I still don’t understand

I grew up with Disney, and fairytales, and romance. I grew up believing one day my prince would come and sweep me off my feet and save the day.

In my twenties I quickly learned how silly these concepts were. That Disney wasn’t real, that fairytales were rare, and that there was no prince waiting on a white horse.

In my early thirties, I woke up one day with Severe Rheumatoid Arthritis. In the six years that have passed since then I’ve learned that my body wasn’t made for romance, fairytales, and dreams come true.

I don’t know what the meaning of life is, or why we are here, and what we as humans are meant to do. But I’ve come to realize that I my body and mind were meant to endure colossal amounts of pain.

Pain from the diseases in my body that won’t quit multiplying. Pain from cancers that won’t give up. Pain from being destroyed from inside out. And the pain from being constantly let down by those who don’t stay.

If my body was meant to endure such stress and pain, why give me a heart and mind that is so vulnerable to the human condition?

Why let me know sadness and sorrow, heartache and loss? Was the physical endurance not enough for one person to take? Must I feel the destruction of everything inside on such a monumental level?

I don’t understand why I was made to experience so much pain. I don’t understand. I don’t understand.

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No one can do what I do

Today I was on a video chat with my dad and he said something that has really stayed with me.
We were talking about my disease, “the gift that keeps on giving”, and how despite the odds I’m always optimistic.

Yesterday I got out of the hospital again. It was my second hospital stay in two months, not a great average for someone like me.
In September I was in the hospital for six days, with an esophagus complication that was never really resolved. In those six days I developed a cold that I still have, and blood clots in my arm from a perforated vein via IV insertion.
The cold is annoying yes, but the blood clots ended up being a real shit. I had plans to go to a friends wedding in California, just a few weeks later, which ended up not happening.
My dad has planned to pay for my tickets but the clots caused him unease and he reneged on our deal. (I later found out I couldn’t have gone anyways due to not being able to fly with clots in my arm.) Unseen problems that turned into a big mess. Fairly sure I lost a friend or two over it. The ongoing cost of a disease I didn’t ask for.

Early Monday morning I woke up with a sharp pain in my right thigh. It was a confusing place for pain in my body to be, as it wasn’t near a joint. Rheumatoid Arthritis attacks the flesh around your joints, but this felt like someone was slowly sawing off my thigh bone.
When the pain became unbearable I took myself back to the Emergency Department. This time, unbeknownst to me, I had a clot in my leg. A very large one, deep in my thigh, known as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). This was a serious matter as if the clot broke it could travel to my lungs or brain and I could die instantly.
After many tests and overnight observation, it was concluded that I must take twelve days of self injections in the belly (ouch!), followed by three months of blood thinners. No flying for me anytime soon..

Now out of the hospital, and limping around on a cane, I’m packing up my room to move this weekend. An unfortunate overlap in my current reality. I took a break and called my Dad on What’s App to check in and update him on my status.
After I told him about my hospital stay, the medication options available, and my recovery time, he looked stricken. I told him not to worry, I’d dealt with bad before, I could do it again.
He said “You’re right. No one else could do what you do.”

Huh..

That statement has really stayed with me.
“No one else could do what you do.”

It reminds me of a conversation I had with my partner the other day about ‘reality’. (We’d been watching American Gods, a show about the unknown of our world, and the idea of creating your own reality, your own fate.) I asked him if that were true, then why would I create a reality in which I was always in pain? Seemed a bit strange for someone to want to go through that on purpose.
It was an odd show to be honest….

That conversation stays with me too. Coupled with the notion of “no one could do that but you”, I’m left wondering.

People have told me before that they didn’t know how I could get through the things I have. Didn’t know how I coped with the pain, the depression, the unknown fate of someone with an incurable disease.
And I think about it too.
I think about it a lot.

When I was a kid I was such a wimp. Paper cuts would end in tears, a scraped knee would be the end of the world. I couldn’t lift weights like others in high school during PE. I wasn’t a very physical person at all.

Now it’s been almost six years that I have lived through pain that most couldn’t conceive. Bearable pain that I live with daily would send most people to the Emergency Department. I live with things that I never imagined I would have to. I’ve been in hospital more times than I can count. I’ve experienced heart attacks, survived lymphoma, survived cervical cancer, and broken several bones from hugs.
I live with Rheumatoid Disease, Osteoporosis, Fibromyalgia, Lung Disease, and Lupus, daily.

“No one else could do what you do.”

Maybe he is right. Maybe they all are.
I may not have been ‘born for this’, but I live with it on a level that many could never conceive.
Because they will never see it on my face. I wear my Disease like a smile on my face. I stay optimistic, I stay positive. Because I have to.

No one else can do what I do.

little by little

I was looking through #quotestoliveby on Instagram tonight and came across three small words.

“little by little”

I’m sure that this is probably a mantra for many, as it could encompass so many aspects of life. It might have been written to encourage people to strive for their goals, to not give up. Maybe to save their pennies, and go for that dream vacation. Or keep chipping away at their education, until they’ve succeeded in their dreams.

I used to love seeing quotes like this. I’d save them to my quotes board on Pinterest. I even contemplated getting some of them as tattoos, so powerful a message they were, I wanted them as a permanent reminder.

But tonight I see these words and they don’t speak to me as they once might have. I see “little by little” as a reminder of my mortality. I see it as my disease chipping away slowly at my body from the inside out.

Little by little my bones grow brittle and break more often.

Little by little my fatigue consumes me to where I wonder if I can get out of bed again.

Little by little my hair falls to the floor.

Little by little the drugs fail and I wonder what will be next if I’ve already tried everything.

A lot of people have commented on how strong I am about my disease, how in control I seem, how optimistic. They don’t realise that this is the mask I must wear, my uniform. Because if I share how scary it is to not know when the end is, then I’m being “dramatic” or “looking for attention”. No one wants to hear when the chronically ill are suffering. It’s a nuisance, something that should be kept to themselves. So we do. We keep it in. We become experts at the “I’m ok”.

But there are days like today, moments where the gravity of everything collapses our resolve. It might be a song on the radio, or a comment someone made at dinner, or that moment when we look in the mirror while washing our hands. Everything we hide from everyone, including ourselves, shatters. We remember what we are going through and how bad it is.

So tonight, when I read those three words, I remembered that little by little my body is dying. And that just sucks.

Oh, is my hair loss from chemotherapy inconveniencing you?

For those of us who take forms of chemotherapy for our disease, it’s a pretty big deal.

It’s bad enough that we get flak from the cancer community for using the term “chemotherapy” when explaining our biologics, when that’s what it actually is! I get that some of us aren’t on the high doses that cancer patients are on, BUT IT IS STILL CHEMO AND IT STILL HITS US HARD. It’s not a competition to see who’s on the worst drug or dosage.

I’ve been on biologic infusions for a couple years now. That means that I willingly consent to toxic chemicals being pumped into my body in the hopes that it makes me well. Sometimes, they do. I have unfortunately been on the other end of that a few times. The last time my body didn’t like chemo, the backlash consisted of multiple heart attacks and an eight day stint in the ICU.

It’s not a competition, so don’t tell me the chemo I take doesn’t have a toll. I get nauseated and vomit for hours. My body turns to lead and I have to sleep like the dead for up to 20 hours sometimes, just to recoup. AND my hair falls out.

Its gotten better over the years. The first time I went on chemo it came out in large clumps, to the point where I had to cut my hair short to hide the gaps. These days it doesn’t fall out en masse. But it does fall out! I have strands all over my floor, all over my pillows, and all over my bed and sheets. It sticks to my clothes, and it stands out cause I’m a redhead these days. You really can’t miss it.

It makes me very self conscious. You don’t need to tell me my hair is everywhere, I KNOW. No one knows better than me!

Most people are pretty cool about it. Sometimes they pick it off me discreetly, or mention I have a chunk sitting on my shoulder. I blush, take care of it, and we act like it didn’t happen.

You know what’s not ok?? Acting like you’re put out because my hair is in your vicinity. I’d love to not have my hair fall out, but I didn’t choose to be chronically ill, and I certainly don’t love being on chemotherapy. Have some fucking sympathy or compassion. But saying “Ew your hair is everywhere” or refusing to touch things in MY room because the hair “grosses” you out… Like are you serious?

How entitled do you have to be that you shame me for something I can’t control and hate about myself?!?! That shit is not ok. And while in my naivety I may have put up with it in the past, I will not longer.

No one in any circumstance is allowed to make you feel bad about yourself or your circumstance. EVER. That shows their insecurities, not yours.

So that will no longer fly with me. Nor should it for anyone else.

Chemotherapy…a powerful drug no matter the diagnosis

This morning I start treatment again, after a 4 month hiatus while moving and settling in another country. It’s been a long time since I’ve had medication in my body that actually helps my Rheumatoid Disease, as opposed to just put a drug band-aid on it like steroids do. Four months is a long time to go without critical medicine that helps your mobility and pain.

Normally, I am pretty open with others about what treatments I am on, preferring to be upfront about everything. I am not ashamed or embarrassed that I used opiates for a long time when the pain was too much to bear. I won’t lie about the fact that four years of steroids caused my weight to go up so high that I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I am also not going to be bullied into the fact that a lot of people don’t like when I use the term chemotherapy to describe my treatment.

This is one of the key issues that we as patients deal with in Rheumatology. Not many can grasp the fact that our diseases are very serious and can take lives. Everyone just assumes, because it’s more well known and talked about, that the big C is the really bad one out there. But Cancer is not the only thing that kills! Many die from complications of Rheumatoid Disease and autoimmune diseases. The numbers would shock you. But because it’s not cancer, or you haven’t heard a lot about it, it can’t possibly be as deadly right? WRONG.

I am part of a very supportive group on Facebook for women suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis/Disease. We were ripped apart about a month ago by a sickening argument over using the term chemotherapy when talking about some of our treatments. An alarming number of women were very negative about the fact that some of use the very name our doctors themselves speak. Angry that despite the fact that we are in fact on chemotherapy drugs, and go through many if not all the symptoms of dealing with it, we shouldn’t be allowed to say “I’m on chemotherapy”. As if cancer patients are the only ones with the right.

Here’s where I get angry. This isn’t the damned Pain Olympics. It’s not a competition on whom is more sick and who can have what treatment! We are all sick! Some of us dying! Have some fucking empathy!

My doctors, including my Rheumatologist, all refer to Remicade as a “chemotherapy drug”. Before starting a round of infusions, I am given the same list of side effects and ailment symptoms that any other patient on chemotherapy gets. Infusions, while helpful to my RD, are brutal on my body. They make me nauseated, I vomit, I sleep for hours with no real rested feeling in sight, I lose weight, my hair falls out, and my skin turns white and crepe-like. But it’s not cancer related, so it’s not really chemotherapy right? WRONG.

If it’s not really chemotherapy, then why has my Lymphoma and Cervical Cancer gone into remission after being on it? If it’s not chemotherapy, then why do I experience the same side effects as those with the big C? If it’s not chemotherapy, then why do ALL of my doctors use that term?

Because…. It IS Chemotherapy. It may not be the same doses as different diseases and illnesses, but it’s the same drug. It’s a drug that helps many people to live better lives, that they may not be able to have otherwise. It helps me. That’s all that matters. I have the right to call it what it is. It’s chemotherapy, and it’s saving my life.

So, today I will make my way down to my local clinic. I will be weighed, have my temperature taken, and put into a bed. I will be monitored like a hawk, because these are serious drugs. Four hours later I will emerge, exhausted beyond comparison to anything I’ve ever experienced, nauseated and yet hungry. I will go home where my mom will watch me for 24-48 hours to make sure I don’t get violently ill-it’s happened many times. I’ll barely keep my eyes open while I attempt a few bites of food and sips of water, before falling back into coma-like sleep for days. I’ll continue to lose weight, dark circles forming under my eyes, my skin thin as paper, more hair falling out with every shampoo and hair brush. But I’ll be closer to pain free than I ever have been.

I have Rheumatoid Disease, and I’m on chemotherapy.

Size Does Matter 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought I was overweight. Literally, even as a child, I was aware that my tummy protruded just a little, that I had a round face, and that I didn’t have the same body as some of my friends. Of course, when you’re nine years old, things like weight don’t really ‘measure up’ in your world. As a nine year old, my day to day thoughts were mostly consumed by whether or not I was going to be able to collect the entire set of Looney Tunes mugs from KFC, or which of my friends my mom would let me have a slumber party with on the weekend. As a rule, nine year olds, or really any aged child for that matter, could care less about their weight. It doesn’t even register as a blip on the radar. The only way would be if someone were to tell you, to explain to you why it would even matter.

For me, this person  was my father. For as long as I have memories of him, those memories included him telling me I was overweight. Memories of us hiking when I was a kid, pointing out the reason I was tired and lightheaded was because I didn’t exercise enough, and that had to be the reason I needed to take breaks. Or telling me not to eat the bread that was set on the table at restaurants, because I already had a “belly”. Comments and situations like these were commonplace to my youth, even prompting me to beg my mom to let me stay home with her, instead of going to my dad’s every other weekend, per the divorce decree. When I was thirteen, my father took me aside and asked me if I was pregnant, because how else could I explain my fat stomach? This, as well as every other weight related comment, infuriated my mother, and bewildered me. Because the truth was, I was quite the gangly child.

Until I was ten years old, my mom and I lived in Makiki Heights, also known as Tantalus, an extinct cinder cone on the southern end of the Ko’olau Range on Oahu. Tantalus, was and still is a lush peak with thick rainforest, full of hiking trails, and dotted with older homes as well as more modern upscale estates. We rented a small apartment on the ground floor of a converted farm house, that sat on a large lot that was shared with the house of the owners. Growing up there was like living in my own personal Wonderland. Our garden/yard stretched far down the hill, and my neighbors yards were easily accessible if you didn’t mind squeezing through the wire fence. I was the epitome of a tomboy, and spent a lot of my free time running around, playing hide and seek, and getting into mischief with the three other kids I had as neighbors. So, to be called “fat” or “lazy” was incomprehensible to me.


I know what you’re thinking…. Geez, did she like pink… This is true. I did like pink. And cats. But I can guarantee you’re also thinking ” This kid was not overweight”.

I’d like to say as I grew older I started to fill out and lose the skinny, gangly look I had going on. But, alas, I was to maintain the “stringbean” look well into my teens. The comments never stopped either, so despite my slim figure, I always thought I was overweight. Because we tend to believe what people tell us. Not just our parents, but society as well. I grew up reading Cosmo Girl and Seventeen, just like every other hormonal teenaged girl in America. Those magazines told us what we should look like, what we should wear, how we should talk and act…and we believed every word. Why wouldn’t we? They printed it right? And all the celebrities and models were all bone thin and gorgeous, living the dream… Perfect house, perfect car, perfect wardrobe, perfect guy. The American Dream. Or at least what it looked like from a fifteen year olds point of view. And I was raised under the ideal of “Size Matters”. “You won’t get anything good in life if you’re fat.” “Beautiful people are winners.”

The funny thing is though, that once I hit eighteen, I grew out of that bullshit. I don’t know  exactly when it was that I stopped buying into the “skinny” hype. All I do know is that at some point I turned a corner, and I just didn’t care anymore. Could be around the time that I started to really enjoy my body. I grew breasts, and small as they were, they got the amount of attention I needed. My “stringbean” body went from straight up and down, to voluptuous curves. And somewhere in there, the shyness of my youth (when it came to boys), melted away. Suddenly, not only did I know I was attractive, I relished it. And while, the comments never stopped, I no longer needed validation from a parental figure to feel good about myself. If having wide hips and a round face meant that I was fat, well then, I guess size really didn’t matter, right?


 

God I hate it when he’s right…

Fast forward seventeen years. 

Here I am at thirty five years old. I’ve lived a very full life for my years. I’ve visited over 25 countries, and lived in at least 3. I’ve had a serious long-term relationship, attended university, won the lottery, and jumped out of an airplane (on purpose of course). And last but not least, I’ve been diagnosed with and suffer from a chronic and debilitating disease. A disease, that in the three and a half years since I was diagnosed, changed my body and mind in ways that I didn’t think was possible.

Three and a half years of being on the steroid that I once naively named “the arthritis cure”, having no idea the long term effects that it would wreak on my body. Turning my once beloved curves and perky breasts, into the prison of fat that I have been forced to become accustomed to. My reality is the woman that looks back at me in the mirror now. This unrecognizable woman, with her Cushingoid “Moon Face”, sunken in eyes rimmed with dark circles, and a body that looks  like she’s carrying triplets. 

I used to feel beautiful. I used to adore my looks. I was once a confident woman who thought she could have whatever she wanted, if she really wanted it. I was a boss. I knew exactly where my place was in the world. I was winning. 

This is where I hate how he was right. How society was right. I hate that I have to admit that. It pains me to say aloud that “Size Does Matter”. Because despite now having an invisible disease, nothing about me has physically changed, except for my weight. And yet I feel as if I’ve lost everything…

Since significantly gaining weight, I’ve lost the majority of my friends. Yes, I know you’re going to say “Well, they weren’t very good friends if they left you in your time of need, were they?” And that’s true, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still hurt. Most of them just slowly  drifted away, becoming too busy, or too occupied with their own lives. I know this can’t all be blamed on appearances. A lot of this can also be attributed to just not wanting to be attached to the stigma of someone who is sick. But it’s hard not to draw the parallel.

Then there’s my dating life…  Since college, I have never gone longer than four months without a companion in my life. I’ve always had dates, or boyfriends, or “friends With benefits” or something. I’m really not as codependent as I sound, I promise. I’ve just always  enjoyed having a partner in crime, someone to share my life experiences with. And I’m sorry, but there is NO WAY IN HELL that my sixteen month drought doesn’t have to do with my increasing size!

Size Does Matter!

No matter that I am a strong and capable woman, or that I am an educated, well read intellectual. That I have traveled more extensively than most of my high school graduating class, and visited more countries than I can remember the names of. No matter that despite having a chronic illness that has caused me to have heart attacks, and through medications caused Osteoporosis and Lymphoma, I am still here standing tall. My disease has not defeated me. But maybe the stigma of my new size has. 

I don’t feel attractive anymore. I can’t honestly say “I’m beautiful”, because I no longer believe it. I feel fat. I see pictures of myself and I cringe. It literally looks like I’m pregnant with an entire litter of puppies. And the smiles from strangers have stopped. No longer does the cute waiter at the local diner give me free refills. I’m not the cute girl I used to be. And I try so hard to not let my looks define me as a person. But it’s hard to leave behind almost two decades of another way of life. This is not the woman I want to concede to. But as long as I’m on this drug, my doctors say it’s near impossible  to lose the weight. And I can’t get off the only drug that works. The only one that keeps me moving, mobile, alive.My reality is that this steroid is saving me. But what have I lost in return?

What have I lost in a world obsessed with the fact that Size Does Matter?

Merry Christmas Arthritis

Merry Christmas Arthritis.
I see you’ve started celebrating early this year.
I thought with the holiday you might have wanted to sleep in, or perhaps take a day off completely.
It must be tiring working so hard day in and out.
Making sure my flesh is inflamed in all the right places, breaking down my joints, figuring out new ways to destroy my body from the inside out.
Sure must be exhausting work.
That’s why I thought you might like to take the rest of the month off.
Surely you deserve a break. 
Put down those chronic pain inducers, your crafty invisible illness disguises, and just relax.
Have an eggnog.

As for me…
Well it would have been nice to wake up on Christmas Day pain free for once.
Hell, I would have even taken a 5/10.
Oh, don’t you worry, I wouldn’t have spilled the beans on you. It could have been our own little secret.
Just between the two of us.
You could still do it you know, it’s not too late…

Ease up on the inflammation throughout my body.
Turn a blind eye, and stop the purple bruising around my knuckles and feet.
Look the other way as you pull the swelling from around my joints, making it possible for me to walk without limping.
What a great Christmas present that would be.
Turn my hands back to normal so they can move again without looking deformed and useless.
Drain the liquid from around my knees so I may bend down to hug my family and friends without holding back screams.
Ease up on the pounding inside my head.
Today of all days, let me feel happy on the inside.

Today.
Just this once.
Please, Arthritis, please.
Let me enjoy one normal day.
Please.
Let me be pain free.
It would be such a lovely gift, one that I would cherish for a whole year.
Let me have a day without wincing, a day without tears, a day of fresh steps forward, and none back.
Let me have my Christmas.
Please?
Please?
Are you there, Arthritis?
Can you hear me?
Please.