It’s my least favorite question connected with back to school. It sometimes makes me feel like I failed when I have nothing dynamic to report. And if I were to reply with honest answers, I would overstay the expectation of the question asker who was undoubtedly just being very polite.
This summer was not one for the record books. It included just under 50 medical appointments for the three of us. I know this because the billing errors that will follow and take up hours in the months to come necessitate me keeping a careful record of these appointments in my calendar of choice.
The highlights included a bright green cast removal, an in-depth surgery in May, three colonoscopies and 2 endoscopies between us, and a pile of appointments for the busted nerves in this left foot of mine. All the necessary maintenance on the home, with two separate AC repairs, 3 car inspections, a windshield repair, and a new navigation system helped handle any free time that might have popped up. Rare disease x2 meets real life.
Meghan managed to begin the Patient Care Hours that she will need in order to apply to school for Physician Assistant studies in a few years. She also took a 7-week “Professional Development” course, voluntarily and on her own dime where she and Ella continued to enhance their team.
My girl was able to wean off one medicine, switch another to “as needed,” and change a third to one that better suits her, all time-consuming accomplishments as well. And while she is not running yet, she is comfortably walking a fast-paced 5k with ease on the regular.
And while we never got “away” this summer, we got to Broadway, and made a trip to her favorite NYC Bakery.
How was your summer?
I guess that like so much else depends on how I choose to look at it.
Rereading my own writing above, I guess I could say “accomplished.” At least I know why I am tired.
Our disease is forever. Sometimes there are extra days to fit in things that are not related to it. Sometimes there are days to fly free, to shut off the phone and shut out the doctors. This year, not so much.
But amazing things happen inside my little house. When this house is busting at the seams with 3 humans and 3 medium-sized dogs, it is exploding with love. I did not clean a single window, closet or curtain this summer. My house, like me, survived. But somehow its foundation keeps getting stronger. We raised a human who loves us enough to know she can escape to our “bubble” and rest her wings before flying again. The gratitude for that alone, that she CAN fly, that she DOES fly, and that she knows she can come back here to rest SAFELY before she SOARS again; that gratitude carries me through the most exhausting times.
This summer was a battle for so many I know. And it continues to be a battle for so many for physical, mental, spiritual, financial, and emotional health, this year it seems more than in my recent memory. The prayer list gets longer and longer. And sometimes I wonder why. Other times I am sure my head will explode if I try to overthink it. I think the struggles of all, especially the medical struggles, permeate your soul when you live with a rare disease and spend the core of your life weaving in and out of medical obstacle courses. That one is hard to explain, except if you know, you know.
We moved Meghan back in yesterday. Second year of college and time keeps marching on. This world is such a crazy place. Life is just utterly unpredictable.
How was your summer?
Maybe I will just flash a few photos and smile. No matter how exhausting and lonely this journey is, I somehow think we end up ahead. We three have a connection beyond words.
Hug your people. Be mindful of what you say. Laugh often. Love much. And then, laugh again.
That is hands down my least favorite question. It is one that puts my head in places I’d rather it not go. I believe very much that a positive mindset can have a positive impact on your mental and physical health. Do not ever confuse that with the Toxic Positivity that I ABHOR. They are not one in the same. That being said, my trips to dark mental places typically begin with “What if…?”
So of late, I’ve presented myself with the challenge of “What if it all works out?”
When I last wrote Meghan was in the recovery phase of a layered procedure to address a precariously placed vascular malformation in her upper thigh. And, while she is not pain-free, the crippling nerve pain that had started to occupy every hour of every day has faded to black. This pain is different. And maybe for those who have not lived her life, it would be too much. But anything is better than that nerve pain. Anything. She will have an MRI/MRA to check the status of the surgical site in August.
She has been fully weaned off the Lyrica, a drug that was doing its job on the pain but doing an ugly number on her physical and mental well-being. Her thyroid meds have been raised. The muscle relaxant is much lower. And she is starting to have some mental clarity back. She has begun walking, a few miles at a time to get her physical strength back and to give some muscle back to the leg that was just too painful to do much with.
She set a goal. She wants to run a 5K. To some that may not seem like a big deal, but this girl was told at the age of 8 that she could not run. At all. She had to quit soccer. She had to drop dance. She could not join track even though she longed to run. She landed in the pool because it was all she had left. For her, it is an epic goal. This week she got the blessing of her orthopedist to go for it. Slowly. She is hoping to be ready this fall.
What if it all works out?
Don’t worry. We are not delusional. We know the long and windy road will continue before us forever. We know that we often have to pause at the rest stations along the way. We even know that sometimes we have to pause at DIFFERENT rest stations, because she is not me, and I am not her, and we each handle the struggles that come at us differently.
We have not forgotten about this, which we will carry forever.
But, what if it all works out?
I am overwhelmed by appointments on the regular. I am sometimes downright angry that so much of our life is punctuated by traffic and travel. Not to beaches or parties, but to doctors and hospitals. I am sometimes totally twisted that there seems to be no time to breathe and that “regular people” appointments, job issues, car trouble, and nonsense seem to come at us like sideways hail in a storm where the umbrella is inside out and useless. I hide from those I love, unable to repeat the same story over and over like an old and worn record.
But I listen. And I hear. I remember. I know of sick parents and terminal illnesses. I know of cancer battles, aging struggles, and injuries. I pray for families whose children are frighteningly ill. And my heart aches for friends who have buried their children.
What if it all works out?
There is a chance. There is always a chance. That we will screen and scan and bob and weave the worst of what Cowden Syndrome has to offer. My girl, despite her obstacles, has an impressive GPA, a relationship where they treat each other with incredible respect, a career path on the horizon, and life goals to make this world a better place.
What if it all works out?
This week we had appointments two days in a row. 35 miles, roughly 2-2.5 hours each way to Long Island. One was to her favorite orthopedist who never leads us wrong. He wants hand therapy for the healing fractured scaphoid (just “regular stuff” finding its way…) if we can manage it. And, he wants to see her again before school starts in August.
The next day we went to see a Pediatric Rehabilitation and Medicine doctor. We met him as part of the “new team” in December and he was brought on to address issues of pain. In December we could not change anything about the pain management as the goal had to be to survive until the procedure in May.
However, we were both intrigued enough to want to hear what he had to say when things settled a bit. Literally the only opening the entire summer was a 2:30 on 7/7. We arrived after a ridiculous drive and he did not disappoint. In this day and age, a doctor who is covered by insurance and takes an hour or more with you while LISTENING is unheard of.
More miraculous for us, is when issues of chronic pain and a generally overloaded sensory system were brought up, they were met with concrete medical validation, complete with images of the brains of patients with similar struggles. He met Meghan where she was and had a thorough discussion with her, appreciating that she had enough knowledge after a grueling year in Anatomy and Physiology to talk to her on her level.
What if it all works out?
It’s tough to be a teenager. It is exponentially tougher to be a teen whose life is filled with so much pain and medical drama. It is the worst to be a teen when you have lived through and endured more than most adults, and those same adults discount your reality, your pain, and your experiences. It is rare and refreshing when a doctor does not. Apparently, there are a few on Long Island that are worth the Belt Parkway.
He was able to validate what she knew. That she can FEEL everything in her body with abnormal acuity. But he didn’t throw a drug at her, he took notes and kept her talking. Then, when he had a suggestion for a medication to trade out, not add on, and potentially eliminate two and add one, he still wasn’t done. I’m not sure which one of us brought up her purple feet as she had been sitting in sandals for almost an hour on an exam table, but that sparked another conversation. I listened as he asked questions on a list I had been checking off for years. I smiled behind my mask, not because I was glad about what he was going to say, but because it made sense and he was LISTENING.
This is the same doctor who questioned her diagnosis of Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos because it did not feel quite right to him. After a lengthy conversation including all the right questions, and some heart rate checks he said “POTS.”
Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, brought so much clarity for her. Especially in the middle of a week-long hardcore battle with her stomach.
And finally, there was potentially explained everything from her heat intolerance to the painfully twitchy foot that sometimes drives her mad, and everything in between.
What if it all works out?
Why am I not flipped out by this? Because nothing changed. All the symptoms she was having in the office on Thursday have been with her in varying degrees for her whole life. And, truth be told, many I recognized in myself. All that happens with a diagnosis, a label, if you take it for what it is, is that you are validated. Finally. And in this life, it matters. And maybe from this, and switching a few medications around and changing a few things, she will be able to go even further, and do EVEN MORE.
Doctors who work with you, teach you to maximize what your body CAN do. And since Cowden Syndrome is not a disease for the faint of heart, we need all the strength we can get to keep moving forward. Our doctors are mostly a “guide on the side.” They are there to provide scans, medication, and sometimes procedures. But, mostly they are who we need to teach us how to maximize our lives in these bodies. They are to help us never feel weak, less than, or incapable. When they do their jobs right they are to explain and empower.
Meghan has her first GI screen this week. On Tuesday there will be a colonoscopy/endoscopy baseline. It comes at a good time because that stomach has been in a FOUL mood this last week. And we are hopeful that it shows, as GiGi used to say, “A whole lot of nothing!” And then, maybe we will take a break for a week or so and put the doctors on pause.
For today, I come to you from a place of “What if it all works out?” A place of gratitude, grace, and grit.
I am a messy hair, no make-up, living on grace, making-it-up-as-I-go-along loner. I am not ignoring you. I am busy seeking joy on the Belt Parkway and the BQE, and believe me when I tell you, that is a full-time job!