I’m feeling very inspired lately, my urge to make a difference is strong.
I sometimes get an overwhelming feeling of responsibility to prevent what happened to me, from happening to someone else.
I know I can’t save the world, I know I can’t prevent every terminal diagnosis, misdiagnosis, and suffering.
That’s not going to stop me from trying.
There’s a number of things I’ve learned over the past year or so, my brain is more awake. I’ve come to realize there are so many important aspects of healing, and improving quality of life.
The issue started with the moment I was diagnosed with terminal illness, it was like my life became less important. That my life was no longer going to be about living, but dying.
I don’t accept this view, this is why I’m challenging the way terminal illness is viewed. Even by ourselves.
The purpose of this post was to share some specific points of my treatment and management journey, so that maybe someone who’s living with metastatic pheochromocytoma or similar, can maybe take something from my experience. As we know, there’s no cure. Only symptom management.
But as I write, it’s become more powerful than just a bullet point list of things that have helped me.
Treatment isn’t a one size fits all, nor can it happen overnight.
I’ve suffered, I’ve triumphed, I’ve lost hope, regained hope, fought for my life, and continue to keep living. Really living. I’ve accepted that I’ll never ring a bell that tells the world “I’m cured!”
So I’m going to share with you a recap of my treatment journey, and then I’m going to expand into what I’ve learned about healing and improving my overall quality of life.
Feel free to get lost in the highlighted linked words and read detailed past experiences
Keep reading, it gets good.
October 2014– diagnosed with terminal metastatic pheochromocytoma after being misdiagnosed with anxiety for 4 years
November 2014– changed doctors and formed an entire medical team specializing in rare neuroendocrine tumors
I didn’t know why, but I felt that overwhelming urge to share. To document. I wanted my misdiagnosis to have purpose. I wanted to be heard. I wanted it to matter.
April 2015– started my blog, sharing my experience, channeling my anger into helping others.
May 2015- first treatment effort: had a massive surgery to de-bulk the amount of disease
(I had over 50 tumors at this time)
November 2015- started losing my hair, no known reason at the time other than stress on the body, started to see more physical impact of the disease
Exactly one year later after my terminal diagnosis, I received another life changing diagnosis.
My remaining adrenal died. I was now going to be reliant on steroids to live for the remainder of my life. I was now adrenal insufficient.
Atleast this explained the hair loss and not being able to keep my eyes open for more than 30 seconds at a time. Problem solved.
Not quite… but more on that later
January 2016- happy new year! Just kidding, time for my introduction to specialized radiotherapy. This is not radiation, this is direct radioactive poison into your blood stream.
Things would move quickly now, my symptoms were out of control. They needed to intervene, and quickly. But there’s a lot of prep to do for a serious procedure like this safely.
Within the first 20 days of January:
Bone marrow transplant: This was one of the most uncomfortable things I did, as far as pain. Who knew I’d have to go through several procedures just to get ONE treatment? It’s a stem cell transfer where you donate your bone marrow to yourself in case of failure after radiotherapy treatment. It’s quite genius actually. I highly recommend doing this, because if your marrow fails, you need to find a transplant match. In my case, it was just waiting for me on ice in a special vault. Cool, right?
pharmaceutical blockade: preparing my body for the extreme dose of poison. Trying to get my vitals to a low level so that when my tumors explode adrenaline during treatment, I won’t die.
Complications: my thyroid stopped working. More medication for life. But atleast I won’t keep suffering from all those weird unexplained symptoms, right? Wrong, my adrenal insufficiency would continuously be an issue with all of the stress on my body, I could never get enough cortisol. I was burning it too quickly, my body was too stressed from all of the prep, I hadn’t even done the treatment yet.
Well now that I’m ready for MIBG, it’s time to administer the treatment.
January 20th: 3:30pm-5:30pm I became a medical experiment, a spectacle. One of the first to undergo such a treatment at the hospital for this disease. A scary, and confusing time for everyone involved. You can read about my experience here
All better. Just kidding, I actually felt a lot worse. I was in so much pain, and I couldn’t get my attacks under control. The MIBG treatment actually set off my tumors more, so I was suffering greatly. I was praying every day for a moment of reprieve. I thought I’d never see a good day again. I didn’t know what it felt like to be normal anymore. I just knew pain.
March 2016– “I don’t know what to do next…” this is not something you want to hear from your highly specialized doctor. But even the best doctors become perplexed when it comes to such a rare disease. Especially when it’s not cooperating. At all. It was just getting worse. It would be a bit of time before I’d get the official round of data compiled to know whether or not it had worked. Let’s stay hopeful
May 2016- it had kind of made a difference, but the results were ‘disappointing’. Great. Now what do we do? More tests of course.
June 2016– test month. Sooo many tests. So much travel. We are exhausted 😢
July 2016- it can’t get worse? Can it? Until it did. Chemo is being discussed. No no no, chemo is the last option. That’s what I was told in the beginning and it never left my mind. “Chemo is only something we do when there’s nothing left, it’s not a very effective option for this type of cancer”. So why are we doing it now?! It’s not the end. I’ll keep fighting. I promise! I’ll do anything.
Too bad, it’s time to introduce another team member: an oncologist.
July 27 2016- the oncologist. I actually really liked him, I still do. He’s an essential part of my team. Every mind is better than one. But I didn’t agree with his ideas at the time. I did NOT want to chemo, I did however that day learn about immunotherapy, TK inhibitor therapies, and so much more.
August 2016: new plan. I want PRRT. I heard about it from a support group, yes that’s right. A potential radiotherapy experimental treatment I was betting my future on, I heard from another thriver. See the importance of sharing? So we pushed heavily for this treatment, but it was still in clinical trial phase, oh boy. I’d need to meet a lot of requirements, only 50 people were being accepted.. only 4 places in the world were doing it.. ok my odds aren’t looking great.
You haven’t met doctor cupcakes.
Within 24 hours I was accepted into the testing for the clinical trial. My husband is a miracle worker, or he just really loves me. This is only part 1, a highly specialized scan that can look at the tumors at a cellular level. This was considered the gold standard. I wanted it, I needed it. I was getting it!
Here’s the thing with the scan, it’s not like a regular CT scan or MRI. These types of scans are specific to neuroendocrine tumors like mine. It won’t pick up a regular cancer. It also requires your tumors to be receptive. Still following me?
In order for your tumors to light up on the scan, a gallium scan is designed to be highly sensitive to somatostatin receptors. If your tumors don’t have this, they won’t light up. And you can’t get the PRRT treatment.
Lucky for me… my tumors lit up like a Christmas tree.
Isn’t it weird you can be excited to see an abundance of tumors on a scan? This disease is weird.
I’m getting tired, so please read about my PRRT experience here. In one year I did 3 super high doses of radiotherapy, different treatments entirely, and so many tests your head would literally spin.
January 2017- I still needed 2 more rounds of PRRT. It was so hard on me. It seemed like I had every side effect possible. My experience wasn’t going as smoothly as others. I kept wondering 💭 why do I always have it so much worse? Am I weaker? Do I just complain more? No, it can’t be. This is too much.
Fast forward ⏩
I had completed the 2 more rounds of PRRT. I had such high hopes. It was getting more difficult to live, to function, stairs were impossible, I was living in the main room of my house, in a hospital bed. My life was very different now.
We sold our home, I moved into my dream condo. No stairs, open concept, cozy, peaceful view, everything I ever wanted to be comfortable and continue to find a way to live with this disease. You have to find ways to adapt. This was ours.
November 2017- I spent my first night on my new condo, I slept beside my husband for the first time in months. Since the bedroom was accessible now.
I received a phone call, unknown caller. I always know that’s bad news. It’s the hospital.
“Can no longer participate in the clinical trial…”
“Tumors not responding…”
“Just keep her comfortable”
This is what I remember. I’m sure there was a lot more to it. But what I took from it, I’m dying. I’m being told this is the end of my road over the phone. There’s no more hope. I politely asked my husband and my mom to give me some time to myself. I locked myself in my room. This seemed like another moment I should document. I felt I should grieve privately, but my heart was telling me I should share my raw feelings and reaction. I thought of all the other people who had been in this situation, and I felt that urge to share again. It was bigger than me. So I filmed my initial thoughts.
Palliative– I went down a very confusing road, it all seemed to blur together. The only time I got out was to go to hospital appts. I could barely make it to the bathroom alone. My home care team always wanted to talk about ‘my wishes’. My wish is to live, for as long as possible. My wish is to not talk about dying. But that’s apparently not an appropriate wish when you’re palliative.
Unbelievable things started happening.. I started to realize what it really was like the moment your status changes to ‘palliative’
You’re seen differently. You no longer get the same options. Your life becomes about dying. When to die. How to die. Where to die.
It was when I was kicked out of my local hospital for refusing to sign a DNR (do not resuscitate) that I realized… I’m in trouble. This is no joke. I need to get better, I need to show them! I’m still here, I’m not dying, I have so much life in me, please listen!
My husband and I started to feel very overwhelmed and for the first time… unsafe. Unsettled. We no longer felt protected. Nothing made sense. He would keep me alive with breathing machines we bought ourself, to treat my pneumonia at home.
We clung to each other, we held onto our last shreds of hope, we would lay down in my twin sized hospital bed that made its way back into my living room. We would hold each other so damn tight, as if I’d disappear if he let go, the tears falling on one another, reminding us that I’m still alive. I’m still here. You can feel me. My heart is beating against yours, my tears are warm, only he could see it.
Everyone else was giving up on me.
The trauma we went through during this period… it’s indescribable. So much happened. I’m not going to go into it, you can choose to look further into my blog, but this post isn’t for that.
My pain was out of control, despite “keeping me comfortable”, home care was unable to get my pain under control. My medications kept increasing, the pain would get worse.
Any time we would call for advise, they’d say to give more medication. Get me out of pain. The cycle would repeat, and I’d be in more pain.
What is happening? Is this what dying feels like? You’re just in a constant state of pain? I thought it was supposed to be comfortable.
Maybe I wasn’t ready to die
I will quote myself from a previous blog entry:
“As my limbs become so weak I can no longer walk around, touch becomes unbearable, my speech is becoming more strained, my brain becoming mush. The pain is excruciating. My doses become even more frequent”
“So tired. So so tired”
“As my breath becomes more and more painful, more shallow, harder to gasp for air, my skin begins to heat up so much that it starts to fall off. Why is this happening? It has to be the cancer. Time for more medication”
“Miranda is having a lot of breathing troubles, what do I do??”
“She’s unable to walk or and can barely form a sentence, she’s passing out ALL the time, can’t keep her eyes open! What do I do??”
November 2018- if we weren’t going to get the proper help locally, it was time to get me to my super doctors. The ones who kept me alive before all of this palliative care nonsense. If my husband had to carry me on his shoulders to the car, he would have. Luckily I had a wheelchair. We drove to Montreal, I was admitted immediately. No one could figure out why I was so damn sick. Why I was in so much pain. How could I be on so much pain controlling medication, but be suffering THIS much? I was a medical mystery, sometimes a zebra is a unicorn.
Every.single.day was a guessing game, what’s wrong with Miranda?
I will quote myself again from a previous blog post …
“The one thing I knew so far: every nurse, doctor, and specialist could not believe how much pain medication I was taking. Some didn’t even want to administer it. I was getting worried, it’s the one thing that gives me relief, why are they so against it?”
“My nurse, we will call her Angel, she outright said to Serge that the medication is what’s causing all of my pain. She said that some people react differently to opioids, and that not everything meant to help you is going to. Sometimes it can be the problem, and you can have a reverse effect. Just like that, mind blown”
“But it can’t be that. I have cancer, it’s what’s causing my pain. I’m dying. They told me. All my doctors told me. That’s what everyone has been saying for years now, take more medication to be comfortable”
I was so angry at Nurse Angel, what did she know? Medication, bullshit
Fast forward two months in the hospital 🏥
It was my medication, kind of. What no one knew at this time was that I had suspected mast cell disease. Even as I’m writing this I am not officially diagnosed but being actively treated.
Since the very beginning, the unknown sensitivity to treatment, to chemicals, my amplified side effects, my heightened symptoms, the unexplained pain, the inability to breathe, the declining unexplained health… it all makes sense suddenly
My master cells were being attacked by the disease, causing them to be broken. High levels of mast cells mediators were being released into my system, similar to my tumors, bursting chemicals into my system that make you flare up into extreme reactions.
The pain medication was making everything worse, since it was making the mast cell flares worse and more frequent. It was just a vicious cycle that wouldn’t end.
Until we fought like hell for answers. Until we demanded that I wouldn’t die like this. Until we changed the narrative. We saved my life. You can read about that part here
The funny part? I wouldn’t have known about mast cell disease had it not been for another patient/friend/advocate. I was too sick and confused to understand it at the time. So I didn’t push for answers.
I accepted that it was the medication causing it, and I moved on.
It would be an incredibly long road of healing, it still is.
Healing – we moved away, we moved to the city that saved me. We wanted to be close to the hospital that saved my life. We wanted to feel safe. So we left our friends and family, took our life savings, and we moved to what I imagined would be my ‘retirement home’. I still thought I was going to die soon, but I was happy to do it in peace. Without pain. With a clear mind.
But that’s not what happened is it?
I started walking to the elevator, using my legs, my muscles had completely died at this point. So I walked little steps every day. I finally made it to the door of my building. Then outside to the street. Then around the block. Then down to the water.
My body was healing, it was slowly recovering from all of the trauma. I was reconnecting with myself. We were finally able to take a breath.
Remember that moment when I started writing this, when I said I never thought I’d have a moment of reprieve? Well I did. I finally experienced it that day I made it to the water.
My mind was next, I was healing physically, but now I needed to heal mentally. We both did. We had gone through so much, how do you come back from that?
I was unable to share for quite some time during this period, I lost my ability to share my story.
The minute I got my voice back, I started sharing slowly, cautiously. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t understand it myself.
I didn’t understand how this could happen to me. How something could go so wrong. How I could be so close to death… but be so alive. I could have died because of a lack of knowledge.
I don’t like to blame, it’s not healthy for my mental well being. The lack of knowledge that exists is not a fault of anyone, it’s a flaw in our medical system that exists because of the rareness of this disease. It’s not fair, but it’s real.
Why do I share? Because it’s going to educate whoever reads this.
It’s going to push boundaries of the rules we are supposed to follow. We are supposed to be good patients and accept our fate.
Well I’m reclaiming my power, I’m slowly every day working on myself mentally and physically.
I’m doing things that bring me joy, I’m sharing things that make others aware, I’m connecting with who I’ve always been, I’m learning why I started this blog in the first place.
It wasn’t a choice, it was my purpose, it was a promise.
I promised I wouldn’t let this cancer take my fabulous, “Fabulous is your light, your smile, your energy, your positivity, your willfulness, your vitality, passion, excitement, beauty, laugh, and how you share it!” –
What you’re about to read is the very first statement I made when I started this blog. The blog that changed my life and so many others.
“This is my very first post, my first time writing a blog, and my first time speaking freely about my personal journey with pheochromocytoma cancer…. and staying fabulous while doing it!
Pheo VS Fabulous was born from the promise that I would never let this disease take away the one thing I could control, and I’ve labeled that my fabulous. When I became ill I realized how much we take for granted, and it started with how day to day tasks are so challenging when you’re battling an illness like pheochromocytoma cancer, that’s when I decided I wouldn’t let it that away from me. It’s more than just looking a certain way, it’s about BEING fabulous, strong, and positive when you have every reason not to be.
The danger of something being so rare is that it goes undetected, unrecognized, and is one of the most misdiagnosed conditions. Leaving many of us undiagnosed, and looking for answers.
If you’re reading this, you might still be looking for some…
My goal is through sharing my vulnerabilities with all of you, finding the courage to share something so painfully personal, someone else may have less of a challenge in the future of being diagnosed, treated, and living with this disease, #pheochromocytoma – or any other ‘neuroendocrine cancers. #netcancer #raredisease
The idea is that the more I share, the more information there will be available for a disease where this is so much lacking. Every procedure, every test, every treatment I will suffer through – I will continue to share my experiences so that others don’t have to keep grasping for answers like I did.
Although there is so much to cover… first off, pheo-chromo-cy-whatta?! We will get there darlings, I just want to say…
This blog is meant for awareness:
Awareness for a disease that only a handful of people in this massive universe know about, probably only because they were diagnosed”
Isn’t that incredible? I told you, it was my purpose. Before I even knew what was I was talking about, why I was saying it, and what it would mean. I knew.
NOW – I’m finally in a place where I feel things are improved and better controlled. I have good days, I never thought I’d say that.
I think the most important aspect is treating comorbidity, if you have other illnesses going on, and they’re not being treated as effectively or focused on as much as the main cancer, the issue is it exhausts the nervous system and keeps triggering the Pheo episodes. Everything from the adrenals, the thyroid, mast cells, anything that can be impacted, make sure it’s being properly treated. Even my endometriosis finally being diagnosed and treated has helped, because it took so much pain and stress off my body. Pheo is so triggered by stress, so the more stress we can eliminate from our bodies physically, the better quality of life we will have.
I started this blog post wanted to share a bullet point list of what has helped me, my meds, my treatments, but I think my heart needed to share, and my soul needed to be emptied of everything I’ve been holding onto.
I started this entry by saying I sometimes get an overwhelming feeling of responsibility to prevent what happened to me, from happening to someone else. So now I’ve shared everything I possibly can to do that. Even after I’m gone, my story and my information will remain available forever.
I will continue to share, every experience, every new piece of the puzzle, but most of all… I’ll continue to share why I have hope.
We can’t heal until we are treated, so hopefully this will help you begin your journey for better treatment. I truly hope you will be able to feel that moment of reprieve I described.
I am terminal, and I am thriving.
I still have bad days, but more importantly… I have goood days!
I still have attacks almost every day, and mast cell flares, but I live with hope, happiness, faith, love, and I control what I can. I no longer live in fear, I am in control, I decide.
I live with a new mindset, I see clearly, I live purposefully, and I remember who I am.
More importantly, I want to help you do the same. That’s my purpose.
The rest is out of my hands, the rest i cope with. The rest I made peace with.
My terminal cancer and I live in peace with one another.
I live in peace
thank you for sharing your story. I am so very sorry you have had to go through so much drama. I am 70 years old and has lived with an extra adrenal tumor for 45 years. Fortunately it’s not cancerous but I have numerous other problems. God bless you and keep you!
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What a beautiful thing to share with me 🤍🦓🦓 thank you for the hope and encouragement.
You’re amazing!!! This is extremely well written and factual. One can only imagine how much pain, fear, hope and energy and revisions it took to write such a helpful and factual summary. Yes, you have found your purpose. And yes, you are making a difference.
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Plz message me on Facebook Ariel ochoa I just found out I have pheo and I’ve been having symptoms since 2016 and I was diagnosed with anxiety and now I just this out now I need to wait for an mri or ct scan hopefully it’s just 1 but what’s your opinion I’m always tired I have all the symptoms and my muscles twitch non stop n my stomach and back hurts so bad n I’m always tired but can’t fall asleep
You will most likely need to do multiple scans to get a full picture. Nuclear imaging will be necessary with this type of tumor. I’d recommend joining the Facebook support group if you haven’t already – so that you can find information and learn what questions to ask as you navigate it all in the beginning and have people who get it. I have other blogs how to prepare for a doctor’s appt which will be helpful for you as well.
Once you’re diagnosed you will be ‘blocked’ – the hormones that your pheo is secreting is what’s causing those symptoms. It’s called catecholamines, adrenaline hormones. The medication (blockers) will help manage some of that until surgery.
You will have to wait until your imaging to know more for now, but the best thing you can do is write down your questions, make sure your loved ones understand as much as they can to help you and know how to prepare.
I also have resources for this, if you have Instagram you can message me there @pheovsfabulous