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 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✨

Follow my everyday journey:

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Your Questions…

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

Watch below 🎬

Like and share!

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10 things I’ve learned about fading relationships

Support comes in all forms when you receive a diagnosis, but as you become sicker and the “old you” starts fading away, so do your relationships.

So many people want to be there for you when you first receive your diagnosis, but as you become sicker, when it all becomes real, it seems you start losing people one by one. There’s nothing worse than having to grieve your old self, plus have to mourn each relationship lost as you go.

One day you wake up, and all of a sudden you feel like you have no one left.

‘Hanging out’ and visits turn into text messages, the text messages turn into the occasional Facebook chat, and then even those just stop abruptly. Until there’s no more communication. Everyone just went away...

You can’t help but blame yourself,

if I wasn’t this sick, I’d still have friends.

If I was healthy and could have a normal conversation about monotonous things, I wouldn’t push people away.

If only I could be healthy and not intimidate people who are unsure how to approach this new “sick” me.

If only I wasn’t intimidated by them thinking about me being sick, and could fill in the awkward silences.

…If only I could erase all the sad eyes, the weakened expressions, and not have people who once respected me feel sorry for me.

This is the worst part, the pity.

If only these people knew that I’m the exact same person, the same person who was their friend for all those years. The same family member, the very same.

People change regardless of being ill, but it seems being ill puts a wedge in between the healthy and the sick. The unknown is often just too much. If I changed because I became an asshole I’d understand, but I’m the very same person.

This is the first time I’ve ever expressed how much it hurts.

How at my sickest I’ve never been so alone.

When someone says, “you must have a lot of people around you!” And you just don’t know how to respond.

How I don’t want to come off as ungrateful or selfish because there are some amazing people who have come into my life despite me being sick.

But those relationships lost still weigh heavily on my heart, and I wish I could have every single one back. Back to normal.

But I’ll never be normal.

So it shall remain…

What I will say is I’ve learned a few things while these relationships have come and gone.

  1. It’s not your fault, even though it may feel like it is, stop blaming yourself.
  2. Often people want to be there, they just don’t know how.
  3. It’s exhausting trying to make others feel comfortable around you, focus on yourself being comfortable and the rest will follow.
  4. It’s not your job to put everyone else at ease, if they are your friend, they will try to find a way to understand your new situation.
  5. People who are truly your friend, WANT to know how you are. They don’t want the sugar coated answer, be honest with your friends.
  6. Your best friends don’t mind changing plans, or understand when you can’t make it because you’re not feeling up to it suddenly.
  7. Your best friends will make an effort to make YOU comfortable in this new changing circumstance, they’ll go out of their way to make sure you have a place to lay down in their home if you get tired, or have a fan handy for when you get too warm etc.
  8. The people you lost were probably not meant to be close to you in the first place.
  9. Don’t feel bad for making the decision to cut out toxic relationships, even though you might feel like you can’t afford to lose anyone else, it’s not worth putting yourself through hell to have “friends”.
  10. Don’t take for granted the people who did stay around, know that they love you so much, and cherish them every day.

Pheo VS Fabulous 💖

Facebook: @pheovsfabulous

Instagram: @pheovsfabulous

“Couple speaking out after psychologist coaches husband to try and kill terminally ill wife”

https://montreal.ctvnews.ca/mobile/couple-alleges-psychologist-tried-to-talk-husband-into-killing-terminally-ill-wife-1.4667916

CTV news tonight @ 6

If ever there were a time to watch the news, tonight is the night. I will be on CTV news tonight at 6 with Emily Campbell discussing one of my most difficult events that happened to us so far.

It’s been a hard day, please support and tune in to see another part of what we as the terminally ill go through.

Once it’s aired , as it’s net cancer November… SHARE! Please share the story everywhere possible!!!

It will be my first time seeing it at 6 too, so I’ll be with all of you, hopefully you’ll be with me too ❤️🙏🏼

It’s CTV Montreal EST, I’ll also share the story here afterwards online, or watch it on https://montreal.ctvnews.ca/mobile/video?clipId=434385

Zebra or Unicorn 🦄

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the unfortunate truth.

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

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

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

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

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

🌎✨🌈

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

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

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

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

https://youtu.be/AHerMoNa9AY

Pheo VS Fabulous

XOX

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

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