“…What is essential is invisible to the eye.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“You don’t LOOK sick.”

Like all things your perception changes over time.  When I was much younger if someone asked me for the most hurtful thing someone could say to me – it would have been something you’d be much more likely to guess.

But, years have passed and so much has changed.

Now, hands down, this is close to the top of the list.

I am reminded today of my senior year in high school. Madame Eicoff taught accelerated French.  At the time it seemed like a great idea, and the irony that I took seven years of French and grew up to marry a Spanish man was never lost on me.  One of the many ironies of life.  But in Mme. Eicoff’s class we read “Le Petit Prince” by Antione de Saint-Exupery, and reading and understanding, and feeling that book in French… well, close to 30 years later the emotions are still fresh in my mind.  But, I digress…

I don’t want to LOOK sick.  I guess in some ways it could be a compliment.

Except it’s not.

Everyone who says it, or thinks it, or shouts it, or whispers it, does it with judgment.

And I guess my question is – What does SICK look like?

In this day and age where tolerance is expected, I feel like we are lagging behind in acceptance of rare disease and chronic illness.

What qualifies as sick?

Is it constant trips to the doctor? Tests? Scans? Referrals to more specialists? Surgery after surgery?  Recovery?

Is it having doctors “Google” your disease in front of you, only to have them authoritatively verbally plagiarize the first page of the search when you have analyzed every relevant article on the first ten?

Is it time after time being made to feel you are not credible, or “less than” because no one can make it better?

Is it begging and pleading for pain relief only to be accused of being an addict, when you don’t want a pill at all?

Is it constantly plotting and planning any outing so as to utilize the fewest amount of steps to minimize the often bone crushing pain and fatigue that follows tasks as simple as grocery shopping?

I will agree there is a fine line between simple reality, and self-pity.  I dance across it sometimes.

And then I play the music louder and dance right back.

This is my reality.  Self-pity has no real purpose.  People typically don’t want to hear about it.

But, just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t make it any less true.

I am not perfect.  I judge.  I judge for the wrong reasons sometimes.  I judge people who I know nothing about sometimes.  I am a work in progress. (As a dear friend often said, “I live in an all glass house.”  Nothing about this is intended to throw stones.)

I am learning every day that saying “everyone has something” and really BELIEVING it are different.

I am learning that mine is no more, and theirs is no less and that is perfectly ok.

I am learning that human suffering is a universal, and “sick” carries a stigma that should be eliminated.

Because, if you are “sick” and you “look” it, you are likely “seeking pity.”  If you don’t “look” it, but you have an “acceptable” (read well known) illness, you are “brave.”

Mental illness is not visible, yet depression and anxiety plague so many in astronomical numbers.  Still we are embarrassed to speak of it, and it is surrounded by shame.

Chronic pain is not visible, not even behind the gritted teeth of the (insert so many people you know here) that you see every day.  Living your life with pain that never leaves in and of itself can drive you mad.  Think about the last headache you had.  The one where you had to close the doors and shut the lights.  Now think about it forever…

Real illness is often REALLY invisible.

This is neither a contest or a competition.

This is real life.

We are all real people.

And maybe it’s that simple. Maybe we need to go back to the simplistic view of a young child.Rare Disease Day is February 29th.

I am certain if you yourself are not suffering, you know someone who is.

They may look just like everyone else in the room.

I’ve set goals for self-correcting my unintended judgment of others.

I’ve found an excellent starting point at contemplating that every one of us is deeper than what can ever be seen with the eyes.

#beatingcowdens

WHAT IS A RARE DISEASE?

There are over 300 million people living with one or more of over 6,000 identified rare diseases around the world1, each supported by family, friends and a team of carers that make up the rare disease community.

Each rare disease may only affect a handful of people, scattered around the world, but taken together the number of people directly affected is equivalent to the population of the world’s third largest country.

Rare diseases currently affect 3.5% – 5.9% of the worldwide population.

72% of rare diseases are genetic whilst others are the result of infections (bacterial or viral), allergies and environmental causes, or are degenerative and proliferative.

70% of those genetic rare diseases start in childhood.

A disease defined as rare in Europe when it affects fewer than 1 in 2,000 people. (www.rarediseaseday.org)

 

 

 

 

Invisible Illness – Stuck in the Middle with You

I don’t actually fit the “stereotype” of a middle child, as I was a younger sibling to my sister, (three years older) for 15 years, before my little sister and brother came along a few months apart.

I got the live the life of a “younger” and then later got to have some fun times, and responsibility as an “older.”

It worked.

On the other hand, this journey with this “invisible illness” we call “Cowden’s Syndrome” isn’t quite as smooth.  It has to work, but right now it’s the “typical” middle child.  It’s having a tough time fitting in where it belongs.  Actually it is definitively trying to take over, but either getting ignored, or getting too much attention for all the wrong things.

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In February of 2014 there was the complete removal of her thyroid.

In May of 2014 there was a week in the hospital from complications from the medicine that was controlling the AVM.

In November of 2014, almost on schedule, the AVM bled and required emergency surgery.

In February 2015 I addressed another vein gone awry in my leg.

In May 2015 there was the arthroscopy for the AVM knee to quartarize some bleeding.

In August, on the 25th, there will be her second-hand surgery in two years to try to stay ahead of the vascular malformations now forming in her palms.  That was an unintended result of Monday’s visit to the hand surgeon.

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There are a list of appointments to make, and bills to settle, and I seem to be doing nothing more than surviving.

More blood tomorrow.  An Abdominal ultrasound Friday.

The summer is not for carefree adventures.  The summer is for doctors.  I hate that.  But, its true.

And as we met with the oral surgeon today who perused her multiple page medical history, his cavalier remark, “She looks good,” should have pleased me.  But, if I may be frank, it pissed me off.

Not because she doesn’t look good.  She’s stunning, and tall and polite and well-mannered, and has a beautiful smile.  But that is NOT the point.

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The point is he never mentioned anything about the medical history, and in our world, being validated matters.  Someone needs to say its unusual (read unfair) for an (almost) 12-year-old to be discussing the removal of her wisdom teeth.  And while this may have nothing to do with Cowden’s (although I’ve come to know EVERYTHING unusual has SOMETHING to do with Cowden’s,) it is still just grossly unfair.  More unfair is that this is ALREADY her second stint in the chair of an oral surgeon, as a mass was removed from her gums some 5 years ago.

We remain “stuck in the middle.”

Again, I have the “healthiest looking sick kid.”

My kid who still ices her knee, and needs to walk a lap or two during swim practice, but still makes practice.  That kid will spend a week in a wheelchair at Disney, as she is not to walk more than about 1/2 mile consecutively.  The child who still hasn’t gotten clearance from her last knee surgery.  Clearly, she doesn’t “look” sick, but the stares and judgment are inevitable.  And to some extent I get it.  Invisible illness is hard to understand.

It is during this week I feel most “stuck in the middle.”  I am so grateful the accessibility issues are limited.  I do not fit in with the parents of wheelchair bound children.  Although, it is a necessary tool to allow us a much-needed vacation.  But, what is not limited are the “invisible” elements of her condition.  The chronic surgeries, the doctor visits, the traffic, the blood work, the scans, the inability to just “go”; to the museum, the beach, the park, or anywhere because it hurts to walk too long, the isolation from friends who have no limitations, the poking, the anxiety – well, they never ever go away.

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We’ve learned not to talk about them much.  But, they are always there.  Hers and mine.

She learns to appreciate what she can do, and acknowledge what she can’t.  Begrudgingly.

My kid who holds it together through all things, and has grit and determination I marvel at, will act in her summer production at school.

She learns to use the anxiety as a tool.

She masters her emotions.  She is the boss of her body.  She amazes me.

And on September 18th when she gets her bottom two wisdom teeth removed, the course of action will be no different.

They will never know the powerhouse of a young lady that just left their chair.  Until she comes back for the other two a few months later.

“Stuck In The Middle With You”
(originally by Stealers Wheel)

…Yes, I’m stuck in the middle with you,
And I’m wondering what it is I should do
It’s so hard to keep this smile from my face,
Losing control, and I’m all over the place
Clowns to left of me, jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you…

The Spoon Theory

While we were in the hospital last week, a good friend, who is chronically ill herself, sent Meghan a very interesting article.

It was about “The Spoon Theory,” and explained chronic illness from the perspective of one who lives it every day.

hopeful spoon

Meghan being incredibly literate, and a master at figurative language, picked up the analogies quite quickly, and while the author wrote about lupus, a disorder Meghan does NOT have, she found the text and related analogies very meaningful.

Our dialogue this week has already begun to include questions about how many “spoons” she has today.  As someone who lives with my own share of issues, but none as severe as my daughter, this has opened up communication in a fantastic way.

The author has copyrighted the story, so I have permission only to link you to it, but I encourage you to give it a read.

http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/wpress/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/

And thank you my dear friend for sharing.  Thank you.