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.
35 things we wish you knew about having a rare cancer, chronic disease, or rare illness.
Here’s the thing, before I start… I want you to know that I’ve asked hundreds of patients fighting this disease and others to chime in on what we wish you knew. This post is not entirely from my perspective, but it’s all the things I feel.
It’s important to know that we all don’t fit into one neat little box. We all have our own perspectives and things that bother us and things we wish you knew.
This is my effort to put as many of these together and help as many of our friends, family, and support systems understand where we’re coming from living with this disease.
It’s hard enough to live with cancer, chronic illness, or rare disease, but it’s even harder to not be understood.
We know we’re complicated, but we didn’t ask to be this way.
I sincerely hope that this brings you a level of comfort knowing that there are ways of communicating with your loved ones, if you just take the time to understand. Having a rare disease requires knowledge, patience, and a lot of understanding.
You may not always have the right thing to say, but it’s best to just ask.
So, here goes nothing.
1. I wish you knew that I’m in pain every.single.day, even when I don’t show it. It’s always there. Imagine waking up every single morning and every part of you hurting… with no hope of it going away, and every movement you make, it just gets worse throughout the day.
2. I wish you knew that I hate answering “how I’m doing”. I feel like you don’t want a long winded answer, but that’s often all I’ve got. So I’ll often tell you “I’m fine, or okay” just to answer. I wish you’d ask something specific so that I can be honest.
3. I wish you knew I don’t feel “brave or strong”. I didn’t have a choice to wake up with cancer or any co-morbidities. I’m not brave because I have cancer, I’m not strong because I have cancer, I was forced into this life.
4. I wish you knew I felt uncomfortable when you say I’m an inspiration because I have cancer. If I’ve done something to deserve it, and it’s well intentioned, I appreciate it. Actually, I appreciate it regardless. But I just wish it wasn’t such an automatic response to having cancer. Having cancer doesn’t get to all of a sudden make you not a shitty person if you are one 😂 it doesn’t immediately make you an inspiration. At least, we don’t feel that way.
5. I wish you wouldn’t say you’re sorry when I tell you I have cancer. I don’t know how to respond and it makes me uncomfortable. It’s like we’re forced to say “it’s okay”, but… it’s not okay. Please try and be sensitive to speaking to someone with an illness, it’s uncomfortable for all involved but it doesn’t have to be. You can be sorry, it sucks, but maybe ask us more about our disease, open up a dialogue to understand us better. We appreciate that more than being felt sorry for.
6. I wish you knew that not all pheochromocytoma is cancerous, but even when it’s “benign” it’s just as dangerous and often can turn into cancer. The C word is what scares people, but it should be the P word that frightens you more. Pheochromocytoma is the disease we fight. Benign, malignant, it doesn’t matter. It’s one of the scariest diseases out there.
7. I wish people would understand that just because I had surgery to remove the pheochromocytoma tumor, they often do and will come back. We’re never really “done” or cancer free. If it is cancer, we live with it for life. It’s a terminal illness. Despite all the treatments and surgeries we get, it’s a way of managing the disease, not curing it.
8. I wish people understood how many triggers there are with this disease. My tumors literally hate everything. My skin feels like it’s on fire within 30 seconds of sun exposure. I can’t take a hot shower without having an “attack”. I can’t walk far or fast without provoking an attack. I can’t get too excited. I can’t get stressed. I can’t blow dry my hair without being soaked in sweat. I sometimes can’t do the dishes without provoking an attack. It can be something big like exercising or something small like getting dressed, but it can and will happen without any notice. There are certain foods we can’t eat because it’s a trigger. Loud noises. The list goes on, it may be helpful when we tell you this that you do a bit of research yourself to understand us more and what we go through. Maybe start here.
9. I wish you would look up my disease every once and a while before exhausting me. I’m happy to talk about my disease, I’m happy to explain it, but I don’t want to have to repeat myself 1000 times because you refuse to do the research. If you care, you should want to know more.
10. I wish you understood that my cancer is different than other cancers. These tumors are different than any other tumor. They are adrenaline secreting tumors. I wish you understood what impact adrenaline has on the body. It’s debilitating, it’s dangerous, it’s lethal, and can be deadly. People hear “we produce too much adrenaline” and picture a scene from an action movie. No, it’s not fun. We don’t have superpowers, and it doesn’t give us more strength. It’s the opposite. Read here about what having an attack of adrenaline is like.
11. I wish you understood that even if I look perfectly well in photos or even in real life, you should see my insides! It takes many hours to look “normal”. We do it to take the pressure off of ourselves and you, but it doesn’t mean we’re even close to being ok. Many people do this with chronic illnesses, so that they can feel more like themselves. It doesn’t make them any less sick, in pain, or uncomfortable.
12. I wish you knew how uncomfortable I am when you say “well I hope they fix you soon” or “you’ll feel better tomorrow”. These comments can sometimes be belittling to our disease because they can’t “fix” us. We won’t feel better tomorrow. We will never be normal. These are just facts, it’s not negativity. If you don’t know what to say to someone with this disease, try to pick up on their feelings, responding with “wow that must be rough on you” or acknowledging our pain isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t always have to be cheery sunshines.
13. I wish people wouldn’t say “I lost the battle to cancer” or anything along those lines. Cancer didn’t win. Everyone dies. When someone dies of a heart attack, they don’t say “the heart attack won”. Fighting cancer isn’t a choice and shouldn’t be summed up to determine our strength or how well we fought it.
14. I wish you understood that getting a good nights rest or going out to get some fresh air isn’t an option for me sometimes. Yes these things feel good and I hope I can do them more often, but it’s not going to magically make me better. Please understand that this disease is more complicated than even the doctors understand, so no amount of nutrition, exercise, fresh air, will sort us out.
15. I wish you knew how much I just want to live a normal life again.
16. I wish you knew how different I feel and out of place I am.
17. I wish you knew that it will never be normal again.
18. I wish you knew the fear I feel even after the disease is removed, we have to wait in fear as it comes back one day.
19. I wish you wouldn’t avoid me because you feel uncomfortable talking to me. There are so many resources to be able to talk to a friend with a chronic illness, cancer, or any disease. A true friend will never be disappointed in what you said, but we will help you better understand it. We’d rather you learn with us rather than cut us off completely.
20. I wish you knew how much I appreciate when you say “no matter what happens, we will get through this”
21. I wish you knew how much I appreciate when you say “I’ll always be there for you, no matter what happens” and live up to that.
22. I wish that if it’s too hard for you to be there for me, you’d explain it. If you’ve lost someone with cancer and it’s hard on you to relive it, I wish you’d say that. We often blame ourselves when we lose friends gradually and never know why. We beat ourselves up about what we did wrong. We’re incredibly lonely. It’d be nice to have an explanation or try to talk things out, even if it’s difficult.
23. I wish people knew how many comorbidities this disease causes. High blood pressure, heart failure, adrenal insufficiency, chronic pain, kidney disease, bone disease.
24. I wish our doctors would actually SEE the patient in front of them. Understand that we are different. When I get my blood pressure taken and it’s in the “perfect zone” but for ME it’s actually considered high because of the amount of medication I’m on to lower it. Listen! When we tell you what the Pheo does to our bodies and what an attack is, listen! Learn from us. Know that we’re a different breed of disease. Take us seriously, we often know more than the medical staff. Just because we appear to be okay, and don’t fit in your medical mold you’ve created, doesn’t mean we’re not sick! This would prevent a lot of misdiagnosed patients, and speed up the diagnostic process if you’d just LISTEN to us.
25. I wish that you knew behind my smile, there’s so much pain. I’m exhausted, I still have to go on everyday and live my life despite this illness. But I’m tired. Not just take a nap tired, but physically and mentally exhausted from living with something that’s trying to kill me everyday.
26. I wish you knew what living in “constant fight or flight” meant. Never being able to shut off. Always having adrenaline pumping through your veins.
27. I wish you understood that your anxiety is not the same as what my anxiety from this disease feels like. I’m not talking about normal anxiety that anyone can get, I’m talking about chemically induced anxiety panic that is caused by an overflow of hormones in my body. It’s like anxiety on steroids mixed in with impending doom and a dash of dread.
28. I wish you knew how much this disease alters the trajectory of our lives. We can’t plan, we have to live minute to minute. We’re often told were lucky because it’s a slow growing illness and so even if we die, we’ll have plenty of time. Excuse me?!!! The level of ignorance here is just inexcusable.
29. I wish you’d understand that under all of the things I’ve talked about today, I’m still the same person! I’m still here. Treat me that way. I still have hopes, dreams, I still like the same jokes, I still have the same interests. I am not my cancer. I don’t want you to only treat me like I’m “normal” when I look “normal”. I want to be treated normal even when I’m at my sickest, especially when I’m at my sickest!
30. I wish you wouldn’t ask “how are you?” But “is there anything I can do for you?
31. I wish you knew that even after taking 20 different medications, I don’t feel better. They allow me to get up and semi function, but they’re not a cure.
32. I wish you understood there isn’t a cure.
33. I wish you understood that I can’t control my anger or emotions. It’s not me, it’s literally my tumors deciding what mood I’ll be in at that particular moment.
34. I wish I didn’t have to talk about any of this.
35. I wish I never heard the word pheochromocytoma.
I hope this helped get a glimpse into our world, and I hope you can use this as a resource with your friends and family when you want them to understand more.
If there’s anything I missed, or anything YOU want to ask, please leave a comment down below and I’ll do my best. Don’t forget to share
Five years ago, October 10th, I was told I had 1-5 years to live.
I remember sitting there, so full of hate and anger. Thinking to myself, “if they had just listened to me, I wouldn’t be here”
It took me a long time to push past this, and focus on what’s important. Living
We often forget when we’re fighting for our lives, that we have to still live our lives. What are we fighting for? To live. But each day that passes and we forget that, we are missing the opportunity to just enjoy and embrace the moments we are given.
I’ll never forget anymore, what I’m fighting for.
I beat the odds, I am a miracle.
It’s so hard to think about the fact that someone gave me a death sentence, but now all I can see is how I’m so full of hope, more than I’ve ever been.
I’ve learned so much throughout this journey, but what I take away from it the most is…. you HAVE to fight.
Fight with every piece of your heart, your soul, your mind, your body, it takes every part of you to fight this. It can be done, and it can be won. Despite being told you’re living with an incurable illness, and some day you will die, there’s still so many days we are fighting for and can live such a beautiful life if you allow it.
I didn’t get here by rolling over, I have done EVERY possible treatment, clinical trial, diet, physio, I have been challenged so much mentally and physically. I have been poked and prodded, had my dignity ripped away, but I’m here and I’m so happy to say that I’m alive.
Although I have no actual news to report as far as a medical update, (that will come soon)… somehow I just KNOW I’m doing better. My hope reaches so far that I just know how I feel, and that feeling is pretty damn good. Once I get my results, hopefully we will be able to back up that feeling with some actual numbers and a better outcome.
I didn’t get this way by any means of an easy journey, no. I did a surgery that was more like scraping out the innards of a pumpkin, (me being the pumpkin). I did an experimental radiotherapy, called Mibg. I then plunged into another even more experimental therapy called PRRT, I have flirted with chemo, lost most of my hair, been treated palliatively. Adjusted my meds more times than I can count, started new meds, gotten off all my meds. Nearly died a thousand times.
But I’m here to tell you about it, and that’s enough for me. It has to be enough. I’ve made strides I never thought I’d ever be able to make again, like walking again instead of being bound to my wheelchair.
We have to take these small victories and celebrate them!
I’m here to deliver a message of hope, that there is a way of fighting an incurable illness. That in our own way… we can win.
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 🦄 😂
Pheo VS Fabulous 🚨 Coming to you live from the comforts of her 15×25 hospital suite 🏥
It’s incredible when the mental fog begins to clear just a touch and you’re able to begin to make the smallest of revelations.
Such as, did I just type a sentence?
Or spell revelation without going into one of my “coma like states”?
Or the bigger ones…like, it truly has been exactly a year since I fell off the planet. But did you guys really think it was by choice 😐 ?!
Warning: things may get a bit sassy while my brain function is working, I’m not letting this opportunity waste ⚠️
Do you think I would devote my entire personal life to opening up about this disease and then suddenly withdraw that responsibility unless it was for the fact that I was too sick myself? …
I made a promise, a vow if you will, and I HAVE every intention of keeping it: to not let this cancer take my “Fabulous”
….Then, what good is it if there’s no one to share it with? PheoVSFab was started for others like me, and others like me seeking guidance for the ones who SO desperately need it. My greatest devastation over the last year has been losing the ability to communicate, not knowing why, and being so confused all the time that I didn’t know how or where to even begin.
Yes, that’s right, updating a status, sending a text message, menial tasks sent me into a 🆕 full “crisis” mode. Eventually leaving it impossible to do just about anything. Depressing much?
You’re telling me.
I’m just beginning to talk about menial tasks that have to do with blogging, but that was my direct connection with the outside world, also my outlet. I’m not even skimming the surface on how it’s felt to lose further mobility, forget the days of bathing yourself, most recently even the bathroom became a hot date between my husband and I, sometimes even breathing was a chore. When you can no longer sit on your couch, or touch your legs at ALL because you’re in so much pain, when your facial “flushing” is so bad that you feel you’re in an actual oven because your skin literally comes off like an inside out sunburn 🥵 , you start to question WTF IS HAPPENING TO ME!
This isn’t Just MY disease anymore.
This can’t be happening.
This can’t be happening.
This can’t be happening.
This disease, my already very weak body, and what will be known as incredibly sneaky symptoms are responsible for yet another impossibly long road to a complicated diagnosis.
But before I get into any of that..
I just want to share one very important thing, without support we are nothing, and over the years I’ve come to have such a massive family throughout the PHEO VS FAB network. YOU guys have kept us alive, and full of hope.
It has killed me every day to not be able to actively participate in helping others. Without being able to do this, I had never felt so isolated. This isn’t me.
I would never distance myself like this by choice.
So, if you DO know someone who’s sick, do everything you can to adapt to them, with them, and for them. Even if it seems they don’t want to, or can’t, they do. They maybe can’t tell you, like literally physically cannot tell you, but they need you. Everybody needs someone. No one can do this alone.
Most importantly, never ever ever ever, give up hope. No matter how bad it gets. Hope is one of the scariest things to have – but it’s the only thing worth holding onto, and when everyone & everything else is gone, it will be the only thing you have left.
Hope is something no one can take away from you. Not even cancer.
This disease can change your sight, your mental capacity, your ability to walk, it can put you into so much pain you can no longer move, it will even change who you are as a human being via a shit load of foreign hormones everyday that don’t belong, but it can’t change deep down who you are in your soul. Who I will always be is fabulous – Broken, scarred, bruised, but fab AF and ready to say F you to whatever this new chapter is going to be.
That’s the thing when you come after a fighter, eventually they WILL find a way to fight back.
Although we are still very early days and don’t have answers just yet — the fact that I am finally in my “super hospital” surrounded by my angels, being taken care of by my specialists, being HEARD, contributing, they’ve already given me the ability to write this blog post.
I’ve been in the hospital now (2018/11/30) for 2 weeks and we are slowly on a road to a very complex and delicate recovery, yet also a diagnosis progress.
Yes, you heard me. A diagnosis. What? Don’t you already have 17 diseases some may ask?
*insert laughter attempt here*
I thought I had enough as well.
WELL Apparently not.
This is what I’ve been getting at.
Some may be thinking, how come no one helped sooner?
WELCOME TO THE DANGERS OF BEING RARE
I have never been sent home so many times to die in my life.
That part was a little depressing.
One year, a lot of Dejavu, endless suffering pain, new fun attacks and a long- but -urgent -semi -coherent drive to Montreal in the end of it all ➡️ …..
…. We are now safe in the Montreal hospital, where they are amazing, and actually treat their patients 🧩
Thanks to MY own personal doctor cupcakes. My Superman. Who I think hasn’t slept in the last year in order to keep me alive and also smiling every day despite the screaming in between.
If you’re going through something similar, whether you’re in early stages of diagnosis, newly diagnosed, or like me, being diagnosed again, and again, and AGAIN.. remember this one thing – no matter how difficult, or how unexpected, eventually… things WILL come together, and when they do, only YOU have the ability to decide what you make of the rest of your story.
Through my suffering I’ve been able to reach out into so many people’s hearts and lives:
Through my pain I’ve been able to see humanity like you wouldn’t believe. Through all of the trial and tortures I’ve been able to treasure other people’s proper diagnosis and the removal of suffering.
Through the tears I’ve laughed harder than I’ve cried, and seen more beauty in darkness than I can ever describe. There is so much in the world that is to be discovered through these miracles, we just have to be mindful.
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?
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.
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?!
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.
Those of us with terminal cancer have the unremarkable pleasure of figuring out how to live while we are dying; yet lately, I’ve had to put all of my focus into figuring out how to not feel as though I am dying while living.
Since I was diagnosed with metastatic pheochromocytoma a little over a year ago, there have been very few times I’ve felt out of control. Despite the grim future, the poor prognosis, the “palliative” care options, the complicated nature of the disease, I have kept myself distracted by always having a plan. I felt that if I kept ahead of everything, and stayed engrossed in the process, I wouldn’t feel victimized by the illness. I also wouldn’t be able to stop and slow down and really “feel” much of anything. I chose the path of resistance, I thought that by doing this, I would somehow be able to fight this disease.
We don’t ‘fight’ cancer, we live with cancer.
We fight for our lives, we fight to be able to smile, we fight to choke back the tears that threaten to come pouring out at any moment, we fight for the ability to wake up and maintain the impossible level of positivity we possessed when we started.
We fight for the ability to not scream when someone asks us if we are okay, how we are doing, and not break down in that moment because we are unsure whether to answer the way we think we should or just answer honestly.
We fight for the patience to explain ourselves over and over and over again to people when they ask what we have, because our disease is so complex, and so rare, one cannot begin to comprehend we cannot simply answer by saying _______ cancer… because it’s far too complicated, and it deserves awareness, we deserve awareness.
We fight for the strength to continue to cope with everything we are facing so that we can muster up the strength to continue to ‘live with’ whatever you want to call this, cancer.
In the beginning of my diagnosis, I still felt closer to my regular self. I could fake it a little more, it was easier to play the part of ‘normal’, and I could even take part in my own denial. There is always a multi level plan when it comes to cancer, mine went something like this: first we do surgery to remove as much cancer and infected organs possible, then we will do MIBG radioactive therapy to try and kill some of the cancer we cannot remove during surgery, and then later down the line when that is no longer an option and there’s nothing left that we can do, we essentially do chemotherapy and then typically people die. Now mind you every case is individual, that’s why the textbook 1-5 year prognosis is debatable. Some people can live longer, depending on their condition.
See, for the last year and a little while… I’ve had something to say “okay, this is next”, except now that the ‘multi level plan’ is dwindling away, I am feeling a bit like… okay, “what now?”
The fact of the matter is, there has to come a time when I have to start accepting the nature of my illness. I think that I have finally started to ‘feel’ the gravity of my situation vs trying to manage, plan, and control. Over a year has flew by, I’ve already had surgery, I’ve already done MIBG, and of course without these, I’d be dead by now, but that doesn’t mean I feel any better. In fact, my quality of life has gotten significantly worse. I feel very grateful that I am alive, but I still wish the life I have left could be spent living.
That’s the problem with cancer, every single step designed to treat you… will ultimately feel like it’s harming you in ten ways to help you in just one.
Living with death hanging over me constantly, while still trying to smile and stay positive is incredibly difficult. So far I have managed to do so by remaining in the moment, focusing on what’s happening right now. Although I will always hang on to my positivity, because it’s who I am, I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that this is becoming more and more difficult for me.
When you are given a time limit, you think… I’m going to do all of these amazing, incredible things. I will see the world, I will fulfill my wildest dreams, I will check off all of the things on my bucket list. Well what if you had a time limit, and you weren’t even able to do the simplest of things, how can I possibly fulfill my wildest dreams if I cannot even take a shower or climb a fight of stairs in my own home? I don’t want to ever utter those words, it’s not fair, but it’s not fair. You picture yourself being able to at least do what you wish with the time you have left, should you be in this situation, but often it’s so far from that movie-like fantasy. Forget my wildest dreams, at this point… I crave normal, I yearn for normalcy. I just wish for the remainder of my time to be spent with the ability to be normal, to carry out normal tasks, to be able to contribute and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment again.
I resent the fact that I am finally at the stage where I feel discomfort when someone speaks about something in the future, I feel a twinge of uncertainty suddenly. I just want to enjoy the time that I have, but I don’t know how to do that while I am so ill and in pain. I want relief, I have been enduring more and more pain in search of relief… only to find more pain.
All I can think about lately is a special Miranda friendly dream home tucked away in the woods, designed for peace and serenity… with NO STAIRS!, surrounded by nothing but the sound of nature, a porch with a nice cozy chair that I can sip hot tea and just sit and relax… that way if I continue to be able to do nothing, at least nothing could be stress free and fabulous…
I keep being told it will be worse before there’s a chance of it getting better… I’ve had quite a bit of proof of the first portion of this statement, now I will have to practice my patience and good faith for the second.
MIBG, NOT my favorite treatment.
So far we have not gotten along so well you could say… I’ve been meaning to update everyone since my last appointment and share what I know so far. Except I really haven’t been well, and I had a pretty big dose of reality lately.
As much as I like to share when things are on a positive note … Well, the reality is, living with this disease is often dark and all consuming – although I AM bright and try to find the good in everything despite this constant torment, there are times when I must be candid and speak through my pain and suffering. I’ve actually been telling myself, “I’ll wait until I feel better to update, I’ll wait until I have something good to share” until I realized… That isn’t how MY life works, I wish I had the luxury of blocking out all of the bad and fast forward until I had something good to hear, or skip over all of the parts where I suffer and wait until I feel better…
I also know that nobody else expects that of me, so here I am, sharing the in between with you, I may even throw in an f bomb if you’re lucky. That’s how angry my pheos are, yes I’m blaming any profanity on the tumors, they’re really being assholes. MIBG has got them all kinds of angry… Let me just tell you. Ok, where do I start?
So it’s been 22 days since I had MIBG radioactive iodine injected into my blood stream, 22 days of radioactive pheo cancer hell, 22 days of worsening symptoms, and every day is a new adventure. Rather than get better, I get worse. See how fun that is? I thought the idea was that you get better as the days went on, most people do, NOPE. My symptoms get stronger, more aggressive each day, it’s super awesome. I like the spontaneity and danger of it all I guess, who wants to wake up and be normal for a day? How boring. (I would also like to be excused from any and all sarcasm, I’m going to blame the excess of Catecholamines (adrenaline) being made by my angry tumors, thereby making me very sarcastic… I think too much epinephrine and norepinephrine makes people very sarcastic) Science. YES! Science.
We went to my last appointment with some expectations and no expectations: I’ll explain.
Some expectations meaning… We thought we were going in to do a day of tests, and meet with my pheo Doctor, and have an idea of how the treatment was working so far. Since I was doing another MIBG scan, 2 week blood work, we were under the impression that we would be seeing how the treatment was taking.
What I meant about having no expectations? Well, I didn’t want to get my hopes up, so when nuclear medicine told me I would be having a MIBG scan 2 weeks after my treatment to see how I was doing, I didn’t want to get too excited about results, so I remained neutral, and said to myself “I’m going to go in with no expectations, that way I can’t be disappointed”
It was the first time I had left the house since treatment, it was an incredibly hard day. We drove out normal 3 hours to the hospital. The scan was long, painful, with the way I feel it’s so hard to do just about anything…Being scanned for 2 hours is not ideal, Laying with my arms above my head for 52 of those minutes isn’t at the top of my list. Then I gave blood, and then I waited to see my doctor to discuss the results of my blood, and maybe the scan.
We then saw my doctor, and at this point we realized there was a misunderstanding, the scan wasn’t being done to see how the treatment was working. It was actually being done to take advantage of how much MIBG radiation was in my body, and the MIBG scan was being done at this time to find any MORE cancer that’s potentially in my body that otherwise would not be picked up normally in regular circumstances with trace amounts of MIBG. NOT what I was expecting…. Good thing I had no expectations LOL. We went from thinking we would hear how the treatment was working, to hearing they were looking for MORE cancer.. So, not in any rush for those results. Moving on!
So once we got that misunderstanding out of the way, we then of course asked when it would be that we would find out if the treatment was working or not, since it was clearly not now. It turns out it won’t be for a while, it’s a long process, a few months. We will revisit this in a couple months, maybe at that point we will start having an idea if the treatment is lessening the output of adrenaline the tumors are having.
The main priority over the next few months is just constant monitoring of all of the other complications that could potentially happen from the treatment itself, and making sure my bone marrow doesn’t deplete, I don’t get any infections, my tumors don’t kill me from all the adrenaline they are producing, and we control all of the worsening symptoms and side effects being caused. Easy peasy.
It’s a long process, I will be feeling like this for a long while. I knew that, but it’s hard to know what to expect until you’re in the situation. Surgeries are the most difficult things I’ve had to endure, but I’ve known what to expect once they’re done, this is so different, because not only is every day a surprise … I also can’t know if it’s even worth doing in the end.
It seems like every couple days we are increasing all of my medications to try and control my vitals, to keep me out of the hospital, and despite these efforts… They’re still out of control. I literally have left the house once since I have been back, the stairs are a danger zone, getting up too quickly is a danger, going to the bathroom is a danger, showering is a HUGE danger, breathing too hard is a danger.
It’s not as if I am doing anything at all to provoke these episodes, I cannot cut down my activity level any further… Existing is and breathing is all that is left lol. When you are told to stop showering, because it is a danger to your health, it is quite frustrating.
I can be sitting in bed doing nothing at all, and when these new “MIBG spikes” is what I’m calling them – happen, it feels like my heart is being dredged in cement suddenly, and it takes everything it has to beat… It hurts so much, each beat is accompanied by a very unique pain, and my head is filled with pressure, so much that my eyes feel like they’re going to pop out of my face, my chest is filled with pain, and it feels like I am having a heart attack. This lasts for a few minutes, and then I’m so very fatigued… And nauseous, I feel I could sleep forever. Except then I am plagued with insomnia later at night. I’ve had plenty of pheo attacks, I still do, except this is above and beyond those, it’s the effect of my blood pressure sky rocketing while my tumors release a dangerous amount of catecholamines from the MIBG treatment. The problem is that … my medication continues to be increased, which should lower this, except this continues to actually go higher and higher, NOT supposed to happen. So I will continue to do nothing, relax, and just endure this vicious assault MIBG has on my body, because what choice do I have? It’s scary knowing that every time this happens, thinking about the damage it has on my body, I try not to think about those parts, I try to remain naive to that, you can only do that for so long though.
I will continue to be closely monitored, AND I decided while writing this…. The good I am taking out of this so far, is … My bone marrow is good so far!!! (YAY) for strong marrow results, that’s good right? SEE, I knew I’d find a positive in there, f*ck you pheo. I also found an f bomb, HA. I will continue to go every 2 weeks to do blood, make sure I’m alive, check my cell counts, make sure my thyroid is functioning… And all of these other great and scary things. SO MANY COMPLICATED FUN PUZZLES! So….. Let’s hope I can stay out of the hospital between then, yes?! Today was A SUPER CLOSE CALL, crisis level was high in the Simard house, Doctor Serge to the rescue as usual, formally known from now on as doctor cupcakes (lol) – when in doubt… Just prescribe cupcakes. Words to live by
Hm what else…. Oh! The taste of eating batteries has calmed down a bit also, that has been a welcome change! It’s not quite as strong. Yes yes more good news! See, as I continue, I find more good. So yes even though the adrenaline, heart, blood pressure, vital elevation attack side of things are worsening …. The taste of batteries has decreased and my blood work was okay so far, SOOOOO there’s a bit of a bright side. Now we just have to make it through the next 6 months or so of this, and we are smooth sailing.
The last time I put on makeup was Christmas, a random thought I know, but it is strange not physically being able to do anything.. Especially things that were once just an everyday routine for me, now they are a “luxury” Now since I am barely allowed to shower – or closely monitored when doing so because it is my most dangerous activity, (you should see the calories my Fitbit claims I burn just by breathing) 😂 I’m gonna get really crazy and say… I really would love to be able to be normal and plan a vacation, or EVEN just go out for dinner one night, or actually just do anything at all.. At this point I’d like to just be able to walk up or down the stairs without my body imploding. I would like to be able to go a day without my body attacking itself while doing nothing. So I will say this, I’d like to be able to soon be well enough to just .. Have a day where I can feel good enough to just leave the house, change my surroundings, and feel like my normal fabulous self for even just a few hours. This is me being realistic with my expectations, I will find a way to be FAB… I always do 😉💋
Day 22, I pray this disease will become a little more manageable – because nobody should have to fight this hard.
I promise to update as my body allows, but for now…. It is tired xox