“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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Let me re-introduce myself…

can·cer

ˈkansər/ – disease; causing the body and mind to adapt, overcome, and embrace change.

Quality of Life: 

What do these three seemingly simple words mean to you? 

Someone who is living with a permanent illness which will impact their ‘quality of life’ will hear this phrase from time to time. For someone like me, who is considered a ‘palliative care patient’ (which is a polite way of saying my disease will eventually kill me) this term gets thrown around a lot. But do we ever stop to think about what it truly means? Being 30 and terminally ill, I have to think about often. 

I used to just see it as a phrase. I actually used to see many things as just phrases, words put together to fill silences in sterile rooms to allow for some sort of relief from the inevitable uncomfortable points of cancer. That is, until you live them and you are intimate with each word. You get to know what each one will mean to you; you get to appreciate what kind of quality you’d like to live, and start to live it. I am going to share my perception of these words, and hopefully they will not just be words to you either.

Before I do that, let me introduce myself. My name is Miranda, I’m a 30 year old with a rare form of terminal cancer called pheochromocytoma. I’ve been living with this disease in some way or another since I was about 17-18, and officially diagnosed at 19. After my initial surgery to remove a large ‘benign’ tumor, I was misdiagnosed with anxiety for 4 years, which led to my eventual terminal cancer diagnosis.

I vowed two things in that moment: one being that I would do everything in my power to prevent this from happening to someone else by sharing my story and learning how to advocate further for rare diseases. I didn’t realize where this vow would take me, eventually filling a large gap for a rare disease that should have never had the opportunity to be terminal. And two, I vowed that cancer would never take my FABULOUS.

I wrote this mission statement when I first started my blog: 

“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 take 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”

You’re probably wondering, WHAT IS pheochromocytoma? I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible. It’s essentially a tumor or tumor(s) that secrete or produce adrenaline. Adrenaline and noradrenaline are hormones that we actually need to function as the trigger for your body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. These hormones prompt higher blood pressure, a faster heart rate and a boost in other body systems that allow you to react quickly with a burst of energy. *Think, lion attack!* A pheochromocytoma ultimately makes you overdose at any given time on these hormones, without warning, which we pheo people like to call ‘attacks’. Think: lion attack… with no lion? Essentially your tumor is attacking you with your own stinkin’ adrenaline! This causes your body to suddenly react with high blood pressure, increased heart rate and palpitations, and a whole lot of other deadly symptoms. I say deadly because if uncontrolled or untreated, these attacks are life threatening. So not only do I have cancer, but I have a cancer that tries to kill me multiple times a day with it’s poison IN my body. Fun, right? I also don’t just have one, I have metastatic disease and have anywhere from 30+ at any given time. (This is reduced greatly!)

Being so young and considered terminal, I’ve had to learn a lot about the phrase, ‘quality of life’. It’s meant to bring a sense of comfort, a sign that no matter what the cancer is going to take from you, we are going to do our best to keep you comfortable while all of these changes take place, and most importantly, just keep you who you are.

We cannot simply continue to live our pre-cancer, ‘normal lives’…right? Well, I kinda thought I could. I think we all do in some respects, and that’s normal. The difficulty is realizing where you need to adjust your expectations. I didn’t say give up there, did I? Time to ADAPT.

So here comes the hard part, once YOU start to change, no one but you can prepare you for this. The next time you hear “You’re so strong!”, don’t shy away from it. Think about what it means to them, what it means to you, and how you have truly earned it. So, you start changing, and this ‘quality of life’ thing everyone keeps talking about, seems like a very far away ideal at this point.

“How am I supposed to have any sort of Quality of Life when this disease is doing nothing but take take take?”

“I don’t even have a LIFE anymore, how am I supposed to have a ‘quality’ one?”

“Everything I am doing is supposed to ‘provide me with better quality of life’, but after every procedure I’m left feeling worse and can do less.”

“How am I not supposed to lose hope?”

My disease moves quickly, sometimes it seems like I can blink and not recognize myself physically, or suddenly go from walking around seemingly ‘normal’ to being completely bed ridden for months and needing a wheelchair the rest of the time. THAT was the most surprising, and still is… the uncertainty and element of surprise. 

Did I tell you how wonderful it feels to simply be a little more kind to yourself?

Change is constant, and I need to be willing to accept that although my life is very different, it’s mine. The fact that I wake up every day is a beautiful thing. Understanding that even the smallest victories are worth celebrating, simple joys are to be found and appreciated every day, because these ‘small’ and ‘simple’ things… probably mean the world to you. I now go through life dreaming that everyone could see it through my eyes. Living with cancer has shown me what a gift life is, the complexity of it all becomes so simple.

Embracing change

Throughout most of my story, I’ve chosen to share personal aspects of my life to help others come to the same realizations and places I have, but hopefully avoid a lot of suffering along the way. I’ve experienced surgeries, clinical trials, treatment after treatment, finding the “best” doctors. I’ve been labelled palliative at 25 years old old, terminal, metastatic, aggressive, all the things you don’t want to hear. I’ve been confined to a bed, a wheelchair, and at times lost my sense of independence. I lost my voice, my ability to share, and my hope. I never thought I’d get through it.

But we did. Because cancer makes you ADAPT and OVERCOME.

I say ‘we’ because my husband goes through all of this with me, from the very beginning. Since my first diagnosis, he’s been by my side. He’s my voice when I don’t have one, and he’s my biggest supporter when I do. He is my caregiver, my everything. And our loved ones go through this journey just as much as we do. 

I want to share with you a glimpse of what my life looked like a few years ago, when I thought I only had a year to live, what led me HERE today. 

When they first introduced the idea to set up a bed in my living room to improve my quality of life, I thought, “now!? I’m only 25 years old, I’m not putting a hospital bed in my living room, that will never go with my decor!” (priorities, jeeze…).

Remember those simple joys? Small victories? Well THIS was the greatest joy, a godsend, a MASSIVE victory! I could see out a window, have LIFE fluttering around me, I can see my husband cooking in the kitchen, I can see my dogs run around the house, I could go and choose a very pink blanket for my new bed (ha!). I can actually walk to the kitchen and serve myself a drink or snack when I’m feeling well, I can drift off to sleep right in front of my fireplace.

That’s what quality of life is. Those aren’t just words, This is MYlife.

You too will be able to adapt to your new changing situation, overcome your new challenges, and embrace the changes as they come. You just have to remember… your new life is exactly that, a new life. You must explore the beauty it has to show, the joy it has to give, and the blessings it has to offer. Just remember, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to your life. As long as you’re the one who’s smiling at the beginning and end of it!

The most incredible part of this story? I’m 30 now, and after going through all of that, supposedly having a year to live, I’m still here sharing, thriving, and learning more every day. 

I’m no longer confined to a bed, I no longer live in constant fear, I have accepted that I’m living with cancer. THRIVING with terminal cancer. I have continued to adapt and overcome and change my circumstances through hard work and advocacy. My quality of life now is a direct result of the information and research we have put into figuring out how to improve my treatments and symptom management, always taking the chance, and fighting so so so pretty. 

I have learned how to forgive but not forget in order to continue to help others with this cancer, help them not only live but hopefully thrive. The best part? I never once lost 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! I can’t wait to share it with all of you, and hopefully have you share with me. I’m so grateful to be part of an incredible community of fierce thrivers. I look forward to seeing YOUR light, smile, and beauty! 🤍🙏🏼

– Pheo VS Fabulous 

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”

—————————————————-

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

“We have Cancer”

My husband and I often say “we have cancer”. A cancer diagnosis affects everyone involved, your spouse, your kids, parents, your friends, anyone who is a pivotal part of your life.

Anytime we’re in the doctors office we catch ourselves saying “we”, and we will be greeted with odd looks. But that’s the thing, WE do have cancer. It hits home like a bomb, it shakes up all of our worlds. One is physically fighting the disease, the other is fighting in every other way on their behalf.

We fight for one another when the other is down, we are each other’s voice when we don’t have one, and we continue to carry the load whenever we need to for one another. That’s a partnership. That’s a family.

The first instinct that everyone wants to do is help, fix, and act. Everyone gets into a very adrenaline like state the first few months after diagnosis, just going through the motions, trying to hold it together. This is normal.

However, it’s so important to be communicating. My husband and I in the beginning would hide our feelings a lot not to upset each other more. We didn’t even realize we were doing it.

He would be so overwhelmed with the fear of losing me, and I’d be overwhelmed with the thought of losing him. I hear a lot of people go through the same experience, but the issue is we often don’t communicate our fears to one another. This can be challenging for a lot of people.

We end up getting a bit edgy, holding in so many toxic emotions, we need an outlet. We HAVE to talk about it!

It’s important for it at least sometimes be with each other, that way everyone knows how sensitive to be with one another, how patient, and where your mindsets are at.

The thing is with the instinct to act, is that we’re always wanting to jump into motion the moment our loved one is suffering. We want to find a solution, fix their problem. We try to control all the things we can control.

Meanwhile feeling completely helpless, and out of control.

It’s a vicious cycle.

Even after all this time fighting this disease, and knowing it’s better to just listen to someone’s fears and thoughts… whenever my husband is having a tough time or not feeling well, I STILL have the instinct to react and try to mend my his heart, his body, or his mind. I think it’s just in our nature.

So I can only imagine how he feels with me. He has way more restraint than I do though! 🤭

That’s the thing, once we understand that we will ALWAYS have that immediate urge to fix… but first, we must listen! Truly listen. Let the other person talk whenever they’re ready, only when they’re ready. Offer for them to talk about what’s bothering them, ask them..

“do you want to talk about it?” Don’t push too much or ask too many questions. Just be a sounding board. Also, giving a choice is very empowering.

When the person has truly gotten everything off of their chest, in time… we can start introducing helpful solutions, small acts of care, and things that help, but not necessarily FIX… just alleviate some of the pain or pressure they’re holding onto.

This can be by simple things. Like massage, meditating together, taking a walk in the fresh air, setting a time each week to have vent and have an open communication session, anything that works for your rhythm in your household.

It’s so important to remember that when someone is sick, we are ALL feeling it in different ways. Add on the pressure of the pandemic…. and oooo boy, it really is a life altering and uncertain time.

When supporting one another, try to think:

“how would I want someone to respond to ME right now?”

“What would make me feel better in this situation?”

“What kind of support would I appreciate after sharing what I just shared?”

If we are mindful of this, we can offer better support to our partner or family. Anyone who is involved.

If you’re trying to support a friend or a family member (not your partner or someone in the household), the same rules apply. You should consider everyone involved.

So if you’d like to reach out and help, try to make suggestions that take a bit of pressure of everyone.

Whether that be a kind gesture like offering to bring groceries, drive them to an appointment to give the care giver a break, or simply send them a little thoughtful note, letter, book, maybe an uplifting journal, anything to just brighten their day. As we all know, most of us have more bad days than good.. so chances are, you will completely change their day or week with one small gesture of help or kindness.

I will share more soon on how to support a loved one with cancer, but for now I just found it important to remind us all…

WE have cancer.

We ALL need support.

We all need to come together.

WE will get through this!

Comment down below if this was helpful to you 🤍🙏🏼

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 💖

Your Questions…

A few weeks ago I asked you guys to ask me anything, I’m so happy to share with you the answers to your questions!

Watch below 🎬

Like and share!

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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 💖

Zebra or Unicorn 🦄

If you have been in the “rare disease” world with us, you may wonder what the reference is to the zebra.

When you hear hoofbeats, we are trained to think horses, not zebras … 🦓

This means that in a world full of thinkers where the first answer is always to rule out the “obvious” answers first, us “rare” zebras often get misdiagnosed because it’s just too bizarre or too complex to possibly be real. Right? Wrong. We are real, we are rare, but we’re there.

NOW, imagine living in a world where you’ve only JUST started to find ways of settling in becoming a zebra, but now….. you’ve become even more confusing that even that doesn’t fit – Shall we say….. exhausted? Now you must be a unicorn 🦄

As much as I LOVE unicorns, it’s not something I wish to be health wise. However, we don’t always get what we wish for…

Or else I wouldn’t be a continuous medical mystery. A zebra, a unicorn, stomping my hooves as loudly as I can to no avail… A very complicated, extremely complex little unicorn. So desperate to be figured out but constantly misheard, misunderstood, and continuously misdiagnosed.

I was able to begin discussing this journey when I began to regain my mental stamina a few days ago here, thanks to my amazing specialists who are working towards figuring out what I am now referring to as my puzzle 🧩

With so many pieces (symptoms), and crisis’ happening – it’s proved difficult to sort out another compounding diagnosis when already living with such a rare disease.

Does that excuse make it okay for our hooves to be ignored? No. It clouds what is potentially a more potent and dangerous lurking enemy. So, what does one do? Well I’m not going to lie. It’s been a hell of a ride, it’s been isolating, I’ve felt ways I can’t begin or want to describe right now, but what I’m here to say right NOW is that we are still fighting. 

I’ve said it now and I’ll say it again, if you don’t fight for yourself… who’s going to fight for you?

It’s the unfortunate truth.

This is your life. It’s yours to save.

We have come to realize this through a series of challenges I’d prefer to have not had to endure, but change is the only constant so we are now looking ahead to the journey we are choosing to see as a positive one. Because that’s how you get through this, often we talk about ‘fighting it’ but we don’t talk about how to beat it. 

We have to, because to us we see it as an opportunity FOR change, for answers. We just want answers. No matter what they are. Going back to basics and feeling helpless is certainly not the answer.

Going backwards when you have already been robbed of the ability to move forwards is one of the most helpless feelings to have in the world.

We are coming on 3 weeks in the hospital, with the help of my incredible team I am functioning at a much more tolerable level so far – so that I can actually do plenty of testing in order to get these answers. This journey is tough, but we are fighting our hearts out. I hope you will be alongside with us, because I have a feeling we might just need that little extra bit of prayer and pixie dust

🌎✨🌈

Remember that gold standard Gallium-68 super amazing impossible-to-get fancy scan I got in order to get accepted to this clinical trial a while back? Well…

My amazing husband Doctor cupcakes was able to get me in AGAIN directly from the hospital on a day pass to get that super amazing scan today. What would normally take 4-6 weeks, took 48 hours, so a huge huge huge thank you to everyone in Sherbrooke, QC. You guys truly were my angels and we are so grateful for everything you did for my situation. Thank you for understanding and extreme considerations 😭😷

My heart is so full of gratitude, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share that.

Here’s a little glimpse of our radioactive day pass mission, a day in the life of a hospitalized unicorn 🦄 😂

https://youtu.be/AHerMoNa9AY

Pheo VS Fabulous

XOX

I will try & update as much as I can, (on my good days) 😘

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Create your own Fabulous

Instead of running around for last minute gifts, decorating the tree, attending fabulous parties…

The tradition we have manufactured the last three years is driving through snow storms hours away, telling each other everything will be okay, waiting for treatments that will dominate the rest of our year to come… and hoping the magic of Christmas will just somehow make everything better.

Each year I watch the first snow and it’s my symbol of hope…

I imagine that snow falling on me and just washing away everything I’ve been through in the previous year, starting anew.

Each year I wait for Christmas to allow those new beginnings; a new chance for me to heal, be in less pain, for my husband to suffer a little less.

…Back to reality

Like clockwork, my cancer always progresses to its worst state in the months following up to the end of the year, until I can’t take it anymore, and we are forced to take action. Most likely because I’ve done treatment all year long, and it’s my body’s way of saying enough is enough … or hey, why did we stop?

Either way

All of the tests, pain, investigations, right before Christmas.

“Do I really have to travel now? we’re days away!”
“We also need to know what’s wrong with you, and we’re not taking any chances, your condition has been too bad lately”
“I know. It’s just so frustrating how this happens every year”

True. I’ve felt awful as of late. Actually, Awful can’t sum up how I’ve felt.

This year is a little different…

I’ve done a year of (P.R.R.T) treatment that’s made my cancer worse.

That was a hard one. ⬅️

This IS the time to go and figure out what to do, where to go from here, there could be NO options for me, but I simply don’t believe in that 💫🙃

…There’s so many quotes out there

“Create your own happiness”

“Be your own sunshine”…

Well, I say Create your own Fabulous.

There’s ALWAYS something else, the question that always remains… are YOU willing to fight?

The answer is always yes.

The days leading up to my appointment…

I made a choice; my body had been fighting me hard, new chest pains, breathing trouble, my tumors alternating between pain crisis and adrenaline outbursts every hour.

….I was done

Which led me to my choice, do I abandon who I am, use the one opportunity I have to leave my house in weeks and go out looking as shitty as I FEEL?

Why should my outside match my insides?

Do I say F you Pheo and try and feel like my normal self as much as I know how? As much as every part of my body is telling me I can’t, what’s the point, just go like you are, it doesn’t matter.

The ‘normal’ me that brightens up those cold white walls, the me that regardless of the dark cold stormy weather, I bring that sunshine, the me that laughs off anything because I’m ready for everything?!

THAT is MY cancer.

Being prepared for just about anything..

Being fabulous despite the odds

I created.my own.fabulous

Why?

Because morale is everything.

Cancer is still going to be there despite the way I look, but it makes me FEEL a heck of a lot better when I don’t look like I have cancer 💋

So the next time you’re dreading those cold white walls surrounding you, you’re anxious for that inevitable news, you don’t want to get that scan…

  • Don’t take that extra hour of sleep
  • put on that darker shade of lipstick
  • curl your hair
  • throw on a bit of mascara
  • gurrrl contour and bake that face if you feel up to it

Go all out! 😂✨💖

I didn’t forget about my guys!
  • Give yourself a nice shave
  • wear that new dress shirt you were saving
  • gel your hair
  • put on a light (hospital friendly) cologne 😅

Do whatever it is that makes YOU have a bit of extra confidence & less sicky feeling 😉😷❤️

Most importantly, remember….

“Fabulous is your light, your smile, your energy, your positivity, your willfulness, your vitality, passion, excitement, beauty, laugh, and how you share it!” – Pheo VS Fabulous

Are you guys following my new FACEBOOK and INSTAGRAM?! 🙏🏼💖✨💄➡️👤 FB: Link ➡️📸 Insta: Link @mirandasimard

Merry Christmas my loves ❤️

This is Cancer.

How do you tell the ones you love… something you can’t begin to explain yourself”

I moved into my dream home 22 days ago

Twenty two days of contemplation and careful thought of how I was going to share this, or whether or not I would. I’ve always said I would share the good, the bad, and the fab.

I thought I would have so much to celebrate with my move, my clinical trial finishing… so many triumphs.

…But Cancer doesn’t work that way.

I couldn’t write this.

I want you to see what we live through in between treatments, not just during, I want you to see the hope, the pain… the before, middle, the after.

This is why Pheo VS Fabulous exists.

 

 

Please watch the full video 🎥
Pheo VS Fabulous has reached so many people around the world, my dream is it will continue to do so. 🌎 Please keep sharing, keep following, each time you do it’s one more person who is diagnosed sooner, or who finds hope 💫

I never want anyone to have to feel what I feel – Pheo vs Fabulous

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