Medical Gaslighting

‘Medical Gaslighting’

You may have heard this term before, maybe even more so recently. Maybe it’s happened to you, it’s not something new, but rather something that’s being acknowledged and talked about more.

So what is medical gaslighting?


(gaslighting) — the repeated denial of someone’s reality in an attempt to invalidate or dismiss them — is a form of emotional abuse.

(Medical) gaslighting happens when health-care professionals downplay or blow off symptoms you know you’re feeling and instead try to convince you they’re caused by something else—or even that you’re imagining them.

It can sometimes be tricky to identify when it’s happening, sometimes it’s a clear refusal to treat or acknowledge a patient’s symptoms. Sometimes they will acknowledge the symptoms but not want to treat you. However, it doesn’t always happen through words. Some examples of non verbal can happen through: prolonged silence, a condescending sigh, sarcasm, a tone of disbelief or disapproval. None of which will be noted in your medical file, only imprinted on your heart and in your mind. When replaying the events, and asked “well what did they say?” You may not be able to recount a time that they ever outright told you that you’re over-exaggerating, only you will have felt the dismissal through those non verbal communications. You will leave with no answers, more questions than when you began.

After this happens to us, we often leave questioning our own reality regarding our condition, which can lead us to not wanting to talk about the severity our symptoms anymore, or at all. Leading to a prolonged diagnosis, and danger to our ongoing health.

Which leads me to why I’m speaking out about it. Most of you know me for being an advocate for rare cancer, and more so, always having a positive outlook or spin on tough situations.

Talking about a tough situation doesn’t make me less positive or weaken our strength, it empowers us with the ability to move forward with our same positive outlook. I don’t want any one situation to disable my ability to speak for myself, advocate for myself, or cripple me with fear. For quite some time, this was the case. The moment I sensed it was happening to me, I would just freeze. I couldn’t speak, I’d instantly get emotional, and I would be filled with fear that I’d be dismissed and get sicker all over again. I wouldn’t want to repeat the events so I too would diminish the severity of my symptoms.

Why? before I knew what the term ‘medical gaslighting’ meant, before I even heard of it, it happened to me for years unknowingly. My clear symptoms being blown off as anxiety by my specialist is what led me to receiving an incurable advanced stage diagnosis of metastatic pheochromocytoma.

I’ve come a long way from that period, and I’ve used it to learn how to fiercely advocate for myself. To know what type of care I’m entitled to, and to know my rights when it comes to my health. Sometimes, it just takes ONE situation to make you feel like you’ve gone backwards. By sharing, this is me taking the step to go forwards and hopefully empower you to feel the same.

I just want to be clear, my current team of doctors and specialists are I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E. The problem is, during an emergency, you can’t always wait to see your specialist or main doctor. Sometimes, we require emergency care…

My chest is heavy as I’m writing this, I didn’t realize how hard this was going to be. Regardless…

I’m going to share about what happened a couple of nights ago when we had to go to emergency.

I was having a great day, I felt better than I had in a long time. I was relaxed and going to work on a DIY wreath. I suddenly felt a ‘pinched nerve’ type feeling in the right side of my neck. So I decided to just relax for the night and watch a show. I got extremely weak and felt overcome. Then a sudden headache hit me. I wasn’t sure if I was going into some type of flare, so I took the necessary medications when that happens. Still no change, so I went to pick up my phone and record a ‘story’ post to say I wasn’t feeling well. When suddenly I noticed that my eye looked strange. One looked enlarged and had a weird glare, my pupil was misshaped, my eyes didn’t match! I was sure it was the video, so I took a photo. I had never experienced this before, I asked my husband to look and he confirmed one pupil was much larger than the other. I went in the bright light of the bathroom, both pupils returned to a smaller size. I stepped back out into the dim lit living room to re-check, and they then went two different sizes again. Then they just stayed like that. Of course I knew this could be a number of things, but since I had no history of it happening, a sudden change like this is worrisome.

One pupil larger than the other

I sat there weighing my options:

Go only if it gets worse (potentially too late if it’s a precursor to a neurological event like a stroke or aneurysm) OR…

Go right now while I can still speak clearly for myself and don’t require emergent complex care

When I go to emergency, like most chronic disease patients, it has to be for something BIG. Something that I have no power to treat myself, something that can’t wait until tomorrow. It often takes multiple people and specialists to convince me to even go.

This was a time where I certainly couldn’t know the seriousness of the event myself. I also couldn’t risk going to sleep and waiting to see my doctor. My thought was: I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t go get checked and it gets worse before tomorrow. Put on your big girl pants and GO, Miranda.

So that’s what I did, I grabbed my hospital ‘go bag’ and all of my supplies needed to speak for myself if I’m unable. My medical ID bracelet, medical resume which outlines my conditions, allergies, and life saving emergency room protocols in the event I go into crisis. We began mechanically preparing for something we’ve done hundreds of time. Knowing that it can either go extremely well, or….. the opposite

My local emergency rooms have been experiencing extreme understaffing, and even close the emerg 3-4 times a week. Even before covid, I’ve not had the best experiences. So we made the decision to drive 1 hour from home to a hospital that I had never been. A blank slate, I felt good about it, and knew it would not be filled with people and covid cases since it’s a very rural hospital.

We arrived to an empty parking lot, an empty waiting room, not a soul in sight. At first we thought this was a good thing, no worries of getting sick or having to be isolated. Low wait times, and all of the care directed towards me since I’m the only one there. High five!

Empty emergency room

I was triaged right away, my husband who is my primary caregiver couldn’t be with me due to covid. So I explained everything that had happened in detail, and added that I have a very rare cancer with some secondary conditions. All information is relevant when visiting emergency, it’s not up to me to decide what they need to get a clear picture. So I give them the basic facts needed for this visit and let them ask the rest.

I was immediately called, to where I was met by a nurse who immediately told me to go into the exam room. I asked if she had been informed of my emergency protocols that the triage nurse took copy of, *if I am going to have to be alone in a room without supervision in a hospital with no one around… for my own safety I have to know that if I’d go into crisis, they know how to respond properly. This is something I have to bring up any time I will be alone, or when I’m at higher risk of crisis. Since I can’t be treated with an epi-pen and there’s conflicting conditions, it’s not something I can choose to leave out.

She responded with sarcasm that No, she was not informed in the 30 seconds it took to call my name.

I laughed and replied that I get it, my bad! I then proceeded to explain WHY it’s necessary for all of us to be on the same page and that my protocols are designed for emergency room settings by my specialists to outline how to treat my specific case IF any of the following happen.

She cut me off mid sentence and said “I REALLY don’t care” and stormed out of the room. Leaving my husband and I to stand there and wonder… is this how the rest of the night will be?

He instantly reassured me “well, she’s just one person! The doctor will be nice” and I was just grateful that he could be there to be the one to respond IF anything should change with my health. He has all of my injections and medications with him at all times, and knows better than anyone the signs of when to use them.

The doctor came in without introducing herself, and began the norm of asking about why I was there. I started with my eyes, being the main reason I had come in. And then followed with the precipitating symptoms that made the eye issue more worrisome, the neck and head pain. I began having trouble explaining myself, so my husband added the time of when it all began to help me out. She abruptly looks at my husband and says “so she can’t speak for herself? You’re here because she can’t speak on her own? You’re here to speak on her behalf?”

Not that I need to defend this, but yes. My husband literally is there for when I can’t speak for myself. Stress makes it sometimes impossible for me to get a clear speech, I can be fine one moment and then unable to speak or think clearly the next. It’s happened many many times, and it’s the most terrifying thing to happen to a person. Especially when surrounded by strangers. 

I then spoke for myself, answering to why he is there. Explaining what I tried to explain to the nurse. I was preparing for the chance that if I had to be kept for observation, they would understand the severity in which my health can change. From one second to the next, which is why it’s essential for everyone treating me to read and understand the protocols. IF anything were to happen, it needs to be decided within seconds. Those seconds are what will make the difference between life and death.

Rather than asking me more about it or if it’s happened before, she replied by saying “so then we can do that for you. He doesn’t have to be here, if anything changes we are capable of knowing if you can’t speak. Or do you think we aren’t capable?”

I could already know by the clipped tone, sarcasm, and tension in the room that I was no longer comfortable. This is the very beginnings of my exam, and we haven’t even begun to speak about WHY I am there. I didn’t feel confident in the surroundings, if you put yourself in my shoes. I have a rare condition that’s already often misunderstood, and require a basic level of understanding in order to be safe. If this level is not met, I am not being left in the care of people who are responsible for my life.

I didn’t want to argue, so to avoid putting fuel on the fire, I calmly explained that I’m not questioning their capability. It’s just if I’m alone in a room, and it happens within seconds, in the event I’m unable to speak, logically I can’t ask for help. I can’t call for assistance, so yes, my husband IS in fact there to speak for me in the event that I cannot.

What happened next is what truly caught me off guard and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stay there should I absolutely need to.

I wanted to get back to the point of why I came to emergency, and have a proper exam for my eyes. So I redirected the conversation and said “can I tell you why I’m here?” She threw down her clipboard and replied “I HOPE you know why you’re here, they woke me up in the middle of the night for this!”

In that moment, I lost all hope for a decent exchange. I was made to feel that I was inconveniencing everyone, that my issue clearly didn’t warrant an emergency. I pushed through my inner voice telling me to just leave, and reminded myself that if I leave without so much as an opinion I will be right where I started. I will have to re-do this at another emerg, and I have a right to proper care. I reminded myself of what I preach, and decided I won’t let this stop me from what I came to do. Ask for help, receive care from the people who are there for that very reason.

At this point she began a basic neuro exam, repeating the questions about what brought me in. Each time she repeated her question, it was said in a more condescending way. (Non verbal cues) she began mixing the order of what I had told her. The neck pain, followed by the sudden headache, and then the pupil dilated. I corrected the order, to which she replied “so you had a headache and you took a Tylenol and it got all better? You took an Advil? A Tylenol? A motrin? What did you take?!” (No where did I say I took anything for my headache) okay so then your headache wasn’t bad enough to take a Tylenol AND it went away?”

No, I just don’t typically take TYLENOL for my type of headaches. I take a steroid or an antihistamine depending on what type of headache I think it is. This exchange continued on for a bit, the accusatory tone, the trip me up questioning. All of which I endured to get a proper response about why I had come. 

My husband patiently waited to interject and let her know that I’ve had two previous strokes. Which is why we found it of urgency to come in and get this checked. We wouldn’t think of coming to the hospital unless it’s an EMERGENCY.

She didn’t seem to find it very concerning, instead she asked me “well why isn’t THAT in your chart then, if you’ve had a stroke, wouldn’t you include it in here?”

I was caught off guard and stunned, so he replied for me. “It happened before her adrenaline was controlled, before she was diagnosed” I always include my most current conditions, because a lot has happened and I can’t fit them all on one page, I don’t think I could fit them in one book let alone a page.

I went along with the touch your nose then my finger game, walked a straight line, and ‘passed the exam’.

She then began to finally explain that they don’t do labs at night, she can’t take my blood, she can’t do a scan, they don’t do anything in the night hours. They are there for emergencies only. A-ha, finally. The confirmation that I am not by their standard an ‘emergency’. Okay, see ya!

But then ….“even if I DID do a scan, it won’t tell me anything because you’re not symptomatic anymore”

Me: “okay, so… if there’s nothing we can do, do I just go home?”

Doctor: “well, we can keep you to observe you to see if it happens again”

Me: “okay and if it does…, that’s when we would do tests and a scan?”

Doctor: “well maybe, MAYBE in the morning”

Me: “so if it DOES happen again, what would you do?”

Doctor: “well like I said we will just monitor you and see if it does”

(Still unclear as to what that will achieve if they’re unable to do blood work or imaging) 

Doctor: “I mean you’re fine now, your neuro exam is fine, you’re not having the symptoms anymore”

Me: “okay so I can just go home then? If there’s nothing, I can monitor myself and go to a hospital if it changes?”

At this point she’s said I’m fine more than once, made me feel I’m there for nothing, that there’s nothing they can do at their facility to look further into it. It’s not a guarantee that they will do anything further even when they ARE able to. So the logical conclusion is that I go home and wait for something more to happen and seek care IF it does. If not, see one of my doctors in regular clinic hours.

The doctor then says “okay, well I’ll give you two some time to decide what YOU would like to do”

My husband and I are sitting there looking at each other with the same thought, why are WE (the patient) being told to decide what should happen? Is it to not be liable if something does in fact happen tonight? Either way, at this point you couldn’t have paid me to stay in their care. So I got dressed, and we firmly decided to go home and sort out another plan of action if we could make it through the next 4-5 hours till the doctors open up. 

When things changed…

She returned into my room, me fully dressed, standing ready to leave. I thanked her for her time, and proceeded to explain I’d feel safer being at home and will go to a bigger hospital if the symptoms return.

She was completely stunned, which surprised us, now her whole demeanour changed, her mindset, her outlook on my current ‘condition’. She began back peddling and referring to me as a stroke patient. (What?!) she never once mentioned the risk of stroke, even though that’s EXACTLY why I came in the first place.

The entire time I had been there, I was made to question why I was there. That I wasn’t an emergency, not even a brief talk about what could have caused it. The entire exchange was bizarre, and downplayed to the point where of course it made more sense for me to go home and seek an alternate opinion.

The very same doctor then began to speak with more urgency about how I can be fine at this moment, but the same ‘neurological’ event that brought me in can happen again and again until POW! ‘The big one’ happens. Referring to mini strokes and then a large stroke. To which maybe it will be too late to go to the hospital.

Stunned, confused, and curious, I asked: “so…. If I stayed, and you monitor me, and even if the ‘big one’ happens, what would you do?”

Doctor: “well we would still have to ambulate you to the other hospital that could treat you (an hour away where we live). But I still wouldn’t send my stroke patients there! If I had a choice, I’d send them to the civic” (by which she means a larger teaching hospital in a different province) but since it’s a different province, I can’t do that. So I’d have to send you to the other hospital”

Me: “okay… well, our home is much closer to that hospital compared to here. We are just minutes away VS the hour it would take for you to get me there. So for me it still makes more sense to be home, and that way we can make a choice depending on the severity whether we ambulate there or jump in the car to the civic across the bridge”

Doctor: “if you stay here we can monitor you and maybe do a scan in the morning, I see you’re allergic to ‘dye’ (meaning my life threatening allergy to iodine) but I mean if we need to do a CT under emergency we will ‘just do it’

Me: “ummm, you can’t just ‘do it’ when someone has a life threatening allergy to iodine. This is is one of the reasons I’m safer at home. If you were to administer iodine even by error, you can’t give me an epi pen when I go into anaphylaxis. THIS is what I tried to explain in the protocols earlier, to you AND your nurse”

Out of curiosity, I then asked “what if I just went to the civic directly now and have them do the scan? Oh right, you said they wouldn’t see anything anyway right?”

*crickets* ugh.. ugh… well… not necessarily

Like, I’m sorry, but why scare me now? I had been here for an explanation or a severity level of how worried I should be the entire time. To which I was made to question why I was even there and scolded for waking you up. But only when I’m walking out the door, that’s when we get berated about the danger of the situation? Suddenly I’m a ‘stroke patient’? Suddenly everything changes? No. I won’t be roped into this ping pong match. I won’t continue these mind games. I am standing my ground, and I am leaving. I am getting far away, and I will not be made to feel that I AM the one who’s doing something wrong.

The aftermath…

Everything about this entire experience was wrong, and the one thing I do have the control over is where I go and when. Right now, I’m going to where I am safe. Home. Within closer proximity to hospitals should I need to go. I will be under the care and supervision of my husband who knows my vitals and cues of when there’s something wrong. I will be safe

As we left the hospital, I again thanked them for their time. I gave grace and understanding that wasn’t deserved, I allowed more room impatience due to the pandemic. I wanted to start and finish by being kind regardless of how I was treated in return. Still, I couldn’t help but leave feeling more confused and scared then when I first came.

That confusion was followed by anger, and outrage. WHY did this happen again?

I’m nice, I’m calm, I’m organized, I provide all of the facts, I am a great advocate, I have logic, I don’t quote google, I awaited every opportunity to be examined and so badly wanted to be given the clear or some type of explanation as to what had happened to me. Instead I was made to feel my symptoms were nothing at first, it was downplayed, dismissed, and then confused even further when suddenly it became a big scary thing. It made no sense

I arrived home, and within 20 minutes, and in the dim light, my pupils became different sizes again. I wondered to myself, why didn’t she do my eye test in different lighting based on what I told her? I was so exhausted at this point, I took another photo, and decided I’m going to sleep.

We made a plan as to what we would do in the event of the ‘what if’s’. My husband stayed up all night doing checks, and we made it to morning.

I was so exhausted yesterday, just mentally exhausted from the whole experience. I slept until 8:30pm last night. I was proud that I stood my ground and left, but couldn’t help but wonder what we would have done had my current condition been more unstable.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to us, and I’m certain it won’t be the last. Yesterday my husband spent the morning and afternoon contacting every doctor I have to get their opinion on how to proceed. Who to get help from, etc.

Most of the answers pointed towards neuro. So we arranged an emergency appt with my neuro, and we just spoke on the phone. I explained the situation, he congratulated us for knowing so much. For doing the right things at home, for documenting how the eyes respond in different lights, for being able to tell the story with such a good recount. All of which led him to ordering an MRI of my neck and head right on the phone, focusing on the artery in my neck. (The pinched nerve I felt at first) after discussing, he quickly realized it’s most likely not the eye that was larger that’s the issue, but maybe the eye that is smaller: based on the clues I gave about both eyes constricting while in bright light, but then one going larger in the dim light. He said it’s normal for eyes to go larger, but it’s NOT normal for one to constrict. So the opposite eye may be the issue, the one that stayed small. See?! Doctor/patient team work at its finest.

I wish I had a clear explanation as to what you can do in the event that this happens, but it’s very situational. One major thing I want to make clear:

Never feel pressured to stay somewhere that you are not comfortable.

Never feel you have to do anything you aren’t comfortable doing

Never feel you don’t have the option to get a second opinion

Never feel that you aren’t entitled to leave and seek help elsewhere

If it’s unsafe to leave, but you aren’t comfortable in the care where you are, you can request a medi transfer to another hospital who has the means to treat you.

The reason I’m sharing this is to let you know that it can happen, and you have every right to feel outrage. We have a right to proper care, and not be made to feel as if we’ve done something wrong when seeking medical attention

Emergency situations are a bit more tricky depending on the severity of your condition, but as I said, IF you aren’t feeling heard or safe, but can’t leave that hospital, please reach out to the patient advocacy number for that hospital and get help.

I was fortunate in THIS situation to be able to speak for myself, to have someone I trust with me to validate what happened. To confirm it’s not just ‘in my head’. But if you don’t, share within a patient support group. Anywhere that you can get support and be reassured.

Above all, please don’t let this prevent you from seeking medical attention when needed. I was so hesitant to go to the hospital a couple nights ago, and all of my fears were confirmed despite how prepared I was, despite how kind I was. But I’m not letting that stop me from getting the care that I require to keep me safe and THRIVING.

I have no answers just yet about why my pupils did this, and what’s going on. But I now have leads, we have made progress, and will eventually get answers. Through our own advocacy efforts and reaching out to the patient community with similar conditions, someone was even able to suggest a syndrome that made sense to my neuro. THAT condition is now being investigated, all because of sharing and asking questions. Using technology!

I imagine I’ll have to do a lot of tests that will uncover nothing, some that will eliminate a cause, and eventually one that will uncover it. I however will not stop until I have an answer.

By sharing this, it’s my therapeutic release of letting it go and not giving it power over me. My illness isn’t going away, so I need to be confident and able to speak when I can for myself.

I hope in some small way if something similar has happened to you, you’re reminded that it’s not your fault. You are deserving and worthy of kindness, patience, and answers.

I haven’t shared since, because I needed time to rest and recover. In the interim I was able to get closer to answers and strongly advocate despite having this happen as a big hiccup.

I always say, we are stronger together. Sharing is often beneficial, and can give a voice to something you have experienced and didn’t know how to feel or how to express it to others.

Thank you for reading, for expressing concern, and for your support.

Stay phabulous my phriends, 🤍🦓

How to conquer ‘Scanxiety’

Friday, September 10th

Another day, another hospital, another scan.

It

Will

Be

Okay

I can call myself an expert by now, I would estimate in my short time on this earth… I’ve had at least 70 scans. Probably more, but I don’t keep count.

All types of scans, CT with contrast, CT without contrast, MRI, PET scans, MIBG, Octreotide, bone density scans, Gallium 68, and that’s not including your average ultrasounds and x rays.

So, I will hold the title of expert level, I might as well get something out of it. I’m going to give you the best tips I have to be prepared. I find the best way to remove the fear, is to know what’s coming. So hopefully by me sharing what to expect, the things we can control, it will eliminate some of the anxiety leading up to it.

Yesterday’s scan was an MRI, not my favourite type of scan. But then again, they all have their woes.

A lot of people ask…

“what is the best type of scan to get for a Pheochromocytoma?” but here’s the thing… it is so specific to your case.

Specific to the timing, is it diagnostic OR prognostic? Is it a follow up after surgery? Is it to see the tumor size or is it to see the tumor activity? Is it to see if you’re eligible for future treatment?

See, there’s no one size fits all answer.

But since this isn’t going to be about all the different types of scans, I will focus on the one I had yesterday: the MRI

I’m normally a CT girl, not because it’s the best, or because it’s easier – quite the opposite. A CT is normally best for diagnostic imaging, it’s less detailed than an MRI, but gets a good overall view of the body. But I’m deathly allergic to iodine, which is the injectable solution used to light up your insides. So when I do a CT, I have to go through an exhausting allergy prep in order to safely get imaging. I can’t help but giggle, having a rare cancer that requires constant imaging but being allergic to the process. Awesome.

Salt in the wound, am I right?

So because earlier this year we discovered the link between my pheo and mast cell disease, making it no longer ‘just an allergy’ but a life threatening anaphylactic condition, we switched to MRI.

Still with me?

MRI also requires an injectable solution, called gadolinium. But the chances of having a reaction to it are very low. I still prep, and I’m cautious, and I still feel the aftermath of it in my body for a couple of days. But nothing life threatening, phew.

An MRI is a more detailed image, so as previously mentioned, for me it makes sense as we already know I have cancer. We’re not looking for it, or diagnosing it, we want to see all the gory details. We want to see detailed imagery if it has metastasized further, if it’s grown or perhaps shrunk, or if it’s magically disappeared? A girl can dream.

Before I go into explaining what an imaging day looks like, and what to expect DURING an MRI… I want to talk about what the before, leading up to it.

In the weeks leading up to my scan, I get a nervous energy that I don’t even realize I have. I get very fixated on certain tasks, I get a bit scattered, foggy, yet I can’t settle down or rest. I feel the need to always be doing something, planning something, or helping someone else. It’s my way of not focusing on what is about to happen.

In the days leading up to my scan, I allow myself to realize the impact of what’s about to come. What this scan will mean to my future. My brain tries and tries to acknowledge both outcomes, but I don’t allow that.

I refocus my mindset to the impact of hearing the good news, I only focus on the good news. This may seem like blind hope, but to me, why focus on the things we can’t change?

Until there IS a problem, why create one?

I used to always go in with the attitude of expecting the worse but hoping for the best. It was a way of protecting myself and not having my world shattered if I heard bad news, and let’s be real… I heard a lot of bad news. So it became a routine, I’d go in, do my scan, and deep down knee what was to come.

Only in the last few months did that start to change, my life has changed. Well, my quality of life I should say.

Feeling hope to this magnitude, it’s a tricky thing. As previously mentioned, hope can be the hardest thing to have. In fear of it being ripped away, which has happened to me quite a few times.

But I can’t live a life expecting misery and feel no hope and dream no dreams, because that wouldn’t be a very nice existence. So I reframe my mindset to feeling hopeful, manifesting healing, dreaming of what’s to come, and praying for another miracle.

I figure, no matter what the outcome, I will deal with that when the time comes. I can’t control the outcome, but I can control my feelings leading up to it. A-ha! See?

With cancer, or any chronic illness really, we often feel so helpless. Not in control of our own bodies, our minds, our future. So I like to be in control of anything I can. In my mission statement I wrote ‘holding onto my fabulous is the one thing I can control’ and that’s still true.

Except I realized my ‘fabulous’ is much more than just lipstick or hair. It’s who I am, it’s everything that makes me, me!…

So if I had one piece of advice to those of you who are experiencing scanxiety – it’s to acknowledge the possibility of both outcomes, but put your focus on the one you want. It’s okay to quickly consider the alternative, but don’t allow it consume you. Ask for prayer, ask for love, good energy, ask for support. Do what you need to do to feel hopeful.

Set your intention on the good, and in the days leading up to your scan… live your life as normal. Go about your day, clean your house, exercise, bake, talk to your friends and family, make homemade pizzas with your kids, shop till you drop. Do whatever makes you feel good, and most of all, normal.

I can’t tell you just how many sugar free cookies I baked, and how many celebratory outfits I ordered. Yes, celebratory. Because I fully intend to be celebrating the outcome. That’s the intention I set, and every day leading up to the scan, I meditated about it, I sang about it, I cried about it.

And now I’m writing about it. I’m putting it out into the universe

It

Will

Be

Okay

When I began writing this blog today, I wanted to explain the process of an MRI to take a bit of the unknown out of it for others. But I’m happy it turned into something different, because I love sharing my heart with you. Let’s be real, we don’t come to pheovsfabulous for the science 😉😂


Let’s walk through what the day looks like, and some practical tips to prepare!

Confidence comes from being prepared

First step, we drive 3 hours to get imaging, so you’re going to want to be comfortable. I said comfortable, not boring. There’s nothing boring about us, we need to feel cute! Look good feel good, am I right? Ladies AND gents!

Me, Gallium, and my ‘hospital bag’

1. Choose your outfit, and make it a good one. Something that makes you feel like you can take on anything. An outfit that makes you feel POWER, and confident!

2. Prepare your hospital bag, yes, you need this! Even if your hospital is close by, you need to have certain essentials to get you through the day. Since my hospital is out of town, I always bring a small bag of toiletries just INCASE anything unexpected were to happen.

Medications, maybe a book, a good luck charm, lipgloss, you know, the essentials. I always bring my fighting pretty gloves for strength, and a stuffed animal for comfort. This time, I brought gallium. He’s my scanner buddy. More importantly, your medical resume. This is your road map for emergency protocols, allergies, history. I show you how to create that here. If ever you were to have a reaction or go into crisis and couldn’t speak, this is going to be their guide.

3. Create a playlist that pumps you up, gives you happy vibes, and passes the time. You can even listen to an encouraging podcast or whatever you’re into.

4. Prep food and drinks for your trip, takeout is hard when you’re following a low tyramine/histamine diet and allergic to nuts. This is a fasting MRI, so you’re going to be hangry. I suggest bringing at least protein bar to devour the moment you’re done the scan. We bring a small cooler and prepare for the day. We didn’t used to do this and since we have, it’s made such a difference.

5. Pillows, blanket, neck pillow. Anything that’s going to make your road smoother. If you experience chronic pain, sitting in the car for long periods can be tough. I always have a neck pillow in the car as a minimum.

6. Bring slippers! You will have to completely strip down and get into that sexy blue gown, and you don’t want to have to shuffle around in the hospital paper booties too. So bring a pair of slippers to walk around in until your scan.

7. If you wear a wig, you will have to remove it during the scan. (Magnets) I like to bring a bandana or some sort of head covering to be comfortable before and during the imaging. I sometimes sweat quite a bit in reaction to the loud noises and vibrations, and I don’t like coming out with my hair drenched. So I cover my natural hair with a bandana and it helps absorb some of the perspiration.

8. Speaking of noises and vibrations, this is something that bothers quite a few of us. You may want to speak to your doctor about taking something to relieve the anxiety or claustrophobia. Just make sure you’re able to stay awake, as there’s work to do in there!

The MRI:

So now that we’re fully prepared, what should we expect for the MRI?

Our prayer ritual before the scan

You will check in, wait a little in the waiting room, I was allowed to be accompanied by my husband as he is my caregiver. With my conditions, I can need life saving care at any time. I can’t go wandering around alone. If your condition requires special attention or sudden medication, tell them this at the door so that your caregiver can be present up until the actual scan.

“Miranda?” Your name will be called, and you will be escorted into the injection area. The hospital I went to was lovely and had a private bed to wait in. I appreciate these details with being in so much pain and fighting to keep my eyes open.

The gadolinium injection won’t take place until during the scan, so you’ll need an IV placed. (Hydrate a lot before!) so that your veins will be ready.

The technician will insert the IV, and you will be asked to wait a bit until your turn to be scanned.

You will again be escorted into another room, this time where the MRI scanner lives.

(This is just a sample image to show the scanner)

The MRI is a big white tube, and yes, you’re going in head first. This is why I like to know what to expect, it makes you less nervous when prepared. You will lay on the hard narrow table, there will be a blanket underneath, and if they don’t have a leg wedge set up, ask for one! Thank me later. You will want that elevation to take pressure off your back, the scan will most likely last at least 20 mins, mine was about 30.

They will place a large plastic contraption over the area that’s being scanned, for me, that was my abdomen. This device will be what captures the images, and they will gently secure you to the table with some straps so you don’t have to be worried about positioning.

Before sending you into the MRI, they will place some headphones on you. This will allow the technician to speak to you throughout the test, and you will also hear a voice prompt you when to breathe and when to hold your breath.

My technician was super kind and explained to me to listen to the voice as soon as she says to breathe in, GO. Don’t wait until the instructions are finished, this was really helpful to me so that we didn’t have to repeat the photos.

**Super important tip**

For me, I don’t want to feel like I’m in a tube. So I close my eyes before I go in. I never ever open them, that way I won’t panic. Everyone is different with this, my husband likes to keep his eyes open and then close when he’s ready. It depends if you’re claustrophobic.

Everyone will leave the room, and you will move into the machine. You will begin to hear the prompts almost right away, “take a deep breath in, now hold your breath” and you will have to hold for about 30 seconds. (I counted)

How do you stay calm during the scan

I practice guided meditations every day, and I learned breath work to calm my nervous system periodically throughout the day. This can all be done through YouTube, type ‘guided meditation’ and you will see a whole bunch of meditation types. Ranging from stress relief, sleep aids, ptsd healing, etc. Doing this on a daily basis allows me to stay calm during ongoing stressful circumstances. During the scan your mind will be used to travelling to your happy place, while still listening to the breathing instructions.

This is our favourite daily meditation

About half way through the scan, the gadolinium will be injected electronically into your IV. Like any contrast, you will feel the ‘warm feeling’. AKA you will feel like you just peed yourself. It’s not AS aggressive as the iodine contrast during CT, but you do feel it. This is normal, don’t panic! You didn’t pee! I promise.

The hard part is over, kind of. You will be guided back into the injection room to have your IV removed, and you can be on your way. Go take care of your hanger, eat that protein bar, and drink LOTS of water to flush your kidneys of the dye. And I mean lots! You’ll feel better quicker.

Although the physical part is over… now the mental part is going to take its toll. Leading up to the scan, all that nervous energy you experienced, it’s going to be the opposite now.

You will most likely be drained, exhausted, mentally and physically. It’s time to rest and recover. I slept a few hours the moment I got home, and I’ll be honest – experienced a lot of pain. Have your heating pad ready, and whatever you do to control your pain levels. As I’m writing this I’m still pretty stiff. For me, the noise and vibrations of the machine makes my body tense up. Leaving me feeling like I did an extreme an workout when the whole day is done.

Speaking only from my personal experience, once the scan is done, I feel too drained to worry about the results. I did enough of that leading up to it, now it’s time to just be and let be.

Worrying will not change the results, but it will make you feel like crap. As we all know, stress is the worst thing for our bodies with this disease.

So now it’s time to rest, and do something that really brings you peace. For me, it’s doing exactly this. Writing.

This is my therapy, helping others by sharing my experience.

What’s yours?

Let’s Connect:

Tiktok & Instagram: @ pheovsfabulous

#pheovsfabulous

🤍🦄💫

Caregiver Chats: our story

www.instagram.com/tv/CTV0qRilPhD/

If you’d like to watch the replay of our LIVE chat, I interviewed my husband for the first time ever about our journey.

He shares some incredible insight about how you can support your loved one and respond to crisis and attacks.

He also talks about the importance of language and wording, and encouraging the person to stay feeling like who they are.

We talk about palliative care, what terminal illness means, there’s a lot of valuable info In here!

I hope you watch with us and if you do, make yourself a warm drink, and just connect with our words, our story.

You may even learn some tips about how to keep your loved one comfy at the hospital, surgery, we tried to hit all of the points you asked us about!

So let us know if you watch, and let us know your favourite part or something you took away from it

Sending our love,

Pheovsfabulous & Drcupcakes

“It’s not me…!” It’s my cancer!

“Harmonious self regulation is the body’s natural state, stress pulls you into another state, of heightened biological responses that triggers a flow of hormones, increased heart rate, stimulate the hyper-vigilance of the senses, and many other linked reactions. But these are all temporary, they are emergency responses only”.

Let’s talk about this 👆🏻 I read this last night in one of my @chopra novels.

It actually hit me pretty hard. Although this is scientifically true, for someone who suffers with my disease, this response is NO longer a emergency response. It can happen anytime. Without warning ⚠️

On a normal day, I agree with that statement. To my core. I practice gratitude, inner self healing, I meditate, I let go of toxic feelings, i detox my life often of stress. So with that said…

Imagine your body being able to cause this stress response to ignite… WITHOUT the presence of a threat, or any type of apparent stress 🤯

Pheochromocytoma tumors produce those stress hormones, the very ones he’s talking about.

Igniting the body’s natural response state to stress, except… I’m stuck in that state, all the time. My neurologist recently described it as being chased by a wooly mammoth, the fear and stress response ignites (fight or flight) and then followed by saying “but for you, the chasing never ends. You’re always being chased, and your body can never rest”

We don’t get the option. We don’t have that basic human function to decide if we are happy or not 😂 our body decides for us.

I know some of you may not get this, you may be thinking “you just need to do more inner work to find your true happiness”. It’s a normal response to something people can’t possibly understand, which is why I’m doing my best to explain it.

What I’m getting at is that this is a physiological time bomb we carry around that decides chemically how we’re going to feel for a certain period of time. It’s an actual sudden, rapid, release of stress hormones that put your body into a state of fight or flight.

That can manifest differently for some. If someone’s untreated and undiagnosed, they’ll feel it normally as if they’re suddenly going to die. It’s not just an emotional response, it’s a physical reactive state where your blood pressure elevates, your heart rate suddenly increases, and that comes with symptoms like sudden brain squeezing headaches, shaking, intense nausea or vomiting, it truly is a physical assault from your own body.

For most, they have to adapt to it for a few months and then they get surgery. But me, we’re friends for life. We’re in this till the end, me and Pheo. Pheo and I

Since I’ve done countless treatments, and am well managed with medications, I don’t experience that type of physical intensity that often anymore. However, the emotional stress response is very friggin real.

I don’t want to complicate this too much, but I also have comorbidities that create the same hormonal imbalance and sudden stress responses. Adrenal insufficiency, and mast cell activation syndrome. I’m basically a little bomb of chemical reactions 😂

So I thought it’d be a good time to just kind of touch on this subject since I don’t talk about it very often.

I’ll use yesterday as an example, I rested all day, felt amazing, better than I had in quite some time, was so happy. I felt like my resting efforts were paying off. I had no stress surrounding my body. My husband and I had a much needed movie and rest day, the vibe was just perfect.

Around 10pm… it felt like a RAGE I bomb was igniting inside of me. It just hit me like a ton of bricks. I was scraping an avocado and suddenly felt like I was going to throw it at the wall. Get this, I was making avocado brownies. BROWNIES guys. If there’s ever a time to feel happy and at peace… it’s when making brownies

For those of you reading this that don’t have the disease, Imagine your worst PMS outburst you’ve ever had, and multiply that 1000x – no warning, no control. Just a massive chemical response. And for men, just imagine your most reactive moment, any cause, and Multiply THAT, but keep in mind you have no control over it.

The panic, the anger, the rage, these are all stress hormones. And they come without permission or cause 😐

That’s my best way to explain what living with pheochromocytoma feels like, and it only gets messier with comorbidities that create similar stress responses.

Last night, even after ten+ years of living with this disease, I was still surprised at the intensity of what I felt. It made no sense. Especially because it wasn’t accompanied by the physical response I normally experience. It was purely emotional. To me, there’s nothing worse than feeling out of control of my body.

I did everything right, and my body still betrayed me. It also feels like I’m a broken record when I say “it’s not me, it’s my body! I can’t control it!”

It FEELS like a load of BS, even I sometimes challenge whether or not that’s true and I have the damn disease. So I can’t imagine how hard it is for the people who love us that are in the war path when this happens. That’s the part I hate the most. I’d give anything to be able to control myself at least when it comes to the people I love, I’m sure anyone reading this knows the feeling I’m talking about. The guilt you feel the moment you snap at your loved one about something that makes no sense. Brownies guys. I had an explosive response to making brownies. If it was just me and the brownies, I could have taken it, it’s when you react badly to your loved one. It’s wounding in a way I can’t quite explain. The heavy guilt that comes with it, especially as you utter the words “I can’t control it” …

Even if they know, they understand, and they love you regardless, it doesn’t erase the feeling that I have when this happens. My husband is the most understanding person in my universe, he never takes offence, and he certainly doesn’t make it worse. But … that doesn’t change MY guilt, rational or not, it still sits heavy in my heart

I’d do anything to be able to control my feelings, sometimes I’d prefer the physical response rather than this irrational emotional eruption. Because then it’s just me that has to feel the wrath of my cancer when it’s physical. But then I remind myself, that’s not true either. Your loved one still very much feels it.

And that’s the worst part for me.

Pheo VS Fabulous

What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to living with this disease?

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Reclaiming my power

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 2014diagnosed 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.

Accepted!

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…”

Palliative care…”

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??”

More medication.

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”

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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

I am Rare: 2021

If you had asked me six years ago what I was going to write in 2021 on rare disease day, I’d have told you I wouldn’t be here to share.

I’d have told you what they told me, I maybe have a year left.

I’m writing this to explain specifically the importance of rare disease awareness, not just a day, but every day of my life. I’ve dedicated every ounce of energy I have into sharing my journey, the ups, the downs, the discoveries. In hopes that someone would learn something from my experience.

I’ve always been a dreamer, but this was much bigger. Before I even really understood the impact of awareness, I truly believed that if I shared enough… I could make a difference. The type of difference that could prevent someone from hearing the words “it’s too late, it’s now terminal”. Like we did.

I believed deep in my soul that if I shared enough, I would finally be heard. Someone who needed it would hear me, fate would allow them to gain the knowledge they needed to push for a diagnosis.

I wasn’t even considering the fact that my experience could potentially better inform healthcare workers, and trickle down… creating a knowledge that would never be heard unless experienced by people like me living with the disease.

My first pheochromocytoma was missed because of a lack of knowledge about the disease, it wasn’t the fact that it was too rare to be considered, it just simply wasn’t thought of at all.

My second was different, the knowledge was there, but it was considered too rare to come back. It was overlooked because of the odds. The literature didn’t support what I was experiencing, so it couldn’t possibly be that.

Four years after my first one, I was finally diagnosed with a recurrence. It was misdiagnosed for too long, it spread all over. It’s terminal. I was told I’d have 1-5 years to live max, ‘based on the literature available’. The literature, the incredibly vague and unreliable literature. So little to reference and gain the knowledge needed to empower the patient or even the doctor.

This is when we realized it would become vital to my outcome for us to learn for ourselves. We had to take control of my situation, we had to look for the most knowledgeable doctor to treat me.

We didn’t want to accept my odds. So we started down a new path of self advocacy, learning, and sharing.

I started my blog, documented every treatment, feeling, reaction, change, anything.

I figured, if I’m going to die, I want to leave behind the gift of information. I wanted to re-write the literature. There was such a gap of information at that time, I wanted to help fill a small part of it.

As I shared, I started to connect with more and more people. I was learning more every day. So I kept sharing what I learned.

This new wealth of information would impact my treatment decisions, my ability to strongly advocate for myself, and be part of all decisions regarding my health.

That’s the thing with awareness for rare disease, it’s not just a cute buzz word. It’s life changing. The information we received from others was what kept me alive. It’s what allowed me to bring up my own suggestions, and avoid doing things I knew wouldn’t work for my situation.

Each new step of my journey, I would share with others, and the cycle would continue. The wealth of information and knowledge keeps growing, and we keep changing outcomes. We keep improving quality of life, and we help healthcare professionals better understand us. Leading to proper care and diagnosis.

Of course I can dream so big that if we become less rare… it can lead to a cure. And yes, it can. One day.

But for right now, I’m focusing on preventing it from getting to my stage in the first place. Where it’s incurable. If we can share enough, if we can continue to become less rare, it will be diagnosed earlier and able to be treated.

For those of us who are past that stage, like me, becoming less rare means proper treatment protocols, better treatment options, symptom management, improved quality of life, and the knowledge to be treated effectively in emergency situations. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked…

“well what do YOU normally do when this happens?”

The knowledge we share will continue to educate all parties involved, making situations like this happen far less often.

I actually never dreamed of a day where I’d hear “because of your blog”…..

That’s the power of sharing, the impact of awareness.

It shouldn’t fall entirely on the patient, but our experiences are how we all continue to learn.

I am still here today because of knowledge, because of awareness. Plain and simple.

Each new mind that hears the word “pheochromocytoma”, has the ability to share that with someone else, and so on. You can never know how this will impact the person hearing it.

So keep sharing while you can.

I know I will.

The most suffering I ever experienced was not being able to use my voice. Not having the ability to share.

I hope you will help me continue to share my message, my story, my journey, my experience, and my dream.

Pheo VS Fabulous 🤍🦓

Sending you unicorn kisses, love, and pixie dust✨

Follow my everyday journey:

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TikTok: @pheofabulous

Facebook: pheo VS fabulous

This is your wake up call…

Five years ago it took getting diagnosed with cancer to make me wake up and see things for what they really were.

The uncertainty you’re feeling right now? I felt that everyday. I still feel it, but I’ve learned to adapt to it. I’ve learned to live amongst it.

This is your wake up call.

The feelings you have right now, they’re valid. The fear, the anxiety, the grief, it’s all real. But what will you do with it? Let it overcome you and wither away? Or learn to adapt and thrive in these uncertain times.

We will all eventually face a time in our lives where everything is turned upside down, we no longer know where we fit, what will happen, and how to deal with it. Let this be the time that you figure out how. Let this be the time where you figure out how to just “be”.

Five years ago I was abruptly forced to turn my life upside down. I was forced to give up the life I was used to living, I was forced to grieve the old me.

I had to make fast and hard changes, I had to give up working suddenly. I had to apply for long term disability, give up my day to day schedule, and become isolated from the world without a choice in the matter.

I know how you feel, being told you can’t work, having to apply for EI, not knowing when you can resume your normal day to day.

Social distancing didn’t have a term then, it just happened naturally. This was my new life, my new reality.

Yes, I’m trying to give you a wake up call. But in the most respectful, understanding, and empathic way. I get you, I feel you, I understand so much of what you’re going through. I want to help you navigate through the uncertainty you’re feeling. Not judge you for how you feel.

That feeling of helplessness because you don’t know what’s in store for your future? The feeling of impending doom that you cant shake? It’s normal. I felt that way too. I too have had to cancel my future, I too have sat lost and scared about what’s to come. I too have felt out of control about the unknown that lies ahead.

So what can we do to conquer it? You’re sitting at home, pacing back and fourth, scrolling through your social media, unable to control the panic.

Let me ask you this, when you had your “life in order” and things were “normal”, what were the things you longed to do? How many times did you wish you could just shut the world out and connect with yourself? Let this be the time you ask yourself who you really are.

Let this be the time that you appreciate the monotony of your days.

Let this be the time that you tell your loved ones how you feel about them, and reach out to the people who you haven’t told in some time.

Let this be the time you just slow down the pace, take a breath, enjoy.

Don’t let fear and panic take over your life, but be respectful and aware of what’s happening around you.

This IS life changing, this IS scary, but it can also be therapeutic and life changing in a positive way.

We need to learn how to see joy and embrace our circumstances.

What have I done in the last few years during self isolation?

The time you’ve wanted to spend with your loved ones? Soak it up!

The book you’ve wanted to read? Read it.

The nextflix series you didn’t have time to watch? Watch it.

The novel you’ve always wanted to write? Write it.

The naps you’ve longed to take when you were exhausted? Sleep your heart out!

That exercise regimen you always want to start? Do it now.

The FaceTime calls you’ve put off cause you were too busy? Start calling up your distant friends.

The sunrise and sunsets you always missed? Enjoy them.

The complicated meals you never had the time or energy to cook? Start cooking!

The trail you always drive by and always say “I wanna go walk there sometime soon”, go explore!

The bath salts you always buy and never have time to use? Go soak!

Meditate, meditate, meditate! Learn how to calm your mind. It won’t just help you during this time, it will help you when all of this is over.

Learn how to face fearful situations and not succumb to that fear. Learn to be your best self, the person you never even knew you wanted to be.

Explore who you are, get to know “who I am” again.

After all… you have nothing but time.

Something that not all of us have the luxury of saying. Time is something that some of us want so badly, and yearn for more of every single minute of every single day. Use your time wisely, because one day… all of that “extra time” you’re complaining about having, could be gone.

And last but not least… just be thankful. Thankful for your health, the time you have, the friends who love you, the family who you love, your freedom. Be thankful for those who are sacrificing every day for you to have these things.

You will be sitting at home, pacing back and fourth, scrolling through your social media, but the difference? You will be able to conquer the fear of uncertainty, you will know how to deal with it head on, because you will know exactly who you are and what you wanted out of life, and you won’t let anything or anyone take THAT away from you.

Peace 🤍

Pheo VS Fabulous

Taking back my fab!

I’m no stranger to treatments and procedures, that’s the understatement of the century! However, getting something done because I WANT IT done, that’s a new concept as of late.
When you’re sick, your body becomes sort of …everyone’s. It doesn’t feel like your own anymore, a product of the medical field.
Well I’m taking my body back, and I’m loving it.
Pheo VS Fabulous was built around the statement of staying fabulous throughout it all, never losing my joy. Well I think I’ve taken that in stride, but it gets difficult. It’s about time I can take back some of my fab. So I’m doing that in every way possible. Physically and mentally.
Have you ever heard the expression, “I woke up like this”?
When you have an illness, it takes a toll on you. It takes a huge mental toll, and that turns into a physical toll. We often just stop doing things for ourselves because everything is so damn hard. We do things out of convenience a lot, and stop doing things because they’re enjoyable and we WANT to.
This may sound crazy, but any time I go into see the doctor, or am surprised by the fact that I have to go in an ambulance, I always think first … “how do I look?” I HATE looking sick. I feel like the moment my illness takes over my physical appearance, it’s won. I’ve lost that one part I can control.
When I was SUPER sick, (bedridden) I did EVERYTHING possible to stay me. My hospital table was a makeup table, my slippers were cute, my pjs were always matching, I got my husband to do my hair. It was just important that I didn’t lose myself completely.
Now that I’m feeling better… I wanted to treat myself to a few things that could make this job a little easier in those times. When I’m too sick to do anything at all, but I still wanna wake up looking absolutely fabulous!
Operation lashes and brows commence!
I know I know, I’ll be the first one to admit… I’m a bit extra! 😂 I’m okay with that. Not everyone is going to feel the same way as me about these things, but I guarantee you you’d enjoy them just as much!
So first, I started with something practical. My eyebrows. The defining feature of the face. I was always extremely intimidated by eyebrow procedures because … let’s be honest, someone semi permanently changing the look of your face? Scary! That’s why you have to do your homework, and know what you want. I’d heard of microblading, a procedure where they take a hand tool and semi permanently tattoo your eyebrows in a natural way to give you the illusion of perfect brows at all times. However, it wasn’t until I’d discovered dolly lash lounge, and started researching other ways of achieving this apparent greatness, that I’d heard of ombré brows.
I would spend so much time filling in my brows with makeup, pomades, powders, gels, anything to make my brows look and feel great. Even if I didn’t do anything else to my face, I always did my brows. It was just a thing I had to do. It takes time though, and a lot of different products to achieve that perfect look. What we millennials would call the “Instagram” brow. Ha!
Ombré shading is a procedure using a machine vs by hand, and it’s semi permanent up to a year or more. It gives you the illusion that you’ve masterfully filled in your brows to perfection, except it’s always done! It looks extremely natural, depending on how dramatic you go, and it’s amazing to wake up to all the time.
Appointment time: 2-2 1/2hours
Once you’re done with the consultation, filling out the necessary medical forms, and having the actual procedure done.

I found it fairly painless, but again… this goes back to having done my research and making sure I went to a QUALITY place! I scoured their pictures on social media, read their website up and down, and looked for reviews to make sure I was getting the best of the best.
You lay down on a comfy bed, your lash/brow technician preps the area with numbing cream, (be sure to check what they use and be conscious of any allergies)! and then they start mapping out your new brows! My eyebrows were extremely sparse and uneven, so there was a lot of work to be done. When she first showed me what they were GOING to look like, I wanted to cry. I was so happy! So we went to work, and 2 hours later…. perfect brows 👌🏼

Just a side note, Katie was extremely gentle, professional, we talked so much glam, and I had the best time ever. It helps to be comfortable with the person you’re doing it with, so keep that in mind when you’re booking with a salon!
This is the first time I had to lay down for hours on end and actually have a fun result at the end instead of just a scan that showed my tumors, so I was pretty ecstatic!
Here is the first result:

So this was my first session, you can see I am red because of the procedure but they healed perfect and I love them so much! (I’m also extremely sensitive so this is normal) Your eyebrows will initially go a bit darker with oxidization, but that goes away after one week and they heal to the color your specialist custom makes for you. You have to go in once more after this a few weeks later for a touch up, it allows you to make any changes or go a bit more dramatic if you feel the need!
Mine is coming up soon, but I love my brows even as they are now. I’ll do a bit of work touching them up to darken them a bit, but other than that .. love!
Lashes
Now, I’m a person that actually enjoys wearing false lashes in my spare time. Haha! But it’s so much work and money. Doing false lashes when you can barely sit to do your makeup in the first place… it’s a bit much.
So when I heard I could have lashes that were voluminous and beautiful ALL the time, I had to have this. Never glueing on a falsie again? Sold.
Eyelash extensions
I’m sure you’ve heard of this, there’s all different sorts of eyelash extensions you can get. “Natural, hybrid, volume, super volume”
Well I wanted EXTRA volume. Go big or go home!
I went back to my technician and told her I wanted to be ultra glam, all the time. Hit me up with the biggest lashes you’ve got!
This is the first time I’ve been able to feel well enough to partake in these adventures, so I might as well go all out! ☺️
(And looking like I’ve done a face of makeup without actually lifting a finger… yeah, tempting!!!)
So I took the plunge.
Appointment time: 2 hours
Each lash is masterfully added to your own ONE BY ONE, by hand. It’s actually pretty crazy when you think about it. I’ve never seen such patience and precision. Of course, there are differences everywhere you go, but this was my experience.

I was pretty tired by the end of it, but it was worth it. Katie was also excellent at allowing me to have a break if I needed it, and overall I just felt super comfortable.
This is the end result! Again, my eyes are a bit red because of having them closed for so long so you tear up a bit, but I assure you they’re fab fab fab! Perfection.

I will link the website of where I got mine done, www.dollylashlounge.com so you can read yourself through the procedures and services list. I thought it would be more fun to hear it from me 😂
I told you guys I’d bring you along on my journey, and this is part of it.
Right now I’m all about taking back my fab. Thank you dolly lash for helping me do that.
And thank YOU GUYS for following along with all my crazy but fun ideas! I hope I’ve inspired you to do something fun and kind for yourself, because let’s face it… we all need a bit of love now and again. Why not let it be from you? #selflove
Pheo VS Fabulous 💖

The Mighty Article

Yesterday I shared a very personal blog that I felt could relate to a lot of people going through similar times.

Not even necessarily sick people, just people who have had fading relationships for multiple reasons after changes in their lives.

It seems it was really relatable because The Mighty approached me to publish my article!

If you missed it, here is the link !

Please take the time to read and share, maybe it can help someone more than you know.

Pheo VS Fabulous 💖

10 things I’ve learned about fading relationships

Support comes in all forms when you receive a diagnosis, but as you become sicker and the “old you” starts fading away, so do your relationships.

So many people want to be there for you when you first receive your diagnosis, but as you become sicker, when it all becomes real, it seems you start losing people one by one. There’s nothing worse than having to grieve your old self, plus have to mourn each relationship lost as you go.

One day you wake up, and all of a sudden you feel like you have no one left.

‘Hanging out’ and visits turn into text messages, the text messages turn into the occasional Facebook chat, and then even those just stop abruptly. Until there’s no more communication. Everyone just went away...

You can’t help but blame yourself,

if I wasn’t this sick, I’d still have friends.

If I was healthy and could have a normal conversation about monotonous things, I wouldn’t push people away.

If only I could be healthy and not intimidate people who are unsure how to approach this new “sick” me.

If only I wasn’t intimidated by them thinking about me being sick, and could fill in the awkward silences.

…If only I could erase all the sad eyes, the weakened expressions, and not have people who once respected me feel sorry for me.

This is the worst part, the pity.

If only these people knew that I’m the exact same person, the same person who was their friend for all those years. The same family member, the very same.

People change regardless of being ill, but it seems being ill puts a wedge in between the healthy and the sick. The unknown is often just too much. If I changed because I became an asshole I’d understand, but I’m the very same person.

This is the first time I’ve ever expressed how much it hurts.

How at my sickest I’ve never been so alone.

When someone says, “you must have a lot of people around you!” And you just don’t know how to respond.

How I don’t want to come off as ungrateful or selfish because there are some amazing people who have come into my life despite me being sick.

But those relationships lost still weigh heavily on my heart, and I wish I could have every single one back. Back to normal.

But I’ll never be normal.

So it shall remain…

What I will say is I’ve learned a few things while these relationships have come and gone.

  1. It’s not your fault, even though it may feel like it is, stop blaming yourself.
  2. Often people want to be there, they just don’t know how.
  3. It’s exhausting trying to make others feel comfortable around you, focus on yourself being comfortable and the rest will follow.
  4. It’s not your job to put everyone else at ease, if they are your friend, they will try to find a way to understand your new situation.
  5. People who are truly your friend, WANT to know how you are. They don’t want the sugar coated answer, be honest with your friends.
  6. Your best friends don’t mind changing plans, or understand when you can’t make it because you’re not feeling up to it suddenly.
  7. Your best friends will make an effort to make YOU comfortable in this new changing circumstance, they’ll go out of their way to make sure you have a place to lay down in their home if you get tired, or have a fan handy for when you get too warm etc.
  8. The people you lost were probably not meant to be close to you in the first place.
  9. Don’t feel bad for making the decision to cut out toxic relationships, even though you might feel like you can’t afford to lose anyone else, it’s not worth putting yourself through hell to have “friends”.
  10. Don’t take for granted the people who did stay around, know that they love you so much, and cherish them every day.

Pheo VS Fabulous 💖

Facebook: @pheovsfabulous

Instagram: @pheovsfabulous