The grief process…

Someone recently asked me how I deal with the anger that comes with being dismissed for so long with rare disease.

So you just got your diagnosis. It’s hard to know how to feel, right? Thankful that you have answers? Angry that countless times you were told it was in your head? That you couldn’t POSSIBLY have that, only to have EXACTLY that..

Pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma are considered a very rare disease. The diagnostic process is a bit different for rare disease patients, and it comes with a different set of emotions when the diagnosis is finally delivered.

I’m going to talk a little bit about how I personally cope with the emotions that come from diagnosis, and what I do with the anger that comes along with it.

Of course no one wants to be sick, but with the untreated symptoms wreaking havoc on your body… honestly, by that time we are often praying for a diagnosis. Without a diagnosis, there’s no opportunity to heal, to take control back. To do something! It’s a strange dynamic, praying to be told you’re sick. Then the moment it’s confirmed.. we will give anything to be told we’re ‘fine’ again.

My first diagnosis came as a complete shock, I was 19, I’d understandably never heard of pheochromocytoma before. I never actually thought I had a 1 in a million tumor, not once did that run through my mind. I just thought I was just having sporadic attacks that made me feel like I was going to die every day. I was also relieved. I was relieved that I didn’t have to argue anymore, to prove myself to anyone. I was finally going to be able to take control over my body, and get treated. Or so I thought…

My second diagnosis was different, it’d been 4 years since my first Pheo, and I’d never been symptom free. I still dealt with the daily attacks from the adrenaline, and was being told that I was fine all over again. It was like I was stuck in a time warp that would repeat itself every day for years. I was continuously being convinced that I was ‘just’ anxious, that my blood pressure machine was wrong, my blood sugar is probably just low, etc. I heard it all. I still hear these things every day from people around the world.

My second diagnosis was a different experience, because I knew I had the disease, I knew exactly what it was, I just needed the proof. And then by the time I got proof, it was considered terminal. I was now terminally ill at 24 years old. Tough pill to swallow. How am I supposed to feel this time?

There’s no right or wrong feeling. The first time- I felt shock and then the fear of uncertainty quickly set in.

What will my future look like? Will I be able to go back to work? Will I have a normal love life? Will I always be in pain? Am I going to constantly have to be worried about it coming back? Am I going to be treated differently? Do I want to be treated differently? Am I different?

The second time- all I felt was numb, and then anger set in. I was so angry. My husband was angry. We were outraged that this could be able to happen, only… I’d find out later that it happens more than I think

I think I can confidently say I hear at least 1 person per DAY that is going through this. With this specific disease. This incredibly rare disease. It’s been six years since my diagnosis, so that’s a lot of people.

I’m generally a very happy, positive, bubbly-type chatty person. I don’t like feeling so negatively for extended periods of time. Holding onto anger. But I also know now that it’s important to acknowledge your feelings, so that you can work through them. Toxic positivity isn’t a better solution, being positive and hopeful needs to come from a place of true belief. That way the negative emotions don’t become pent up little balls of anger that burst at any given random time.

I initially channeled my anger into taking my control back, my plan? Getting a new medical team. One that would hear me, and be specialized. I needed a miracle team. I felt like if I could regain a sense of control.. I’d be able to feel different. I didn’t know what emotion I was looking for, I just needed to get past anger. I didn’t realize that I’d be holding onto that toxic feeling for longer than I’d like to admit.

It’s similar to the process of grief, you’re grieving your old life, your sense of normalcy, your old self. The ability to do mundane tasks, to relate to others in your circle, in your age group, the feeling of not knowing the importance and impact of living. It’s a hard dynamic for me because I was always so young, and I felt cheated out of a lot of opportunities I KNEW I would be amazing at. We all have things to grieve, it needs to be done.

So let’s talk more about how I regained that control. 48 hours after my diagnosis, I had arranged to see a new specialist, a whole new team. I knew I needed the best, I was 24 and given a poor prognosis. Honestly? I was dying, and they weren’t shy about telling me so. You don’t mess around when it comes to your health, you do anything and everything to change your circumstances.

Securing this new team… it made me feel I had purpose, that I was capable, I felt proud. These emotions are a lot better than anger, am I right?

As I rebuilt trust with these new doctors, fragments of anger would slowly chip away. My fear of not being heard, was slowly diminishing. Time. It takes time.

But what if we don’t have time? I’m terminal, I don’t have time to go through this long process.

Terminal illness isn’t a ticking time clock, it FEELS like that at the beginning… believe me. But I am here to remind you, eventually, with this precious time, your mindset changes.

I decided I needed an outlet for the fear, anger, and acceptance I so badly needed.

That’s when I started my blog, as a way of channeling these feelings into something good. Something with purpose. I wanted to know my experience meant something. I wanted my diagnosis to be an example for health care practitioners around the world. I wanted my story to be told to EVERY single pheochromocytoma patient.

I wanted my words to live on forever knowing they were making a difference.

Channeling your fear and anger into helping yourself? That’s a beautiful feeling.

Channeling fear and anger into helping someone else? That is when those fragments become whole again.

But let’s back up, I’m not saying everyone has to start a blog. What I am saying is that it’s important to get your feelings OUT, write them down somehow. Whether that be a journal, a support group, a diary, or a video blog. Even if you just talk to your camera and never share it! Whatever you feel comfortable with, it’s important to let your story be heard. Even if it’s just for you, this type of therapeutic action is something that for me, changed my life.

I’ve recommended different types of journals, diaries, gratitude practice, all different sorts of ways of expressing feelings to many people over the years: I’ve never heard someone say it didn’t help them in some small way.

Here’s the hard part: forgiveness. Eventually, down the road… I forgave everyone who I was still holding onto anger towards. This is NOT an easy step, I won’t sugar coat it. To get to this point, it’s a lot of work. Self discovery, trauma healing, mental health practices, growth. However, actually doing it? Meaning it?

It’s so unbelievably freeing.

I know I probably don’t need to remind anyone of this, but forgiveness is not for the other person. It’s for YOU. It’s so that you’re not suffering with those toxic feelings all your life, those fragments that are making you feel broken, while they are out in the world not even giving it a thought. You don’t have to personally forgive them, you do it however you want to. Whatever makes you feel safe.

It can be through prayer, you can again write it down, or just sit alone with yourself and say it aloud. You can role play with someone you trust.

I personally did just that, all of the ways. I had a lot to get off my chest, a lot of years of trauma and forgiveness. I only recently got to this step, after 6 years. Everyone’s time line is different, and that’s okay. Even if you decide, “no, I can’t possibly forgive someone who did this to me”

That’s okay too.

This is YOUR healing process, and you do with it what you decide. I can only let you know what I did, and what helped me. Made me feel whole again.

I’ve had a lot of people come to me and say “I could never do that”. I’m with you, I’ve been there. I said that repeatedly in the beginning, then it shifted to “one day, I think I’ll be ready” and then one day, I knew I was

So as you can see, it takes time, no one situation is a one size fits all. However we are all still very similar, and much closer than you think. That’s what being part of a community is. No matter what type of diagnosis you’re receiving, it’s going to change your life. It doesn’t have to change you, the person you are inside.

Your ‘fabulous’…

“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

I’d like to send out a personal acknowledgement to everyone surviving and thriving today. Being national cancer survivors day, I thought this would be the perfect time to share this incredibly important article.

When people hear cancer survivor, they think past tense, someone who’s ‘beat’ cancer and is alive today.

A survivor is someone who’s been diagnosed, actively in treatment, in remission, and someone like me, who’s a mix of all of the above. Someone who’s surviving every day, never having the time where they can say it’s in their past. But they can say –

I’m a survivor

Happy survivors day zebras 🤍🦓

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

Beating the odds

  • 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.

I’m here to tell you that I’m still fabulous, despite the odds.

Pheo VS Fabulous

Remedy for the Rare – MIBG

Well this is awkward… I think it’s been 12.. days, I don’t even know quite honestly, I’m completely disconnected from the world right now.

I kind of left all of you hanging, I apologize for my absence. I was just having MIBG radiotherapy, no big deal, my tumours haven’t been very happy with me that I turned on them again, and my body doesn’t like that I injected it with a radioactive foreign substance that seems to be making it feel all sorts of nonsense. Basically we’re in a fight, or rather a war, my body and I, and my tumours, I think they may have even joined forces and are ganging up on me it seems… because their wrath, WELL, excuse me… it’s not something I was quite prepared for, even in my best attempt: MIBG you can read here how prepared I thought I was (ha!)

You’re never quite prepared for the level of rare you experience when having a treatment administered into your body that could have so many different outcomes. It’s not as if it’s done every day, you are unique to to the medical field, and it’s you who will keep everyone on edge for the next two hours. You are no longer rare, you are literally a spectacle, a performance of medical fascination that is mixed with a nervous anticipation, and an uncertainty that can only be eased with time… and patience.

It’s a good thing I like to be centre stage 😉

image12

It may be intimidating for some to have 10-15 physicians watch as the radioactive solution enters into your blood stream, watching from behind a special radioactive barrier. (As shown above) in the room with me was… my radioactive solution dripping into my blood stream, my IV, my blood pressure machine timed perfectly to measure my vitals every 15 minutes, my  second IV for fluids, maybe some other gadgets… like my laptop, where I tried to watch saved by the bell and ignore the commotion of what was happening to me, but other than that I was completely isolated of course. If I didn’t have 10-15 of the best and caring physicians in the entire world watching over me through my radioactive shield, maybe I would have had a little more concern… but throughout the administration, I felt rather peaceful. I was okay with everything happening, and I love my nuclear medicine team, that kind of helps. I knew that if something were to suddenly go wrong, they’d come running, and I’d be in expert hands… so there’s that. The administration of the liquid was pretty uneventful, we all kind of thought I was going to implode or something, I was in pain and had to urinate REALLY quite badly… but other than that, it went rather well. I showed up at the hospital for 8:30 – treatment was late being administered around 3:30 and finished around 5:30pm on the 20th of January.

Part 1 – Success ! 

Easy – what were we worried about? This is nothin’. Can I go home now? Since all the fun is over, everyone is leaving, bye bye doctors! I’m fine, I feel great, that was fun, maybe we can do it again sometime soon.

Okay, perhaps I spoke too soon. It only took half an hour and I was starting to feel unwell,  I had felt worse pheochromocytoma adrenaline attacks in my day… so I said to myself, okay, if this is the worst of it… it’s not THAT bad! I can deal with chest pain, tightness, heart palpitations, and uncontrollable shaking… this isn’t TOO bad. Suck it up Miranda. It means the tumours are getting the treatment, they don’t like it, but that’s a good sign…

10:00pm – fairly certain I’m not being over dramatic when I say this is going to be farewell, everything is happening, I can’t do this, I’ve never had this many symptoms hit me at once, my body can’t sustain this type of attack… for this long… this can’t be happening, someone help me …

Isolation…

That first night of radiation … was one of the worst nights of my life.

I’ve had to endure a lot of pain, uncertainty, and physical trauma with this disease… but that night… it really had to be in the top three. I won’t give it a definitive placing because my surgeries for this disease, well, they were PRETTY brutal, so I’ll leave it as a ‘top’ placement. When you go from feeling a certain type of ‘normal’, going into treatment I didn’t feel perfect, but it was my norm, so I went from feeling ‘normal’ to all of a sudden being hit with EVERY single symptom I’ve ever felt in my life associated with this disease… all at ONE TIME. By 10 o’clock I was full blown being physically assassinated, and it was NOT pretty.

My blood pressure jumped up making me feel super unwell, my chest was tight and physically hurt, my heart hurt, it was pounding in my ears and I could feel my still fresh jugular wound pounding out of my neck from my heart rate, my neck glands were swollen and creating more pressure in my head, my headache felt as if my skull was actually growing inside of my head… my eyes felt like they were going to pop out of their sockets, all I could taste was metal, and blood, from my gums bleeding suddenly, (yes, when things start bleeding out of no where on your body, it’s incredibly alarming) then the nausea… oh dear the nausea, game over. Just kidding, who just kicked me in the back? No one, that’s just my bones, oh, all of them feel like that now, amazing. And…. now I am completely drenched in sweat, and can’t stop sweating, and won’t stop sweating, it’ll never stop. I also can’t stop peeing.

I know this seems like an insignificant detail, but when you’re in this much distress, and your bed is high, and your hooked up to EVERYTHING, and you must unhook yourself from said machines EACH time you have to go to the bathroom, and then re-hook yourself up to EACH machine properly once you make it back into your giant bed by yourself… it’s literally a process, and a debacle, and it makes you want to cry with frustration each time. Now not only do you have to do all of this when you’re not thinking straight, not walking well, you’re dizzy, and confused, and you’re fairly certain your body is going to explode at any second, every time you unplug your IV, it beeps at you constantly, and won’t stop, and your poor night nurse has to come in and expose herself to your radioactive room and self to come fix it, and this happens over ten times… and each time takes time to fix, so the beeping alone is enough to drive you out of your mind. These details, I swear… they are everything when you are completely alone, when you have nothing else to focus on – when you have nothing but a silent room, your pain and suffering, and a loud beeping assaulting you and your already unfortunate circumstances.

Night one, you know exactly where you can go.

In the meantime, would you like to see my beautiful isolation suite I had? It really was quite nice, minus the tumours imploding part and feeling the worst ever.

Over the course of the next few days in my lead isolation room behind my special radiation screen I showed you above, everything I described to you above repeated every day, just not with the same severity as it did that first night. Nothing could ever hit me as hard as it did that first night, but it was close. Every day was awful, and is still is as I am writing this. However, since I am incredibly obsessive compulsive when it comes to keeping everyone up to date and also sharing my journey for the sake of awareness, I don’t like falling behind too far. So with my little burst of insomnia energy, I am laying my soul out for the world to read once again.

I thought waking up each day I would feel a little better, but it was just an exact replica of the day before, sometimes worse than the day before, which I had not anticipated… I thought things got better as time went on, but it seemed the opposite for this treatment. I guess it takes a bit of time to settle into your cells, and once it does, the more havoc it causes in your system. Having radioactive isotopes injected directly into your body is completely different then any other ways, it becomes apart of you. YOU are completely radioactive, which is why I had to be in such an isolation setup, in fact I still am… even though I am at home I still am following strict protocol to be sleeping alone, not within a certain amount of feet of people, I still cannot kiss or touch Serge, there’s so many restrictions still, and will be for a little while. It’s crazy how potent it is.

I am grateful that my incredibly persuasive husband found a way to see me in my isolation suite, even if it was through the special protective glass. Had it not been for him… I don’t know what I would have done. He was able to come in and stay a certain amount of feet away from me after a certain amount of days, and bring me foods that I could actually not want to vomit looking at, so that was a welcome change. Just seeing him was enough to make me want to get better enough to go home, I wanted to be better, to look better, to feel better, for his sake. I am grateful that we have so many people incredibly supportive people behind us throughout the hardest times of our lives, we can’t thank each and every one of you enough times for the outpouring of love and prayer and support we receive when we need it most. I am grateful that although I am fighting this disease with all I have, and it is rare and awful and relentless… I have a medical team who doesn’t give up on me and is matches my effort and is unique to the medical world, they are superior and I am so thankful.

I do not feel it is appropriate at this stage to have any ‘expectations’ so far, as it is a complicated disease and even with positive results… it is impossible to know how long that can last, and with negative results, we can try again. So I will reserve my opinion on my expectations for now, and just wait for once. I will be going for an MIBG scan soon, to have my whole body scanned and see how the treatment did. I will reserve hope and pray that I can find some relief eventually, so that I can enjoy some precious moments… because that’s what life is all about.

I really base everything off of how I feel, right now I feel awful. I am told I will feel this way for a number of months because of my pheochromocytoma cancer and adrenal insufficiency combination, and of course my pain level that just… is part of me. There’s elements that can’t go away no matter what we do, but there’s hope that we can make me a lot more comfortable, and that’s really the main goal, that’s my expectation, is that I can just be a little more comfortable, and perhaps enjoy a little relief here and there… a vacation perhaps? 🙂 OMG, a girl can dream… this girl needs some serious R&R

We are completely exhausted. I am depleted, hurt, scared, I have zero energy, nauseous, I am still radioactive, I can hardly have the energy to shower, I still have daily adrenaline attacks, I sleep all the time.  We are having to keep an eye out for infections and horrible things that will make me have to go back into the hospital, I am overwhelmed with the amount of new symptoms on top of the old, and I am being honest when I say there is nothing fabulous to report this time around just yet.

The only Fab around here is all of the love I have received… and I am giving it back in the form of honesty, and updating you all so that you can know what’s happening to me and know you are in my heart, and what’s keeping me going.

Follow me to find out what happens next

Pheo VS Fabulous ❤

instagram: @mirandasimard

#pheovsfabulous

Soooooo tired, goodnight loves.