. Keep records of everything. Find your community of people struggling with what you are fighting. Talk about it. Educate yourself so that you can educate others.

What are your goals and dreams in life?

My goal is to finish my business degree. I want to be an educator and an entertainer. I dream of my own business, where I can express myself through art, music, and nature. I dream of adventure in far away places.

Three things you cannot live without: Sunshine, hugs, and my heating pad!

Favorite Quote:

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

Endo Warrior Shirt

Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

How To Be There For Someone With A Chronic Illness

Imagine you have two people who are not on the same page, let alone the same book. One struggles with chronic illness and the other is averagely healthy and maybe even deals with a common ailment here and there, but how can they relate when it comes to health? It may not come easy to some when they have never had their health jeopardized. It is important to build a bridge to have a connection with your family or friend.

Invisible Illnesses

Perhaps your friend or loved one has an invisible illness. This means that they look healthy on the outside but on the inside they struggle with an illness like diabetes, lupus, PTSD, POTS, Thyroid diseases, Cardiac and Neurological diseases, to name a few.

We all have our own battles.

It can be tough to look at someone who looks fully capable of living life the way you do but we are all different. Understand that just because you may be healthy and can juggle so many tasks, does not mean it comes easy for others.

It is important to recognize that with all things, there is a spectrum. With chronic illnesses, that spectrum can vary day to day. One morning, we may have so much energy that we can clean the house and go out to get lunch but the next morning we may be bedridden.

Personally, putting on makeup every day is my way of putting on war paint. I hide my dark circles from waking up every hour. I conceal the redness in my face or sometimes add blush to my pale skin. When I look well, I don’t get asked if I am sick or told I look tired. I feel normal and ready to take on the day.

Just because you friend or loved one looks put together and seems young and healthy, doesn’t mean she wasn’t up at 4am with severe back spasms and again at 5am feeling dehydrated and again at 6am in more pain and a numb arm until it is finally time to get up for the day. She probably got dizzy a few different times while her blood pressure dropped, causing nausea and tachycardia. Be grateful she answered the phone or showed up for lunch and she we be grateful for you.

The Spoon Theory

The Spoon Theory is a metaphor to explain the limited energy that someone with an invisible or chronic illness struggles with. Say you get 12 spoons each day and each task costs a spoon or two. Sometimes a shower can cost 2 spoons on a rough day. Going to work can cost a lot of spoons as well. Cleaning the kitchen? That will be 3 spoons! Sometimes if you push yourself too hard, it costs spoons from the next day which will leave you in bed with limited spoons.

We call people “Spoonies” who fit in to the Spoon Theory.

How to be there for a Spoonie:

  • Understanding – The fact that you have read this so far is already a huge deal for your Spoonie. Trying to understand what life is like for your friend or loved one shows a lot of compassion and empathy. This is your biggest step and the most important. For some, we are constantly judged, assumed we are lazy, told it is in our head, called a hypochondriac or just straight up dismissed. Certain medical conditions sometimes take up to a decade or longer to get diagnosed. Often times there are several misdiagnosis’s and even people get left in a grey area where no one knows what to do. We feel alone and lost.
  • Keep Your Ideals To Yourself – We appreciate your concerns, absolutely. I can vouch for myself that I have done plenty of research, am fully aware of my body and what is normal for me, have a strict diet with optimal nutrition and supplements, non drinker, non smoker and always staying positive as well as seeing a therapist. My health is a full time job. You can’t even pronounce what illnesses I have so please don’t try to cure me. Of course, we appreciate advice but keep it simple and keep it at that. Do not try to push your ideals on someone or tell them if they exercise more they will feel better or that they can meditate to a cure. All we want is a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, positive vibes and understanding.
  • If You Are Sick, Stay Away! – Seriously, some of us have compromised immune systems and if you have a cold or flu and bring your germs to anyone, even a healthy person, it is just simply rude. If you bring your germs to someone who is already ill, it is cruel. We don’t fight infections and other illnesses very well and most of the time it makes our other issues worse and for some, it could mean a trip to the hospital.
  • Social Gatherings – There is a good chance we might not make it to your event or night out. I can assure you that we wish we were there but more often than not, our health makes us flakey friends. Please don’t stop inviting us! We will always try, even if the chances are slim. Also, please don’t get upset with us if we don’t make it. We would rather be out having fun with you than stuck in bed.
  • Know That We Are Fighting A Battle – If we seem a little off, let us be a little off. There are countless times when I was hanging out with someone while my vision blurred and I start seeing stars, getting light headed and heart palpitations but I push through because this is my normal life. Something that has always bothered me was when strangers, coworkers or peers say “Smile! It can’t be that bad!” Well, maybe I am struggling with an ocular migraine that day, low blood pressure or didn’t sleep well, so if I have a case of resting bitch face then let it be. I know it could always be worse but I am here, smile or not!
  • My Illness Does Not Define Me – I am a strong warrior. I love art, music, travel, culture, anything vintage, food, nature, giving back and being creative. I can be sensitive but I persevere and I keep my chin up. I have not given up and I won’t. I have bad days but I climb above it and stay positive, even it it is a full time job. I am not my illness. However, it is part of my life, whether big or small. It may affect me but it is not who I am.

Body and Beauty, Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Yoga Newbie

One of my many goals for the new year is to stretch more. I am in severe pain every single day and last year I did absolutely ZERO exercising. It is a challenge to do any workouts due to my heart condition but I hate the idea of getting weak. One of my amazing Wildling Apothecary homes is The Yogi Perogi in Melbourne, Florida. I thought, what a perfect way to support them too, while working on my goal to stretch and hopefully reduce the pain in my body.

As a yoga newbie, I felt that Amy Ustjanowski lead the class so seamlessly. I started with the Vinyasa Flow, which she recommended. I did avoid a pose or two since my pacemaker is in an odd location and causes pain still. There was no judgement and no feeling awkward with my lack of experience and knowledge. I felt fairly out of shape but any time I started to worry, she somehow was a step ahead of me telling us not to. I realized that yoga is also something that will strengthen your body but most importantly, remind you to breathe. As silly as it sounds, I never remember to breathe.

I definitely enjoyed the class and plan to try many more. Koah does a Rock n Flow class on Saturdays with live music! I think it is always very important to challenge yourself and to try something new. I also want to be more aware of breathing… inhaling and exhaling. Though it is autonomic and something that you just do, I realized that I don’t do it right. Letting go of the stress in your body and taking the time to rejuvenate is something that has never been a priority until now.