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

“It’s not me…!” It’s my cancer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s the worst part for me.

Pheo VS Fabulous

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

Connect with me 🤍👇🏼

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Let me re-introduce myself…

can·cer

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

Quality of Life: 

What do these three seemingly simple words mean to you? 

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

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

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

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

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

“Pheo VS Fabulous was born from the promise that I would never let this disease take away the one thing I could control, and I’ve labeled that my fabulous. When I became ill I realized how much we take for granted, and it started with how day to day tasks are so challenging when you’re battling an illness like pheochromocytoma cancer, that’s when I decided I wouldn’t let it take that away from me. It’s more than just looking a certain way, it’s about BEING fabulous, strong, and positive when you have every reason not to be”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How am I not supposed to lose hope?”

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

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

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

Embracing change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have learned how to forgive but not forget in order to continue to help others with this cancer, help them not only live but hopefully thrive. The best part? I never once lost my fabulous.

Fabulous is your light, your smile, your energy, your positivity, your willfulness, your vitality, passion, excitement, beauty, laugh, and how you share it! I can’t wait to share it with all of you, and hopefully have you share with me. I’m so grateful to be part of an incredible community of fierce thrivers. I look forward to seeing YOUR light, smile, and beauty! 🤍🙏🏼

– Pheo VS Fabulous 

I am Rare: 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So keep sharing while you can.

I know I will.

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

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

Pheo VS Fabulous 🤍🦓

Sending you unicorn kisses, love, and pixie dust✨

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“We have Cancer”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile feeling completely helpless, and out of control.

It’s a vicious cycle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When supporting one another, try to think:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WE have cancer.

We ALL need support.

We all need to come together.

WE will get through this!

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

Pheo VS Fabulous 🦄

35 things I wish you knew about having a rare illness…

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

Pheo VS Fabulous 🦄🤍

Just because I have a terminal illness…

Doesn’t mean I’m terminally ill, confused? I was too.

I still might be, but I think it’s time someone explained what it is to have a terminal rare disease.

With rare disease day approaching, I’d like to do my part in educating about this rare terminal illness I LIVE with everyday.

When I received my grim diagnosis of metastatic pheochromocytoma, it followed with “you have 1-5 years to live”. I was sentenced to death, and given a time frame to live my life. It’s haunted me ever since. It’s shaped how I perceive my world and how I went about living in it.

It didn’t have to be this way…

Delivering a diagnosis should be one of the most sensitive topics there ever is in a career. It should explain the illness you’re facing, and explain how to live with it.

Just because I’m terminally ill doesn’t mean I have to die…

It can take years upon years to die, a terminal illness means you will EVENTUALLY die of that illness, but no one should be signing your death certificate.

Just because I’m terminally ill doesn’t change the standard of care, I want to live. I deserve every treatment, every intervention, every respect that someone else with a chronic condition or just a condition gets.

I’m still living, and should be treated that way.

Just because I’m terminally ill, shouldn’t mean I’m given palliative care to help me die.

It means I should be given palliative care options to help me live, to extend my life, to improve my quality of life.

Just because I’m terminally ill, doesn’t mean I don’t have a beautiful life ahead of me.

It just looks and feels different than yours, but it’s still worth living.

When I was given my grim diagnosis, it’s all I could think about. Everyday, dying. My time was ticking. My rights were being taken away as a normal patient.

Just because I’m terminally ill, doesn’t mean I should sign a DNR to get treatment

Yes, this is illegal. But it didn’t stop the hospitals around me from withdrawing treatment, and making me too scared to call an ambulance when in an emergency because I thought they’d kill me.

Just because I’m terminally ill, shouldn’t mean I had to move three hours away to be close to a hospital who gets this.

It’s so important to have proper, quality, care. Doctors who understand what a terminal illness is, that are willing and excited to treat your rare disease with the respect it deserves. Ready to give you the respect you deserve.

Just because I’m terminally ill doesn’t mean I should have no dignity…

When I was “dying”, I lost my dignity last. I held onto it for quite some time, but eventually it went away. It was the hardest thing to lose, it shouldn’t have happened, but it did. It didn’t have to be this way.

I don’t consider myself dying anymore, I consider myself someone who’s living with a terminal illness.

I consider myself someone who will eventually succumb to this disease, but not for a very long time.

I consider myself someone who’s fought hard and long enough to share this information with you all.

I consider myself someone who can help change the way terminal illness is perceived.

If you receive that grim diagnosis, please, please, don’t give up. There ARE treatments that work.

There IS a way to be stable.

Quality of life CAN be different.

You need support, in all forms, you need palliative care, (proper care), you need a team of doctors who listen and respect you. Most of all.. you need hope. That’s what this gives you, your hope to hold onto and never let go.

Happy rare disease day my fellow warriors,

It’s been a hell of a ride.

Pheo VS Fabulous

Your Questions…

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

Watch below 🎬

Like and share!

Follow me on Facebook & Instagram: @pheovsfabulous

The Mighty Article

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

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

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

If you missed it, here is the link !

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

Pheo VS Fabulous 💖

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