My #InvisibleFight

“You’re looking pretty good today. How do you feel?” The response I often want to give is, “I feel like crap, but thanks for asking.” However I’ve come to realize that isn’t helpful to me or the person asking. It just shuts down communication, and I feel worse. I should be grateful that someone asked how I feel, even if it is just in passing.

If someone doesn’t suffer with an invisible chronic illness, it’s impossible for them to understand or comprehend the pain, struggle, and suffering we go through every day. Yet, we want them to understand, don’t we? Except for a few close friends and my husband who have walked alongside me with my invisible illnesses, most people don’t understand the numerous doctors appointments, pills and supplements, and traveling great distances for consults, second opinions, and skilled surgeons.

One of the most effective ways I do my #invisiblefight for the invisible illnesses I and my family have is through social media. It started simply by someone recommending to me a website called Rest Ministries (http://restministries.org), a website that ministers to the chronically ill. It has daily devotionals that speak to my struggles, informative articles, a chat room called “The Sunroom”, and specific groups that I joined to discuss specific illnesses or types of support. Eventually, I submitted several devotionals and articles to Lisa Copen, the founder, and she graciously accepted them for inclusion on the website. At Rest Ministries, I find great camaraderie, empathy, and understanding from fellow writers and others fighting invisible illnesses here.

The three invisible illnesses I have are ulcerative colitis, lyme disease, and endometriosis. Fortunately, my ulcerative colitis has been in remission most of the 33 years I’ve had it by taking daily oral medication. However, my two grown children both have Crohn’s disease, one diagnosed at age 8 and one at age 20, and they have had significant flares and changes in medications over the years. By God’s grace and advancements in research and medication options for Crohn’s patients, they are both in remission. My “go-to” website for information on these illnesses is the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (http://ccfa.org). This website has webinars with leading doctors and researchers in the field, a separate web area just for teens to talk with one another, the latest information on medications and treatment options, stories of those with Crohn’s or colitis who are making a difference, and many ways to get involved in supporting and promoting these diseases.

Due to the controversy over whether chronic lyme disease is a reality, I found it difficult at first to find reliable information, but through meeting hundreds of patients and being treated by two great Lyme Literate medical doctors (LLMDs), I have found reliable websites that offer names of LLMDs, effective treatment of lyme and its co-infections, and ways to advocate and support legislation for better research and testing. Just a few of those sites are ILADS Lyme Society (www.iliads.org), Lyme Disease Network (www.lyme.net), and the LDA–Lyme Disease Association (www.lymediseaseassociation.org).

Of the three invisible illnesses I have, finding current and reliable information on the internet, or anywhere else, for endometriosis has been the most difficult. It’s not considered a “big deal” in the hierarchy of chronic diseases–a few bad cramps, some severe bleeding occasionally, a few “minor” surgeries, and you should be up and running. If all else fails, most gynecological surgeons recommend a hysterectomy.

I’ve had endo for 27 years, had five laparoscopies, a hysterectomy, worked with a pelvic floor physical therapist, and tried numerous medications, and at age 59, still have pelvic pain. After my most recent laparoscopy in April 2015, I got serious about researching this disease and found that there are only a few surgeons in the U.S. who are endometriosis excision specialists. If you want to learn about endometriosis and find support from others who are experiencing debilitating symptoms, ask to join Nancy’s Nook Endometriosis Education & Discussion Group on Facebook. Two other great resources are the CEC–Center for Endometriosis Care (www.centerforendo.com) and the EFA–Endometriosis Foundation of America (www.endofound.org). Through these groups, I educated myself and am sending my medical records to three excision specialists with the hope of eradicating endo from my body for good.

Finding good resources of information from other people suffering from your same illness, discussion groups on Facebook, Twitter, or websites, or your own experience with good doctors can empower you and give you hope to keep up the #invisiblefight. And you can pass it on to others who are also fighting the #invisiblefight.

My ultimate weapon for my #invisiblefight is prayer and the strength that Jesus gives me when I don’t have the mental or physical strength to function. I know without a shadow of a doubt that God hears my cries when I lie awake at night wanting to sleep, but can’t. He knows my suffering because He suffered great physical pain, too. When no one else understands, He will never leave me nor forsake me. When I am unsure about a medication or treatment plan laid out before me, He gives me His wisdom that is way beyond my finite mind. He collects all of my tears in a bottle and gives me peace in the midst of the #invisiblefight.

But the greatest gift Jesus gives me in the midst of my invisible illnesses is joy. Joy in spite of the circumstances. Joy in His creation if I open my eyes and ears. Joy that He never sleeps and is always awake for a good cry or conversation. Joy when He uses my struggle to comfort and come alongside another who has the same illness. Joy that I can pray for others when I can’t do anything else. Joy that He is my greatest warrior in my #invisiblefight.

 

The Heat of Life Ripens Our Ministry

This is a devotional I wrote that was published on the Rest Ministries website (http://restministries.com).

“They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are alwaysRM ripen image for devo_10-5-14 green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:8).

I live in Pennsylvania and by mid-August, the hot, humid summers give us ripe, red, juicy tomatoes. The kind that you take off the vine and bite into, with the juice dripping down your chin.

But not this year. It’s mid-August as I write this and our tomatoes are still green. Others who planted tomatoes are having the same problem because we haven’t had a hot, steamy summer, like we usually do. In fact, we’ve had only nine days at 90 degrees or above.

As a person who is not fond of hot, humid weather, I’m not complaining. However, our green tomatoes are proof that they only thrive in these conditions. This summer, the plants craved as much sun as their little solar-collecting leaves could gather.

Chronic illness can be like these tomato plants. We yearn for days when we have less pain, more mental clarity, and are more productive. Yet, our ministry to others is most “ripe” because we’ve experienced the discomfort of blistering heat, and the distress of oppressing humidity.

Our ministry is most “ripe” because we are totally dependent on God for our next breath, or our next hour.

We can only understand others’ suffering if we walk that same road. I empathize with women who have endometriosis because I’ve had it for 25 years and had it recur after a hysterectomy.

Our family helps others navigate Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis because three family members have these diseases. I understand the mental and physical pain that comes with depression because I’ve “been there.”

Though none of us chooses the path of illness, God can use it to comfort others in their pain, loneliness, and suffering. As we rely on God for our strength and perseverance in the “heat” of our illness, He is ripening us to minister to others.

When you can’t take another day of the “heat and humidity” of your illness, know that God is preparing someone to come and pluck you from His vine and to enjoy the juicy morsels of godly wisdom and comfort that only your experience can provide.

Prayer: Lord, it’s hard for us to reach out to others when the “heat” of our illness saps all of our energy. When we have better days or go into remission, help us to look for people in our lives who have chronic illness and share our experiences to minister to their hearts. Amen.

What have you discovered in your journey with chronic illness that could be helpful to someone else?

Gratefulness in the Midst of the Battle

Ecstatic! Amazed! Grateful! I feel all of these and more about my right hip replacement I had 3 months ago. I’ve been back to work full-time since early July, and am tolerating that very well. Each day I gain strength and flexibility in my hip and leg, and I marvel at the skill of the surgeon and the way God made our bodies to heal!

Although there were days that were difficult, I am grateful to God for many of you who prayed, sent cards, made meals, drove me to appointments and physical therapy. I’m especially grateful for my servant husband, who faithfully filled my ice machine every night to reduce the swelling in my leg, who assisted me when I was learning to walk with a walker, then a cane, then no support, and who didn’t expect me to make meals once I was healthier and started back to work. We ate dinners from Chipotle, Chili’s, Moe’s, and some of our other favorite haunts more than we cooked…and that is OK:-)

I’m also grateful to my physical therapist, Randy, from Commonwealth Orthopaedic Associates Physical Therapy at Body Zone Sports & Wellness Center. He has rehabilitated just about every major part of my body over the last 12 years with skill, encouragement, and a lot of laughs.

On the disappointing news front, my Lyme disease is still active, and my pain from endometriosis is beginning to rear its ugly head again. And yes, that’s after a hysterectomy and a subsequent laparoscopy to remove endo after the hysterectomy.

Regarding the Lyme disease, my doctor thought I might be in remission, but when the blood test came back, it showed I still had active disease. I am also beginning to have some symptoms of a co-infection, Babesia. So I will be back at the Lyme doctor in September. In the meantime, I’ll take oral antibiotics to continue to fight the Lyme.

And regarding the endometriosis, apparently what I’m experiencing isn’t all that uncommon. Many women believe that a hysterectomy is a cure for endometriosis, but actually, it just gives doctors more treatment options. However, many of these treatment options don’t work.

An online article by The Cleveland Clinic states, “Whether endometriosis will recur after surgery depends on how severe the disease was at the time of surgery and how completely the surgery removed your lesions. Lesions that appear after surgery may be new or pre-existing. For this reason, it may be difficult for your doctor to tell whether your disease has come back or is progressing. The most recent studies have shown that endometriosis recurs at a rate of 20 to 40 percent within five years following conservative surgery. Um hmm….you read that correctly…..20 to 40 percent.

About 5 million American women have endometriosis. Endometriosis can occur in teenagers and adult women of all ages, but most typically it occurs in women ages 25 – 40. Mind originally occurred in 1988 when I was 33. I had about 4 laparoscopies over a period of 20 years before I had the hysterectomy and subsequent laparoscopy last August in 2013.

Implants can form in many areas, most commonly in the following locations in the pelvis: ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterine surface, cul-de-sac (an area between the uterus and rectum), bowel, bladder, rectum, and the peritoneum (the smooth surface lining that covers the entire wall of the abdomen and folds over inner organs in the pelvic area). Rarely, remote sites of endometriosis may include the spinal column, nose, lungs, pelvic lymph nodes, the forearm, and the thigh.

On my last visit to my gynecologist, whom I’ve had for 31 years, he said my exam was better than previous ones, but I was tender in the spots where he found endometriosis before. So we decided to wait until I’m at least 6 months post-op from my hip replacement to give the nerves, muscles, and tendons time to heal. After that, we will decide how to address the endometrial pain going forward. He says it will probably be another laparoscopy.

So, even though I sometimes feel like just pulling the covers over my head and sleeping through life, God has shown me that I need to be grateful for life, whatever state I’m in. If I wake up in the morning, can put my feet on the ground and move forward, it’s a blessed day. I just ask God for His strength and wisdom to give me a good attitude and the physical and mental ability to do the tasks for each day.

So stay tuned for Lyme and endometriosis updates…and keep those prayers coming!

 

Lyme Takes Time

So sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted in my blog, but the last few weeks have been very challenging physically. Although I continue to have “herxing” with my Lyme disease about every 3-4 weeks that last 2-3 days, I also had hip pain that increased to the point that I was walking with a cane. I didn’t have the motivation or energy to post on my blog.

Infusion Room

Infusion Room

I have visits scheduled with my Lyme doctor about every six weeks, and I get an infusion of various vitamins and supplements to fight the disease and support my immune system. My doctor’s office has a back room that contains about 20 recliners for patients to sit in while doing their infusions.

It’s a very pleasant and peaceful place, and the scenery helps take your mind off why you’re there. A new nurse had started just a few days before my last infusion. Inwardly, I sighed and clenched my teeth because my veins are notoriously bad for getting blood or inserting IVs. I’m what the medical profession calls a “hard stick.”

Finally, a successful IV is in place for the infusion:-)

Finally, a successful IV is in place for the infusion:-)

So I prayed…through three sticks…without success. The nurse was more upset than I was. She finally got the doctor who showed her a few “tricks” for “hard sticks”, and he got right in without pain. Woo! Hoo! Prayers answered!

A rather young couple sat across from me getting their infusions, and witnessed this. The woman said, “I’m glad I’m not the only one that has that problem.”

“Yeah,” I told her, “it happens to me a lot. I know it’s not the nurse’s fault; it’s just the way my veins are made.” We both had been stuck more times than we could even remember. I asked if they both had Lyme, and they said yes. The woman said, “But that’s not the worst part. Our little girl has Lyme disease, too.”

“How old is your little girl?” I asked.

“She’s only 13. She really hasn’t had a normal childhood.” I thought what I was doing at age 13 and how concerned I was about my looks and my friends, and I didn’t even give my health a second thought. My heart went out to them. Then she said something that startled me.

The mom said, “The doctor believes she got Lyme when she was in utero with me…in my womb before she was born.” Even someone like myself who keeps educated about Lyme and related co-infections was shocked and so sad to hear that Lyme can be passed to our babies in the womb. The more I learn, the more insidious this disease becomes.

Although I struggle with the symptoms of this disease, God always seems to find a way to show me how thankful I can be. He is providing doctors, nurses, and a supportive husband to help me through this disease. It would break my heart if I had to watch my child battle Lyme (because of the many unknowns), and I pray for all parents who have a child with Lyme.

Although I have two grown children with Crohn’s disease, that disease has some predictable patterns and many medicines available to keep patients in remission.

Going back to my hip pain , I talked to my Lyme doctor about how quickly my hip had deteriorated when I had this last visit in late April. I had visited two orthopedic hip specialists in late December. Although I had arthritis in my hip, an arthritic cyst, and a

Getting my infusion

Getting my infusion

labral tear, neither said I was ready for hip replacement surgery. They recommended I go back to my pain control doctor to see if the pain might be coming from the degenerative discs in my lower back.

I will write more about my hip deterioration in my next post, and whether it was related to my active Lyme. So stay tuned….I promise I will post again within the week.

 

 

Herxing — Another Weird Part of Lyme

Lyme-Disease wordleI promised you in my last post that I’d keep you updated on my second journey of battling Lyme disease. In my last post, I said I had debilitating fatigue, muscle aches/weakness, nausea, and some anxiety for about 3 days. Those symptoms are the Lyme disease reacting to the antibiotics, the disease fighting back against these invaders. This reaction is a positive sign that the antibiotics are working and is known as the Jarish-Herxheimer reaction. Commonly this name is abbreviated to herxheimer, “herxing,” or simply “herx.”

What is known about Lyme disease herxheimers are based heavily on the reactions seen in syphilis. This is due to the fact both diseases are caused by a bacteria known as a spirochete, the former being Treponema pallidum, the latter Borrelia burgdoferi (Bb). However the herxheimer reactions in Lyme disease are not identical to those seen in syphilis. Bet you never thought you’d see a discussion of syphilis with one on Lyme Disease!

A herxheimer occurs because the Bb bacteria, under attack from the antibiotics, start to break up and die, releasing toxins and other harmful debris as they do so. This, in turn, causes the body’s immune system to temporarily go into overdrive in order to cope with the abrupt deluge of toxins and debris.

A herxheimer can last from a few days to two weeks or more, depending on how disseminated the Bb bacteria is in the body. The greater the dissemination, generally the longer a Herxheimer will last. During this time, in addition to the temporary worsening of previous Lyme symptoms, one may also experience chills, low-grade fever, headache, increased joint or muscle pain, nausea, a drop in blood pressure levels, rash, and hives.

In some patients they occur only once or twice (if at all) and with others continue throughout the course of treatment, usually lessening in severity. They can occur and are more often described in cycles (example: every 4 weeks) and have been reported to last from days to weeks. The good news is that the herxheimer is thought to indicate that the antibiotics are indeed working and that following each worsening may bring about more improvement.

My Sofa Recliner & Desk

My Sofa Recliner & Desk

Well, I am on my second herxheimer reaction and am typing this from what is becoming a familiar place to me…our sofa recliner, wrapped in heat wraps. For a woman going through heat flashes, this is NOT good (lol)! The first time I herxed, I missed 1 full day of work and a few hours the next morning. On this herxing episode, I will be missing 3 days. The frustrating part is you never know when it’s coming. I felt fine all day Monday & Tuesday, and then Tuesday evening, I began to get body aches, a slight fever, and fatigue, and I knew I was beginning another herxing episode.

So what is God teaching me through these herxheimer episodes? First, I’m not in control; God is (which is a good thing!). Second, it’s easy  to get disappointed, helpless, needy, and self-centered. To combat this, I ask God to show me someone who needs encouragement and I call, text, email, or actually put a card in the mail (how novel, huh?). Since I am an extrovert, I also need to talk to people, so I pick up the phone and call someone. Third, because this disease and some other weird ailments I’ve had are hard for others to understand, God is allowing me to share in the sufferings of Christ. To know what it’s like to be misunderstood, to know what it’s like to be in pain, to know what loneliness.

The beauty in snow

The beauty in snow

But God also keeps me still so I can hear His voice, know there’s hope, and enjoy the beauty of His creation.

Lyme Disease…the Battle Begins Again

“Wow, that just doesn’t make sense,” I said to the ENT doctor. He explained how I had some structural problems in my nose that are probably the cause of some severe sinus pain I’ve been experiencing for the past 6 months. It didn’t make sense because I’ve never had sinus problems in my life, and now, all of sudden, I was having sinus pain so bad, I was calling off work and sometimes taking Vicodin for the pain.

Over the past year, I also began to have severe pain in my right hip. After several visits to the hip orthopedic doctor, several injections to the hip joint, and 8 weeks of physical therapy, an MRI showed I had several structural problems and a labral tear. I was referred to a doctor who does hip arthroscopy and another who does hip replacement. Both said I didn’t actually have a labral tear, but that the tissue attaching to my hip joint was deteriorating, and that can’t be fixed with surgery. They both said it really didn’t make sense for a woman of my age who has been physically active her whole life. Hmmm….something else that doesn’t make sense.

Could my Lyme disease be active again? I didn’t really know if I wanted the answer to that question, but after a friend also asked me the question, I knew I had to pursue it. I saw my Lyme doctor on January 28 and we discussed what I described above, along with some short-term memory issues I was having, two surgeries within a year, not being able to exercise in a year, etc. He said he didn’t think it was my Lyme, but there was one test that would tell us for sure, CD57.

His office drew the blood that day, and 3 days later called to tell me that my Lyme was active again. Tears welled up in my eyes. I didn’t really think this would return. Even the doctor thought that. I don’t want to go through this treatment again because I know I’ll get worse before I get better. God, give me strength.

So the battle begins….again. I’m on two oral antibiotics, Doxycycline and Ceftin, and they are kicking my butt! I have debilitating fatigue, muscle aches/weakness, nausea, and some anxiety. Those symptoms are the Lyme disease reacting to the antibiotics, the disease fighting back against these invaders. Fortunately, this should only last a few days, and then level off.  I am on day 2 of these symptoms and off work. My prayer is that God will give me strength to return to work tomorrow (and beyond) and be able to be productive. In a few weeks, I return to the doctor’s office to get an infusion of glutathione to boost my immune system.

I will be chronicling my journey through this battle in this blog, with the hope that I can educate and help others who may be suffering with Lyme and may not even know it, or may not know where to turn for help. I will be explaining what the CD57 test is, and why it’s a good marker for Lyme. I will be sharing resources, both online and in your community. I will share what exercise works and what doesn’t.

But most of all, I want to share hope. Not only for you “Lymies” out there (Lymies are those with Lyme disease), but for those who struggle daily with chronic illness. Daily I cling to this verse from Psalm 16:8, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord.With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

Okay, I do feel physically “shaken” today and there will be other days I “feel” the same, but I have a peace in the process, knowing the Lord is walking through this with me and He will not leave me.

The God of All Comfort

Hi everyone,

It’s been a few weeks since I posted here and apologize for my absence. I started a new position on the college campus I work at, and it’s kept me very busy with limited time for my writing. However, I am blessed that God would allow me to learn so many new things at my age and, through His grace, would support me in the many challenges I’ve encountered there. Below is a short devotional I wrote as I thought about how God comforts us in so many ways so that we can comfort others. I hope it’s an encouragement, challenge, and joy for you.

The God of All Comfort 

“the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” 2 Corinthians 1:3b-4

They are all around us, yet they’re invisible. They can have minimal effects or they can be life-altering. Your neighbor, co-worker, or friend may have one or more, and you may not know it.

I am referring to chronic or “invisible” illness. In 2005, 133 million Americans had at least one chronic illness. All four members of our family live with chronic, sometimes debilitating, disease. We can look healthy on the outside, but be struggling on the inside. The chronic nature of a disease can also be “wearing” over time and can cause people suffering with the diseases to become self-centered, as they must put their energy into maintaining their physical stamina.

 Our family found that the best way to avoid wallowing in our chronic illness was to reach out to someone who needs encouragement, practical medical advice, or prayer. This occurred within our immediate family, as I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis at age 27, and subsequently, our son was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at age seven, and our daughter at age 20. Although devastated that our children had this disease, I was grateful to God that I was able to comfort and educate my children. God does not waste anything.

 In the passage above, the apostle Paul gives thanks to God who had comforted the apostles in all their tribulations. They met with many trials, but they found consolation in Christ and gave him the glory for that solace. Paul added that the apostles should comfort others in their suffering by sharing their experiences of God’s compassion in the face of these trials, including how God taught them to endure with faith and patience.

 It’s tempting to dwell on what has been lost as a result of having a chronic illness, but Christ calls us to first receive His comfort, and then to extend that comfort to others who are struggling, using the gifts He has given us. Whether you have a chronic illness or not, when you encounter someone who does, surprise them by being God’s hand of comfort. It just might be what they need to get through another day.