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.

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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.

Why can’t I have the cheesecake I ordered??

This is my first post in a few months… Mostly because my life really hasn’t been that exciting. Life with chronic illness gets like that sometimes. Our pain rises and wanes, we go through slow, inactive periods, etc.

Since its been awhile, you may be expecting a typical rant of hating the healthcare system, wishing doctors had better bedside manner, or the unending disbelief at how people treat the disabled. But, this is not the fruit I bear today. Today I want to talk about false advertising.

Now we may not realise it, but false advertising is EVERYWHERE. It takes a keen sense of snooping out the bullshit that the world is dishing out these days. Not just on that $236 eye cream made from expensive japanese fungus that ensures you’ll look like a 12 year old if you use it everyday for 3 months, cause anyone who falls for that is just asking to be scammed.

How about those medical commercials that tell us if we use this new biologic we too can look like the model they hired for the commercial, hiking up Everest like it’s nothing. I know Big Pharma is trying to sell some drugs, but come on. I’d like to be sent the file of every woman who took chemotherapy for a year and then decided to be a cross fit instructor because she’s cured.

I know I’ve covered this before, but recently I dealt with false advertisement, and it all came rushing back. I was at a restaurant this past Monday, and was perusing the dessert menu when I got excited. It said they had “American Cheesecake”.

Now this may not seem like a big deal to most, but I live in New Zealand now, where “real cheesecake” doesn’t exist. They make the unbaked version here which is more like a mousse. Im not saying that’s a bad thing, it’s just not MY thing. I love baked cheesecake. It’s firm, creamy, and always has a delicious buttery crust. So, when I saw American Cheesecake on this menu I was stoked. Of course I ordered it. It arrives….

(Insert exasperated sigh here)

WHY YOU LIE TO ME MENU???!!

What appeared on the plate in front of me could maybe have been identified as flan… but we would really be pushing it.

•No crust.

•Weird custard texture that tastes and feels reminiscent of hospital grade pudding.

•Very odd gelatinous layer on top that tastes like melted Lego

I was OUTRAGED. If they wanted a creative and inviting name they could have gone with anything. Why lie to me and say American Cheesecake??? Just say ” this is our version of what smelly gym clothes and a pudding cup would taste like if they had a baby”.

FYI- I think one of the worse disappointments in the world is ordering a dessert and it ending up being awful. This coming from someone who lives with chronic illness daily. You don’t mess with dessert.

RAGE!!

Four days later, I’m still stewing about it, AND I still haven’t had any goddamn CHEESECAKE!!

Hmm, I guess this did end up as a rant after all…

Here’s the thing… I’ve been sick for 5+ years. I’ve gone through things with my body that most couldn’t possibly imagine. There have been months where getting out of bed was akin to willingly cutting my own leg off with a chainsaw. I’ve worked at a desk when most would have been in an emergency room. When you become chronically ill, you learn to live at a level most would deem insane and impossible. We do it because we must. Or we wouldn’t be alive at all. So…

Moral of the story:

Don’t falsely advertise to the chronically ill. We don’t always have much to look forward to in daily life, so don’t make it worse lying to us!

Mulling Over A Dream

It was quiet when my eyes were closed. It was when I could be at peace despite my world falling to pieces. I could be in the middle of a crowded room, or in busy store, or even now, as I lay on this cold bed in the middle of the local emergency room… With my eyes closed, I could shut the ugliness of the world out, maybe even pretend I was well again.

Not even a week had passed of 2018, and here I was with an IV in my arm, my mom sleeping next to me in a cold hospital chair. As per usual, no one had any idea what was wrong with me. A fate I had grown accustomed to. Leaving five hours later with a prescription for painkillers I’d never fill, and a suggestion to “get some rest”.

My problem is I can never get enough rest. Not if I want to attempt to have a life by any standards. I can’t sleep my life away afterall.

So in that hospital bed I lay with my eyes closed, waiting for no news. And in that quietness I fell asleep, mulling over a dream. A dream I’ve had many times. One that I know now will unlikely come true. Not so much a dream, but more of a memory…

The last memory of my other life.

The life I had before this was all I knew.

A life that wasn’t filled with medications, cold hospital rooms, and the constant threat of more pain, more fatigue, and a new diagnosis every six months.

Furthermore, a life where I would find someone who loved me for me. Where they wouldn’t look at me and see broken. Where they would marry me no matter how many years we may have together. A life with choices, and maybe children.

It was a good dream. But eventually I woke up and opened my eyes… Back to the cold hospital bed, to the doctor telling me she could do no more. Back to my reality.

I slept for a long while that day, once I had climbed back into my own bed, and my mom departed for the long trip home. I was used to this aftermath of hospital visits. Used to the bed rest, dehydration, and exhaustion that inevitably followed. Used to the loneliness, the unbearable loneliness that came with my disease.

But this time something new followed, I was not so alone. He came with food, and hugs, and the support I needed to get through it without falling apart. And in the days that followed, I realised his love allowed me to mull over a new dream.

We’ve still got time

For the last two years I’ve lived on a clock.

A clock that has been ticking away the moments to where I meet my end. My illness eating away parts of me that are unseen.

Because of this I’ve adjusted to a “come what may” attitude towards life. I’ve been living free and fearless, feeling that this was the only way for me to live my life to the fullest.

But I have recently come to realize that this may not work for my anymore. I can no longer live in the shadow of my disease.

I have people I care about and friends whom are important to me. The ‘come what may’ philosophy only worked for me when I had nothing to live for and therefore had no fear of what happened to me.

This is no longer an accurate representation of my life.

Maybe it’s that 2018 is in quick approach and it makes us all think about what is important in our lives.

Love. Family. Friendship. Truth. Fun. Happiness.

No I don’t suddenly fear death or the end of my being, despite that always lurking.

No, I don’t fear the clock of life.

I fear the loss of the important things.

People go through their entire lives not being truthful to themselves and others. Life is short, no matter what time clock we are all on. Cherish the time that is given. Share your feelings. Tell your friends they are important to you. Tell your loves what they mean to you.

Instead of being fearless, respect the time you’re given and use it wisely. It’s not to late to be truthful to who you are.

Our footprints

I recently ended a two week long road trip around the South Island of New Zealand. A trip that I never thought I’d be able to take at this point in my life.

At 36, I never thought I’d be struggling under the burden of multiple chronic illnesses. Never thought that I would live each day in pain and fatigue, wondering if or when it would all end. In March of 2016, one of the eleven doctors and specialists that I saw on a regular basis told me that I was living on a clock. A clock that no woman in her mid-thirties should have had to think about. A clock that was slowly counting down the time unto which my life would end. I had time, years in fact. But not decades, like most my age looked forward to. Ten years minimum, fifteen if I got lucky.

I took that news on my own, silently in his office, starting at my hands as if they were supposed to provide me with the answers he didn’t have. If they could find a medication that worked for me, more time could be bought. But they hadn’t found anything in the years leading up, and every day my disease turned more aggressive. Every time I visited a doctor a new diagnosis would be presented, or the bad news of a failed medication would be shared. Years of allergies and intolerance to the leading drugs for my diseases, countless failed treatments, and pain, so much pain. And then to hear that despite all my optimism I was going to die sooner than maybe even my own parents…

Five months later I landed in the Intensive Cardiac Unit at Queens Medical Center for ten days. I survived a “multiple cardiac event”, according to my cardiologist and the medical team that looked after me. Despite my doctors projections, my body had other ideas in mind for my time left on earth.

But something changed in me the night that I almost died. It’s not that I wanted to go… Sure some of us living with chronic pain have been down that road where we wonder if the pain is worth going on. Nothing as dark as giving into those thoughts though. And in the middle of my second heart attack of the night on my third night in hospital, apparently when the pain became too great that I actually blacked out, I had an epiphany.

No, I did not “see the light“. I mean yes, there was light, but clearly it was the doctors shining something in my face trying to wake me. I did however feel like I had a choice. A choice on whether to let go, or to continue on.

I don’t know how long I was in that place, probably only seconds. Later my doctors told me I could have died. And I knew if I had been willing to give up, I would have. But something had changed. Despite all the pain, and the knowing I didn’t have long, I still wanted to continue. Something told me that I had purpose.

A year and a half later I finally understand what that is.

Earlier this year I made the life changing decision to move to New Zealand, as healthcare was more accessible for me there as I was a citizen. More so than it was in the US, as it wasn’t affordable, even on Federal Disability. It was a chance to turn my life around as well, live healthier, make friends, maybe find my purpose.

I started bi-monthly Infliximab infusions in June, and had successfully gotten myself off most of my hardcore painkillers by October. I’d even lost a large portion of weight that I’d gained from years of Prednisone usage. I got some new hobbies, joined groups, and made friends, so many friends. I even started dating for the first time in two and a half years.

Sure, I was still in pain. My disease didn’t magically disappear because I moved. Chronic illnesses don’t drift off when you find love, despite what Disney movies try to teach us. I still spent multiple days in bed, fatigued beyond repair. Lung Disease reared its ugly head in a new diagnosis in August. Lupus followed soon after..

The change was that I felt I was around more people that supported me. People didn’t treat me as pitiful, and because of that I was able to let the real me shine through. I reclaimed the person I used to be, maybe not in body, but definitely in spirit. And I realise now it’s all because of footprints.

Just like others footprints made an impression on me during my illness, my footprints were helping others too. I accepted the love and generosity of friends and strangers in Hawaii because my blog had reached them in ways I didn’t know. I couldn’t see that the knowledge I’d learned in my own experiences were helping people just as those whose generosity helped me. Just by listening to a friend, or sharing a meal, I was leaving footprints on the journey of others, just as they leave theirs on mine.

Today as my partner and I concluded our two week vacation, one that I wouldn’t have taken had I not left footprints on his journey as equally as he left his on mine, I had my epiphany. We were talking with our Airbnb host, just as we were getting ready to depart for the airport, and she shared that she had lupus. She shared this only because I shared that I wrote a blog about living with invisible illnesses. Through this tiny piece of information she came to not only understand that she shouldn’t feel alone, but also some references I gave her for support groups. She had no idea the resources that were available to her, feeling isolated by friends and family who couldn’t or wouldn’t understand.

On the plane ride home I thought about my footprints… If I can leave pieces of myself behind, to help or to grow or to love, then no matter how much time I have left, that time was worthy. I have and will continue to make a difference on those who choose to share my journey with me, just as I share theirs.

Our footprints, my footprints, matter…

A Note To The Elderly…

Something has been really bugging me for the past few days, and it took me awhile to be able to put it into words here.. This time it’s not so much about what I deal with, but more about how others deal with me. Or rather, us, those who are sick in their  youth.

When we were little, we were taught to always respect our elders. Its like a mantra that is ingrained in our brains since infancy. I couldn’t tell you when I first heard it, but its been repeated to me throughout my entire life. And I get it, being respectful of your elders makes sense. But how did that start? Why was it only ‘be respectful of your elders’ and not taught just to be respectful of everyone? Because now I fear, that in teaching everyone this ideal, we’ve given some a false sense of superiority. Like bad behavior is okay if its from the elderly because somehow they’ve earned it?

Also, what is the rule for the elderly then? If all us younger folk have to be respectful and gracious to those older than us, what do they have to do towards us? Anything? No? Here lies the problem. It may not seem like a problem for most, but for those of us who are under the age of 60, and are living with chronic illness, it is one. Most of the elderly that I have been in contact with since becoming ill have absolutely no regard or respect for the fact that I am sick. They either don’t believe it, or flat out ignore it. Because somehow, I couldn’t possibly be ill or disabled if I don’t carry a senior citizens card.

My first example of this is from a couple of weeks back when a friend and I were outside a local mall. We were sitting on a bench eating ice cream cones in the sun, and watched as an older couple in their 50’s were pushing a young woman in a wheel chair who looked to be in her mid-30’s. It wasn’t clear what the young woman’s disability was, but her parents (I’d assume) were helping her sit at a table of an outside cafe adjacent to our bench. The older couple looked tired, but were diligently helping their daughter whom clearly couldn’t walk. I don’t know what it was about this scene that made me smile. Maybe just a nice reminder of support from loved ones, for those of all ages with disabilities. The smile faded however when an much older woman walked past them, and decided to speak her mind on how she saw the situation. I didn’t hear everything, but I did hear the older woman tell the young woman in the wheelchair that she should be helping her parent out instead of the other way around.

I was outraged. Especially, since this was not the first time I’d seen these behaviors. In the almost five years since I was diagnosed, I have been confronted with this quite a few times. And by this, I mean older people than I mouthing off at me or other young disabled people, about how we can’t be sick/disabled and shouldn’t rely on our elders.

Um… WHAT?

I’m sorry, I didn’t realize there was a rule about not being sick before having wrinkles…

Another example of this happened to me just the other day while at the bus stop outside my local grocer. As I was waiting for the bus, I watched two elderly women in their late 60’s-early 70’s push their shopping carts past the sign that forbids carts from leaving the premises. They crossed the street, went down a block, and stopped at my bus stop where they abandoned the carts outside the front door of a local clothing store. A salesperson came out and while he seemed visibly annoyed, said nothing, and proceeded to push the carts back to their home. The women stood next to me with their grocery bags, and as the bus came into view I signaled the driver to stop. Now, I was taught to respect my elders, and I always let them get on the bus first. So, as the bus stopped and opened its doors I stepped back politely. This was not necessary however, as one of the women physically pushed me back with her arm, causing me to stumble, and said “respect your elders”.

ARE YOU F*CKING KIDDING ME?

How is pushing someone you don’t even know, whom politely stepped aside for you, and then barking at them to be respectful, a gesture to be respected?? The bus driver asked if I was alright, and after picking up my dropped grocery bags, I boarded the bus and sat in the rear, as far from the rude lady as possible. They then spent the next five minutes I was on the bus, talking about how rude young people are and how they need to learn respect. This is where I draw the line.

No, I did not say something to the rude lady. I did, however go home and have a long think about how I would approach this blog.

Here’s the thing… Respect goes both ways. It shouldn’t be something we teach kids to follow just based on age. Because somewhere down the line, this ideal got warped, and not just in the eyes of youth, but in elders as well. Of course, I know these were isolated incidences. And not every single person over the age of 60 is rude to anyone younger. I have a lot of family and friends in my life whom have always been respectful of me, despite my age or disability.

But at what point did people of a certain age start thinking they were superior just for reaching that age? And at what point did the idea that a young person who is disabled, have less rights than someone who is elderly? Even back when I lived in Hawaii, and rode the bus there, I was often shamed by the elderly for using the disabled section on the bus. In their eyes I was too young to be truly sick or disabled. Like my illness didn’t matter because I hadn’t lived long enough.

Those of us whom are young and battling chronic illnesses should have the same rights as anyone else, age be damned. We shouldn’t be shamed by others for being sick, because trust us when we say, we don’t want to be. We don’t want to be using canes or wheelchairs, it embarrasses us that we have to use disabled placards on our cars, and park in special parking to get closer to an entrance. We didn’t sign up for this, and we had no idea it was coming, unlike old age. We don’t ask people to respect us, nor do we make a big deal about it in public. And we don’t teach kids to respect the ill or disabled, but we should.

Instead of teaching children to respect their elders, why not teach them to respect everyone?

And to the elderly who think I’m too young to be sick and disabled…I agree. I am too young, but that doesn’t mean I’m not. So please respect that.