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 

I have news …

Five years ago I was told I had 1-5 years to live. I sat in a white office with the same diabetes posters and bland medical facts I had looked at several times, and contemplated how angry I was. Angry because had I not been so ‘rare’, something might be different. Perhaps someone might have listened to me, instead of blaming my symptoms on anxiety. This was the worst day of my life.

If someone had just listened to me while I complained of symptoms for years, I would not be sitting here listening to how I had 18 tumors that metastasized all over my organs, and were now killing me at an aggressive rate.

I left the office that day SO angry, but that anger turned into determination. The fiercest determination I could have ever felt, I was not going to die because I wasn’t heard.

I would be heard.

For the last five years, I’ve been heard. I may have suffered along the way, I may have had to do every form of treatment possible, but I’ve been heard.

Not accepting my fate was one of the best decisions I could have made, even after countless disappointments and setbacks, despite being told again and again mountains of bad news, I didn’t give up.

We didn’t give up.

I have news …

 

Today I sat in a white office, waiting to see my oncologist to hear an update of my cancer progression. For the first time in the last five years, I held onto the hope I felt countless times, and waited for news.

It’s always bad news …

 

Not this time.

Today, for the first time since my diagnosis, I was told I was stable.

Stable

There’s no cure for the cancer I have, not at this stage. I was given palliative care, and supposed to await death. I was sent away to die at 24 years old.

I didn’t accept that, I fought. Hard.

Now I’m stable!!! DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS?

Stable means that for now I don’t have to continue treatment, I can take a break. Stable means I don’t have to go do any more scans for 6 whole months, 6 months! Stable means I can be in less pain, it means less attacks.

It means hope...

I’m writing this with tears in my eyes, because when I started this journey I just wanted to make a difference in as many peoples lives possible. To prevent suffering like mine. Today I feel that I can finally GIVE hope, the hope I’ve been clinging to so hard for the last few years.

Many of you have followed my journey from the beginning, clinging onto that hope just as hard. I’m finally able to tell you that I have good news, and it feels incredible.

If you’re reading this and you’re going through treatment, if you’re in pain, if you’re suffering, if you’ve just received your diagnosis, wherever you are in your journey… just know that I’ve been there.

Now I’m here.

It’s an amazing thing.

My life will never be normal, and I’m certainly not cured, but this is the first time I can say that I’m able to breathe a little. I don’t have to plan my life around what treatment is next, wondering if it will work, or what side effects it will have. I can just live. For now, I can breathe again.

If you’d like to see more of my journey, and learn about what treatments I’ve done… take a look around my blog. My most recent treatment plan was PRRT, although scary, it definitely made a difference in my condition.

Not giving up saved my life, being heard by the best of doctors for this condition… changed everything.

Never, ever, give up.

Hope is the hardest thing to have, but it’s worth it.

Pheo VS Fabulous 💖

Facebook & instagram: @pheovsfabulous

And we leave for round 3 – PRRT

After having said all I have to say in my last Post, gotten that off my chest… everything I’ve been feeling over the past few days…

we are here. At the hospital that will give me my third round of my clinical trial – PRRT 

We travelled yesterday several hours into the night to eventually arrive to the hospital that will eventually administer the experimental liquids that maybe or maybe will not help me diminish some of this pain I’ve been feeling. Maybe it will do nothing. Perhaps it will make me worse. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I was absolutely terrified the last few days, thinking about just driving here and adding to my state of pain, and then actually having to endure treatment?! HA!

of course then having to even consider the next few months…. ugh, my worsening body, and the NEXT round. I just can’t.

I’m not one to cry but it hurts so much lately, kidney stones, complications, the attacks, everything seems to compile at once and just want to break you down.

💊💉🏥😷😭

Well I am broken, but I’m still going to take whatever pieces of me are left and fight this awful cancer and get this Treatment done, that’s why they call it ROUND 3 – they’re throwing me in the ring with some help… well i always win. I always win. I always win. 

🙏🏼👊🏼

To my person,
my eyes reflect the longing for the moments we should have had together and will never see, but love for the time spent together everyday, yet I feel such pain when you cherish the simplicity in our mundane routine, and even more pain when I know that you feel everything I feel.

I love you more than words can ever share, and I wish to go with you as many places as we were ever intended to go, with me in a state where I can enjoy it – this can’t be it. This pain cannot be it.

But if it is… my gift to you is that you were the only one who truly saw what this disease did to me throughout this whole time. The relentless pain of this 24/7 psychological and physical warfare, you’re my number one first. Before anything else, you’re the one who I fight for and dig deep to find my last smile for each time, because you’re the one who’s always there making me laugh.

So if it ends up that this it, things don’t go our way and I’m still in so much pain – just know that I will dig deep and find my smile for you baby.

like you say… we’re going through something so beautiful, when do you ever get to experience this?
💞✨🙏🏼

To my beautiful wife,
We have done allot…
But I had so much more I would of loved to do. Just spending time with you is allready a gift. And one day we will do lots. So let’s go get you in to shape. Quebec here we come. I am bringing you my most precious diamond it’s a bit of a diamond in the rough health wise so please polish it up verry well so I can take her all around the world and show how priceless she is.
💗💗💗

I love you baby!!!

PHEO VS FABULOUS

 

Facetune

I really need your help…Rare Disease Day

I’m dying

but you already knew that – I just had to grab your attention

The number one complaint you will hear from patients who suffered from being misdiagnosed or being undiagnosed is that nobody listened to them

Why?

Because they were “too rare” 

These are the people who then had to hear these words, the diagnosis that shattered their entire world… Just much too late for it to count …

There’s no cure, we can only manage the symptoms and pain ”

“With the limited information we have.. People live for about 1-5 years” 

“it’s 1 in 5 million once it spreads, I’ve never seen it personally, you’re very rare!” 



It’s Rare Disease Day

I thought that I would offer a different perspective – one that could explain what this day means better than anyone, and why it’s so important to share this message.

Today is rare disease day, they call them zebras. 
Zebras are the last diseases that doctors look for. The obvious ones are called Horses, those are the ones the Doctors are used too. So they get to cure those on time.

I have a Zebra at home so it’s the one the doctors didn’t catch in time. She is my beautiful wife 26 years old she is what we call paleative.

My wish is that the doctors would of listened when she was telling them that her illness was back and did proper testing instead of blaming it on anxiety, it would of been treatable she would of had 1 thumor instead of 16 impossible to treat.

So please doctors I beg you to listen to your Zebras when they say they know their illness is back and don’t look at the ‘Horse’ if they are Zebras. Continue on treating them like Zebras.

If you have a Zebra in your family fight for them don’t let the doctors see them as Horses.

I’m very happy of how I’ve taken care of you since you were diagnosed butt I really regret the way I did not react before. If I would of known better it would of been different. I know it’s not just my fault but I still carry with me a lot of blame, I always think if I had known more back then I would have fought harder for you, if I just would have known there were more tests, I trusted in them and I shouldn’t have. I would have never taken no for an answer, we just didn’t know what more to do. We didn’t know what to research for, we didn’t know we had to. And I’m so Sorry baby😪

Now we are doing everything we didn’t know how to do back then, and it’s helping others. I’m so proud of you. You will help so many other people not feel the way we did that day. I love you so much!!

Thank you for reading!!!

This is what it’s all about, to hopefully help rare diseases like mine (pheochromocytoma) cancer become less of an unknown disease to all involved. Eventually making these misdiagnoses, and undiagnosed patients less of a problem.

Help us become less rare.

Help keep sharing the information. 

Every day I struggle through my pain to write any little detail so that there will finally be information available – any information available to others about this rare disease. Explain what it is to participate in treatments, procedures, and rare trials real time…I patiently repeat myself as I explain what pheochromocytoma is over and over again to anyone and everyone.

All I ask is that you share my message further, just SHARE!

I have one common goal in mind… help make this disease less painful for the next person. Make this disease less of a struggle for the next family, less of a mystery for the next patient, more information available to the next medical team, and hopefully…

Whatever they can do to give us with more time, and better quality of life.

I know there’s no cure, but it would be really nice to not suffer so much while we’re waiting.

There’s one single day for thousands of rare diseases to become less rare and get the awareness, funding, and exposure they are looking for – all crammed into one 24 hour period. Why is that? 


Are we less important than someone who has a different disease? Am I dying any differently? 

This is why I need your help, today and everyday… but ESPECIALLY today, let’s make today count for all of us zebras.

Let’s make our February 28th 2017 Rare Disease Day worth it!

 img_4599


Share to become less rare !

Pheo VS Fabulous

#pheovsfabulous

 

 

 

 

 

I am rare – Rare Disease Day

Although I would like to think that I use every day as an opportunity to make this disease a little more exposed, february 29th 2016 is rare disease day.

A day to remind the world that although rare… diseases like mine do in fact exist, and because they are rare, they don’t get any attention, and as a result – we suffer.

We suffer through misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, and lack of information when dealing with our rare conditions. We suffer through painful surgeries, lack of treatment options, and invasive trials, with no cure in the end. We suffer in silence.

February 29th is our day to make our voices heard, help me get a little bit louder.

I have pheochromocytoma cancer, adrenal insufficiency, I’m 25 years old, and I am rare.

Rare disease day, 2016

#mirandastrong #pheochromocytoma #netcancer #ai #zebra #rarediseaseday #pheovsfabulous

image

There’s always a reason to smile

With so many awful things to worry about, feel, and experience… Cancer gives you two options: succumb to it’s misery and pain, and let yourself be one with it physically and mentally, or… Allow yourself to feel the inevitable pain and misery, be honest about the trials it imposes upon your life, and still find a reason to smile every single day… because let’s put this differently, with so many awful things to worry about, why NOT smile?

If you are still able to see the beauty amongst all that pain, that is a smile worth having.

It’s been 16 days since I did MIBG radioactive therapy (read link here) – It is definitely still an imposition, and I certainly can go on and on about my struggles, but instead I’m just going to focus on today – with no expectations, and just keep smiling my way through it for now.

Today I will get a look at how my body is performing after my high dose of MIBG radioactive therapy, and make sure I’m not in any imminent danger, we like knowing I’m safe and sound and my tumors aren’t going to do anything sneaky. You never know… Since the surprise attack we initiated on them, they can be very vindictive.

So happy world cancer day my friends ✌🏼️💜

Smile & Stay Fab

pheo VS fabulous 💖

#mirandastrong

#pheovsfabulous

Instagram: @mirandasimard

image