Scleroderma and Homeopathic Treatment

This post began as a Facebook post, sharing the Science Babe’s, Slate article about homeopathic medicine. Then, I started talking about my own personal experience  with homeopathic treatment for scleroderma, and here we are.
Figure investigating box of hope.Please enjoy this scenic car ride to my point about my experience using homeopathic medicine.
In 1996, I received homeopathic treatment for scleroderma.  If you are considering homeopathic remedies for #scleroderma, #sarcoidosis, a chronic condition, or know someone who is, you may want to keep reading.
Homeopathic Hope
I have been there.  Having an incurable disease that very few doctors even know about, can feel hopeless.  I was there.  I was frightened and I needed something to believe.   Homeopathic medicine sounded promising. No one else had answers, why not?
 In 1996 I worked with one chiropractor using homeopathic treatments. Along with some oral selenium tablets,  she had me soak my hands in a solution of what I will call “dead fish powder”.  It was made from ground up fish bones and other stuff. Of course, my ulcers became worse. The chiropractor with a PhD in philosophy, told me the swelling meant it was working. According to her, homeopathic medicine makes everything worse before it gets better. It resulted in a MRSA infection that went undiagnosed for nine years. (And a dependence on Oxycodone/paracetamol or (Percocet). But that’s a whole other post.)
By 2005, oozing ulcers had become a normal part of my life.  Just another scleroderma complication I had learned to live with.  That same year,  my raynauds had become so acute, the routine treatment of niphedpine to relax the muscles surrounding the artery to my left thumb. offered no relief.  I was instructed by my rheumatologist, to double my dose  of niphedipine at home.  He did warn I could get a headache, which is short for:  Your head will feel like it’s been  hit by an RPG shaped like a ball-peen hammer.  Doctors use abbreviations all the time.
My pulmonologist suggested  Rovatio treatment for my #Raynauds. My doctor wanted to make sure my blood pressure was stable while taking it. There were very few published studies done on raynaud’s patients by 2005.  I did not have pulmonary hypertension, so my doctor monitored me 24/7 during the treatment to make sure my blood pressure did not plunge to dangerous levels, causing heart failure.  My pulmonologist had me admitted me to the cardiac wing of UCLA, and by cardiac wing, I mean The David Geffen one you have heard about. I was going to be a case study for raynauds treatment protocols.  (Oh, if I had a dine for every doctor who said he or she was going to put me in a medical journal…)  The patient across the hall had an artificial heart he carried with him in a suitcase while he waited for a donor heart. I also got to share a room with the original Colgate Girl. In my 20 years in hospitals, she was the only roommate I have ever liked. I do wish I had kept in touch.  She was a remarkably kind woman with the most entertaining stories.
Wait, what were we talking about?  Oh yeah- complications of scleroderma treated with from  homeopathic remedies.
The Rovatio seemed effective in bringing blood flow to my extremities, but there was another problem.  During that two week hospital stay, I had a MRSA flare. It manifested as swelling and oozy ulcers on my fingers, bridge of my nose and elbows. Raynauds had limited the blood flow, weakening the integrity of my skin, resulting in constant infections on my fingers. I had become so accustomed to my oozing wounds, and because information was limited regarding treatment of scleroderma, the oozing ulcers were just considered something I needed to learn to live with by doctors. Well at least those who weren’t specialists. I had to commute over an hour one way to get treatment and care for scleroderma from the VA, and three hours one-way to see my scleroderma specialist, Dr. Furst. So getting in my car every time my finger oozed, did not seem justifiable.
A few days into my hospital stay, my doctor wanted to know what the infection was, that seemed to be causing these oozing, painful wounds that appeared to be  spreading rapidly.  Ooze was swabbed and nothing grew. The antibiotics they threw at me were useless.   The infectious disease team did a thorough medical history.  They asked about the places I had been while in the Navy, and tests they did to link it to infectious diseases came up negative.  Then, my lab tests came back positive for a little infection known as MRSA.  That’s when my room became isolation.  It looked like a crime scene from the outside. Yellow tape with black writing was all over my door.   Anyone who entered my room, even to just deliver food, had to gown-up.
So the infectious disease doctors tried to nail down how I got it.  MRSA was in the news as the latest plague and it was popping up everywhere.  We discussed my wound care.   I have used band-aids  through the years.  Personally, I find them to be nice incubators for infections.  I used to wear up to three band-aids for one wound, which from a distance made my wounds less noticeable than a giant white gauze  pad, secured with tape around my fingers.  If you keep up with my blog, you would know how important it is to me that I do not appear sick.  So piling on band-aids seemed like a good idea.  They provided protection,but they can get gross from sweaty hands.   Then, there was this one time in California, when I was soaking my hands in some water I mixed with some powder I got from a homeopathic “doctor”.   I was doing it three times a day.  Apparently, soaking a hand with open wounds in ground up fish powder probably didn’t help.  It wasn’t sterile.  And it was left on my skin. and then I covered it with a band-aid, because you know- appearance.
I forgot to mention that when I was doing the fish powder treatment, I was visiting family and I was on mountains of Vicodin for swelling and drainage of the wounds in my fingers.  Of course, when I asked my homeopathic doctor about these obvious symptoms of infection, she told me not to worry.  That meant the toxins causing scleroderma were leaving my body.  Did you get that?  The lady with an advanced degree in philosophy, told me the yellow puss pouring out of my knuckles and finger tips was scleroderma leaving my body.  Eventually, I was seen by a doctor who said something about a negative stain staff infection.  Of course, he was a doctor and all he knew was how to prescribe antibiotics that made the oozing stop.  Well, at least for a while.  Eventually the antibiotics began to fail.  Ooze was just something I had to live with.  It did come and go through the years.
Looking back on the “fish powder fiasco”, I now know that my fingers were infected. maybe it wasn’t the fish power that caused it.  Maybe, it was that the infection had become so bad, it developed into MRSA.  Unfortunately, I can’t go back in time for a case study, so I guess we’ll just have to speculate.
Since 2005, I still get infections, but rarely.  When I get them, my doctors usually go straight to the MRSA meds after a usual antibiotic fails.  Depending on the stage of infection, sometimes they go right to the Vancomyacin.  nd then there was that time I had an infection in my foot, and the rheumatologist at the Long Beach VA, misdiagnosed me with osteomyelytis because she did not pay attention to my past medical history.  That was the time I was hospitalized for 45 days.  It was a misdiagnosis.  Better safe than sorry though, right?  (Yeah, I have nothing kind to say bout that rheumatologist.)
Look, I know how hopeful homeopathic medicine can sound after years of no answers for symptoms that question one’s own sanity.   And there are concentrations of the homeopathic remedies that are so weak, they have no physical effects, but do present a psychological benefit known as the placebo effect.  I have to be honest.  I have done things with crystals, that I believe helped.  Not because of the crystals themselves, but because of what I thought of the crystals.  It helped me to relax, which lowered my stress and I felt better, psychologically.  For weeks I held those crystals, or rocks in my hands, or would keep the in my pockets.   Those rocks made me want  to eat better and  exercise regularly, and wouldn’t you know it?  I felt better.  The rocks did nothing but give me something to believe in and that’s what helped me. But just because I felt better, that does not prove these things somehow cured me. I still have scleroderma and it is progressing.  I am eating well and exercising regularly.  Does it prove anything?  No, because it’s anecdotal:  A non-scientific account of my personal experience.  It does however, create more questions.
While research is going on, and  the wait for better treatment and a cure continues.  As we are learning through robust research, the homeopathic market continues to provide hope to the hopeless.  To be honest, I still spend  money on hope.  I keep it limited to things like beet juice or infused chocolate.  When recommends their homeopathic doctor, or I should take a trip to the vitamin aisle at Whole Foods, I use a mantra to help me accept the person’s advice gracefully. They do mean well.  So,  I gently say to myself and repeat until calm,  “You know what else is natural?  Arsenic, uranium and bullshit.”

Getting The Full Picture

 

Ever notice things in a photograph, you didn’t see while you were posing for the picture?  Here is what I have learned about my own behavior and mental health with a “photograph perspective”.

Finding the right antidepressant is no easy task.  So when we find one that does the best job with no side effects, or manageable side effects, it’s like someone threw a dead tree in your path, and the only way is to climb over it.  Of course, after taking a medication for years, I don’t always keep up with updates.  Every medication is not for everyone.  It’s a fact and quite honestly, it seems like common sense, but most of us never read labels.  Think about it.  Labels are updated as more information becomes available through research.  I don’t know if you are like me, but when I pick up a prescription I have been taking for years, I get a ten page document citing possible side effects and risks, and I hand it back to the pharmacy technician, and tell them to shred it.  I could wallpaper an entire housing development with all the medication information I have received.

Scleroderma
Side effects happen with all medications.

A few days ago, I was reading a blog post about a woman who quit Cymbalta cold turkey.   Sure I was a little shocked by someone talking about quitting a medication cold turkey with a possible side effect of suicide for some.  But this post by Crystal Lindell about Cymbalta, taught me an important lesson about how I form some opinions. I put down my iPad and started writing about how wrong she was, until I realized I was on a rant.  So I went back to her post, and followed links to her referenced prior blogs for more of her experience.

In an earlier post, she talks about how Cymbalta saved her life.  You should read it, 

Ms. Lindell’s post struck me on a personal level because my depression triggered by the pain and progression of my chronic illnesses changed the chemistry of my brain, and I nearly died.  Our experiences had similarities, but they were not the same.  I found myself comparing my issues to hers and thinking, “she’s wrong”, when it was I who was wrong.  Sometimes, I think I am using empathy, but it’s really not.  Instead of imagining what it would be like for them, I imagine what their experience would be like for me.  Yep, that sounds about right.  I make it all about me.  It kind of reminds me of “Do unto others, as you would have done to you.”  But most of the time, what might be right for me, would not be right for others.

I’m not sure if it’s because I am selfish.  For years, I have had to advocate for myself as a woman in a health care system designed for men (Veterans Healthcare) with two rare progressive, degenerative and potentially fatal conditions.  I realized I might be too self focused the day I brought my newborn son to his first pediatrician visit.  His doctor asked for my son’s medical history and out of sheer habit, I rattled off my own medical history.  It wasn’t that I put myself before my kid, it was just that answering that question had become so routine for me, I had an automated response.

I talk about it in a prior blog post.  and since seeking treatment for depression in 2000, I have changed medications many times. There were medications that put me to sleep, some that killed my libido and I have skipped doses of Cymbalta waiting for my prescription to arrive by mail and I can say that having sex during that time is pretty good, sex.  But taking myself off medication that did not reduce my libido, but my libido increased without them, was not worth risking my mental health.  Luckily, thanks to age and wisdom I know that  if I have amazing sex once, it can happen again.  So  I need to train my brain, so to speak.  Our mental state affects our sex.  The actual sex organ is our brains.  I know it doesn’t seem like that, but the response to it, is made by neural transmitters, nerves and hormones.  Look, if a medication completely shuts off your libido, like Paxil did to me,  it was the right decision for me, to change meds.  For me, Cymbalta had some side effects, but they were solvable with the addition of Welbutrin and training my brain.  The cool thing about that, is you can always find a willing participant (in the name of science, of course) to experiment with sex by trial and error.   And  as the brilliant Amy Schumer  put so eloquently, “…I can catch a dick whenever I want.”

For me, going off Cymbalta was not an option.  I did it for two months.  I handled the brain zaps and withdrawls with a little help from sedatives and pain meds prescribed by my doctor.  I was closely supervised by my psychiatrist and General Practitioner.  After two months,  the symptoms of my depression came back.  Lucky for me, I have a support system in place to check my depression.

When there is a change in my medication, or a potential trigger, I reach out to three people I would trust with my life, and ask them to watch for symptoms.  They don’t watch over me 24/7.  But they check in with me and ask me about triggers.

Triggers and Symptoms
I am diagnosed with Major Depression and Anxiety Disorder.  I’ve had years of therapy to determine my triggers, like specific people or events.  The people or events can be present, noticed and experienced without going into depression, but symptoms can be triggered by these events and or individuals.  Individuals do not trigger things on purpose, but we all have friends or family who bring us stress with their behaviors or conversations.  I had to learn to recognize the symptoms of the beginning of my triggered depression.  One of them I did not identify until 2004.  It was just after my son was born.  I was driving home with my sister in-law and my nephews and I had to drive on an overpass.  If you’re a southern California resident, it’s the one that takes you from the 91 east to the 15.  I was about to drive onto the ramp and I felt a nearly crippling fear of going on to the over pass, but because I had people in the car and it was in the middle of the night, I slowed down and drove extra careful.  I calmed down as soon as I was on the 15.  I had recognized this feeling before, but my fear was so intense, I knew I needed help.  I spoke to my therapist, and sure enough, an extreme fear of going over bridges is actually a thing. The depression had affected my “fight or flight” response by making it sensitive to activities.

Unlike Ms. Lindell, Cymbalta does not kill my creativity or sex drive.  I guess I’m just lucky.  Not every medication is for every one and not every pharmaceutical company labels their medication as accurate as they should be,  I have been on perhaps a dozen antidepressants in the past fifteen years.  There were some that gave me no sex drive, there are some that put me to sleep.  Right now, I’m on Cymbalta & Wellbutrin, with no sedatives.  I have some, but I don’t take them.  I guess it’s comforting to know they are there.  And I have to agree with Ms. Lindell that exercise is the best medicine for my pain.  But to battle my depression without meds, I need to do at least ninety minutes of cardio twice a day to keep me from falling into the abyss.  So exercise once a day and meds is a good mix for me.  Cymbalta may not work for millions of other people, but right now, it works for me. And when Cymbalta stops working, I will tell my support system what’s up.   I don’t need to be watched like I’m under  house arrest.   But by letting my friends know,  they are more likely to answer my phone calls when they are busy, or return my call immediately if they miss it.  There’s nothing wrong with having a plan.

About the good sex:  Well, I went from having no interest in sex because of my meds, to finding the right med that would allow me to feel like I might be interested.  It took changing  medication, yoga and exercise that helped and now my sex life is pretty damn good.  Like anything, it’s trial and error, having a good team of doctors ad having a willing participant to help with training your brain.

As for quitting any antidepressant cold turkey, I would not encourage anyone to do that without a doctor’s supervision and a group that will help observe your progress.  You don’t need to make a big deal of it.  Take three people and use them.  I never use only once person,because one observation, could be the wrong observation and two others can help counter the error.  One way to think of it is, when you are getting your picture taken, you really don’t know what’s going to show up in the photograph, until you can look at the picture itself.  Those three friends of mine help me identify what I can’t see while I am present in the “picture taking”.  It never hurts to have an extra set or two of helpful eyes.

The Best Description of Living with A Chronic Illness You Will Ever Read. Ever.

Okay, maybe not ever.  But how about the best description of living with a chronic illness that you will read for the next fifteen minutes?  

Are you healthy?  Have you ever wondered what it is like living with a chronic illness like scleroderma?  Watch the movie Ground Hog Day.

It’s no secret I believe Harold Ramis was brilliant, But I never really knew how brilliant, until I watched Ground Hog with my ten year old son.  Bill Murray’s character, Phil was having his worst day ever, over and over.  Things eventually got better for Phil, but not until he figured  out how to be happy, no matter what his circumstances.  (Yeah, I know it’s an old movie and you probably got this message back in the 1990’s, but this is still new to me.  So please humor me and read on.)

I can’t speak for everyone with a chronic illness, just me, and for me, it has been Ground Hog Day since 1994.  Every day, I wake up feeling okay, then I try to use my hands, or I get another weird diagnosis, or I am forced to train another doctor. Providing me plenty of food to nurture that garden of resentment and anger I tend  in my heart.

Let’s be honest, I’m a bitch.
Like Phil, I do not want to make friends with people who I do not wish to relate to, like other patients with scleroderma.  There, I said it.  I don’t want to get together with other patients who have scleroderma simply because we have scleroderma.  I would love to get together with other patients who have scleroderma and go to a movie, hiking or a root canal.  Anything but talking about living with scleroderma.    And yet here I am writing about how I hate talking about scleroderma while I’m talking about having scleroderma.  You see, it’s not really about the other people in my life.  I just don’t like being in this situation.

Like Phil, I had to stop and be present in my environment, find something I enjoy and then do it.  My problem was that I hated my environment so much, I wouldn’t stick around.  Have you noticed I have been moving every single year since 2009?  My family has, and I just got the memo.  I’m running from something.  But this year, I decided to stop running.  hen I watched Ground Hog Day for the 5oth time and related.  I still haven’t figured it all out yet.  But I have figured out I too could be that “nice young man from the motor club.”  I’m just not there yet.  And that’s cool too.  Or maybe I am there and I don’t know it.

I can fight situations all we want.  But then the time comes when I  need to stop driving angry, and today will be tomorrow.  Confused?  Me too.  So, why not  curl up on the couch and watch a classic Harold Ramis movie.  it makes everything better.  Have some popcorn, and don’t be stingy with the butter.

 

When It Comes to Scleroderma, I’m a Chicken

Or: Please allow me to reintroduce you to my booby.  

...Well, it’s not really my booby.  It belongs to everyone.

June 24, 2014

I have been keeping this to myself for years and what a better time to talk about my fear of scleroderma during Scleroderma Awareness Month.

After my diagnosis, I wanted nothing to do with scleroderma.  I avoided support groups not only because the ones I had been to mostly consisted of grandparents, before my son was born; I did not want to see my future.  I did not want to see what happened to long term scleroderma patients.  And 20 years later, scleroderma scares the bejesus out of me.  I want nothing to do with scleroderma, and I keep on running.

Scleroderma does painful, debilitating and ugly things to patients.  And I am so afraid of becoming disfigured,  I will do anything in my power to get away from scleroderma-like activities, like asking for help.   I work hard to be able to exercise.  I sometimes injure myself doing things I prefer to do myself, than have others do for me.  Do I need counseling to work through the stages of grief to get to acceptance?

I have never claimed I don’t need psychiatric help, but quite honestly, I don’t want to accept the whole death-by-hardening-connective-tissue that the universe has in store for me.  I have accepted parts of the results of scleroderma.  Like resting when I need to; spending hours in doctors offices, labs and tests; I have a port-o-cath in my chest, and I wear clothes that show it because I want to be an example for my son;  I have moved to be closer to specialists who know what they are doing so I don’t end up dead because of  a medical mistake.  Yes, that does mean I live away from my son.  Right now, I am abusing the English language with  punctuation errors.  I can’t really blame scleroderma for that, but for our purposes in this post, I’m going to blame scleroderma.

Unless it is medically necessary, I want nothing to do with scleroderma.  But this post is not a cry for help.  I’m sharing this because of all the crazy things scleroderma has brough into my life, nothing scares me more than Juvenile Scleroderma.

Have you seen what this can do to children?  Click this Link  Take your time and read about it.  Go ahead, we’ll be here when you get back…

Why can’t we do anything to stop this in children?  Oh wait, we can.  We don’t have a cure yet, but there are organizations who have researchers working on ways to treat it effectively.  There are two organizations, one in La Jolla, and the other in Michigan, who have found a way to stop fibrosis and reverse it.  There are organizations raising funds for scleroderma research with comedy fundraisers, galas, and walks.  there are individuals having bake sales, and it will never be enough until rheumatologists all over the world can recognize early symptoms to give patients a better chance with early diagnosis and treatment; and of course, a cure.

We have a lot of work to do, and I need your help.  Please learn about scleroderma please go to an event or make a donation for a cure.  It makes me furious that all diseases without effective treatment, must seek funds for research and treatment.  There are some pretty horrific ones out there, even more terrifying than scleroderma, but I’m not writing you about those diseases.  I want you to know how terrified I am of scleroderma, and even more terrified that people are being diagnosed with it every day, and then must wait to see how exactly scleroderma will change their lives forever.   Scleroderma is different for every patient.  Symptoms of scleroderma can exist as separate diseases.  How messed up is a disease that some components that make it a disease are other diseases?

In order to make my point, I have brought back our pal, Drew, The Blue Footed Booby.  He made his debut last year. When you see Drew, please help by sharing his picture and help share the word about scleroderma.

Thank you.

Scleroderma: Part of The Adventure

Three children and a woman.

I recently announced my scleroderma may be in remission.  According to Merriam Webster,  remission (is)  a period of time during a serious illness when the patient’s health improves.

Remission was my word, not my doctor’s.  I have also heard from other patients who will not use remission as well.  The general consensus is, although the definition of remission does fit, and it doesn’t say permanent or temporary, remission is accepted as ceasing of the symptoms.  It fits when referring to cancer.  The cancer is somehow eradicated by treatment, and while in remission, patients do not experience symptoms of cancer.  The difference with scleroderma is, that scleroderma may run it’s course, or symptoms may be controlled by medication, but blood work, and symptoms show scleroderma is present.  The best term I have heard so far in reference to this is referred to as a “holding pattern” by patients and their doctors.

For me to say that I may be in remission is incorrect.  Symptoms will flare.  I will still have good and bad days.  When I spoke with my doctor I was elated that I may have lived long enough to be through the worst of scleroderma, I threw around the word remission, carelessly.  I apologize to you, who are kind enough to read my work regularly, and new patients looking for information.  I was talking about scleroderma incorrectly, and  I am s very sorry.  Of course, I still have sarcoidosis, but it’s symptoms are very mild for me.  I write more about scleroderma, because it’s just more aggressive in me than sarcoidosis.

I was very swept up in the possibility.  One of my best and worst coping mechanisms, is denial.  Like all patients with a chronic illness, I do not want to be sick, labeled as sick or live my life as if scleroderma defines me.  It works well for me, until I get swept up, as I did with the word, “remission”.

The last few weeks, I have been working through depression.  It is something that affects me more than scleroderma, in body and mind.  Scleroderma is a life-long commitment no one volunteers for, but we can choose how we cope with it.  A friend of mind gave me a name for my technique, he told me I am like Lt. Dan, from Forrest Gump.  I liked that comparison because it felt like it rang true.  Like Lt. Dan, I am angry about what life has handed me.  I never ever want to be referred to as handicapped or disabled, and don’t get me started with God.  I of course will not climb up on a shrimp boat mast and curse God during a hurricane, but I am certainly not going to worship God or pray.  (That’s a whole other post.)  For me, accepting scleroderma will always be a part of my life is a sore spot, but I do it.  That may be why I have a great deal of patience with everything else. Traffic or long lines seem like minor things, and a waste of time to get angry about, because eventually a long line will move.

Scleroderma has taught me to live in the now.  I am not in remission.  I may be in a holding pattern, but I will need infusions and medication for the rest of my life- and it will not be cut short.  That may seem unrealistic, but to me that is one thing that is not.  Scleroderma, childbirth and a severe head injury have thrown a lot at me these past 43 years.  I have a lot of life left, and there is treatment for my symptoms.  I will continue to work hard to stay healthy, which we all need to do, scleroderma or not.   I have not yet reached mid-life.  I have a ten year old son, and I plan to see him walk on Mars, and meet his children.  Life is full of obstacles. I choose to make obstacles, part of the adventure.

Thank You, Queen Latifah. That Was A Perfect Amount of Scleroderma

When it was announced Queen Latifah would be talking about her mom’s diagnosis about scleroderma on her show, I was skeptical.  First, I’m going to tell you why I liked it, hoping she will read it or someone will tell her about it.

 

Scleroderma does not only devastate the patient.  I have watched my family, watch me go through procedures, unknown prognoses and loss of abilities.  I see how scleroderma hurts their heart and soul.  I comment Queen Latifah for keeping the news to herself, and focusing on her family, especially her mom.  And if you are reading this post, Queen Latifah, thank you for not only sharing with your audience and the world about scleroderma; thank you for showing them that as hard as it may be, there is more to you and your mom than scleroderma.

 

Now, what I loved about her segment:

 

It was short.  She relayed a heart-felt message and went forward with her show.

 

She  said, “There is treatment.”  The last 20 years, every time scleroderma is mentioned, there are real pictures of people with scleroderma enduring the most painful, awful parts- not that it is bad- but because there is treatment, I believe damage can be prevented.  So often, patients with scleroderma are portrayed as victims with no hope.  And yes, I’m a realist, I know that no hop can be very real for many patient with scleroderma, but we need to stop that and create hope.  For example, when my hands were cur;ling, I was received occupational therapy once a week that helped me manage pain and keep range of motion.  When I moved, and got a new occupational therapist, she informed me I was not worth the funds required to keep me moving and I should just sit back and face my fate.  I will never know if I could have maintained my hands, because she never gave me a chance.  Currently, I have scarring in my lungs from pulmonary fibrosis.  Doctors believe that exercise is helping my lungs work better.  Luckily, I can exercise my lungs and I don’t need assistance, like I needed with my hands.

 

Look, as a patient, I don’t need a long segment about the worst of scleroderma.  It will get the channel changed.  Let’s face it, we are a shiny, “happy” culture that has the power to shut off the ugly in life.  Scleroderma is not rainbows and unicorns.  Queen Latifah gave an effective message, mentioned that it could be treated and gave her audience a place to find more information.

 

Queen Latifah’s mom is fighting for her life.  How she did her message was perfect.  No one should be expected to speak through tears on camera.  Thank you Queen Latifah, for sharing a piece of your journey and  making scleroderma a topic of conversation around the world.

Scleroderma Is Not ‘Just A Skin Condition’

 

I recently spoke with a customer service representative at the Social Security Office.  She is tasked with asking questions, and making recommendations for the person seeking help.  So, I did a little research.

Today, I read an article by Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.  They presented 5 steps to take after diagnosis.  As a patient with scleroderma for 20 years, and diagnosed with sarcoidosis after years of symptoms, these steps sound very nice, but are a bit unrealistic.  Don’t get me wrong, these are great ideas in a perfect world, but the world of healthcare in the United States is far from perfect.  So, I’m going to comment on each step.  Please Note:  This is entirely opinion based on my experience.  If you find my comments useful to keep going, and not be deterred, awesome.  If you would like to tell me to go to hell, awesome.  Let me have it in the comments section.  I make some comments in this post that may incite retaliation.  I’m okay with that.

If you have healthcare where you are never denied a test or medication, this is the perfect plan.  The following steps are verbatim from The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.  My comments are in italics.  

Step 1: Take the time you need. Do not rush important decisions about your health. In most cases, you will have time to carefully examine your options and decide what is best for you.
– In 1994, there were very few treatment options for scleroderma.  I was given a leaflet and a nifedipine prescription and sent on my way.  My choice was to quit nursing school based on no information, move back to California from Wisconsin and get lots of rest, or stick with nursing school with no idea what to expect.  It took two years to get diagnosed with scleroderma.   Luckily, I was in the Navy for one year and half of that time.  I did not miss a paycheck because I needed to stay home sick or go to a doctor.  How would that work for someone else with no job, because they called in sick so many times while trying to get diagnosed with weird symptoms like blue hands, swelling and nerve pain.  Sure, my diagnosis was 20 years ago, a lot has changed because of research, but people in remote areas are having trouble getting the right diagnosis and care.  Just do a google search of scleroderma blogs and you will read how patients are trying to get a diagnosis or care, or getting denied disability benefits because they do not have the proper diagnosis yet, because their doctor is unfamiliar with scleroderma and thinks it’s ‘just a skin disease’.  In a recent conversation with a representative of Social Security researching adaptations for patients with scleroderma, she asked, “Why would someone with scleroderma need adaptations?  It’s a skin condition.”  I explained to her that scleroderma was not.  She was very receptive to the information I provided her, but she is one of many, who are trained to speak with people in need of life saving benefits and she thought Scleroderma was a skin condition.  We have lots of work to do! 

Step 2: Get the support you need. Look for support from family and friends, people who are going through the same thing you are, and those who have “been there.” They can help you cope with your situation and make informed decisions.

Lovely.  In a perfect word where family and friends understand that a chronic illness cannot be seen, this is a great idea.  The truth is, many patients suffer for years before diagnosis, because they feel crazy telling people they trust their symptoms and they are met with responses we have all seen in memes all over the internet.  Oh, where to begin!  Here are a few:
1.  You don’t look sick.  Check out The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino. It’s a great post about “Not looking sick”
2.  It’s all in your head.
3.  You need to exercise more.
4.  Then, there is the gossip some experience:  She’s a hypochondriac.
5.  Scleroderma sounds like a skin condition.  It’s in the name, so it must not be serious.
Okay, enough of that, you get my point.  First, we have to explain what scleroderma is to our family, while we try to grasp what it is, without panicking during every search on Google because people post wort-case to get attention for awareness.  I can’t blame them for trying, but it leaves little hope to newly diagnosed patients.  More and more patients are surviving scleroderma, but only those who have access to the best healthcare and educated providers.  

Step 3: Talk with your doctor. Good communication with your doctor can help you feel more satisfied with the care you receive. Research shows it can even have a positive effect on things such as symptoms and pain. Getting a “second opinion” may help you feel more confident about your care.

Speaking of doctors… When I moved to Murrieta, doctors here had only heard of scleroderma.  They mistook my syptoms of sarcoidosis for scleroderma symptoms because they knew nothing about sarcoidosis or scleroderma.  First, a patient has to find a doctor willing to do more than give the diagnosis and “wait and see”.  Make sure you are seeing the right specialist, a rheumatologist.  Not to mention getting baseline tests of lungs, heart and upper GI.  Now, if you are newly diagnosed, have a full time job and have “Golden Insurance”, this is not a problem.  I have a request: If you have an experience to share, share it in comments to encourage other patients not to give up.  This is a journey riddled with roadblocks by people paid to keep cost down.  We have to become our own best advocate.  And by we, I mean you who are reading it who are frustrated.  I have to drive 2 hours one way to get the proper treatment for my hands.  It sucks, but it is what it is.  I bring my dog and stop at the beach after.  I do it because since 1999, OTs at two nearby Veteran’s Hospitals would not work on my hands.  I was told I was a lost cause.  Since stopping the OT I received through the Wisconsin Veteran’s Healthcare System, my hands have since atrophied and now we are working to get some range back.  

Step 4: Seek out information. When learning about your health problem and its treatment, look for information that is based on a careful review of the latest scientific findings published in medical journals.

Visit at a hospital, or medical school library and ask the librarian for help.  Medical journals often post only abstracts of a study online, which is a short blurb about findings.  Google it without experience and it’s the perfect way to diagnose yourself into thinking you are dying.  Before you research, ask your doctor for the proper keywords and journal names.  I don’t want to deter you, I want to encourage you to find research foundations that research your specific condition.  For Scleroderma in the United States, I recommend The Scleroderma Research Foundation.   Their funds go directly to research and education.  They have one office.  As far as fundraising goes, they are nationwide.  The Scleroderma Foundation is a great place to go for support groups, education and research as well.  They have chapters all over the United States with many offices around the country.    Many are all volunteer, some have paid staff amd some are simply support groups.  They provide great services, and funds are raised for each region.  

Watch your back, Jack.  There are some online patient communities that offer counseling services without licensed counselors or ask you to donate to participate.  I am sure they do some good, but they claim to offer counseling services by unlicensed counselors.  I once worked with a former mentor (emphasis on the word former) placed plants in her closed groups in the early days.  And I have noticed there is a bot that initiates contact with people who tweet certain diseases, on behalf of my former mentor’s newly formed foundation.  But, don’t take my word for it- or anyone else’s for that matter.    If you find yourself in a group and it doesn’t feel right, go with your instincts.    If you see a group going after an individual or shuns members, that is a huge red flag. 

Step 5: Decide on a treatment plan. Work with your doctor to decide on a treatment plan that best meets your needs.

Great idea.  A treatment plan is an awesome idea!   Now the trick is to find a doctor who knows more than a thing or two about scleroderma, or your condition in your area.  You may have to travel, but it is worth it.  This is a chronic illness and your life depends on how well your care is managed.  I know scleroderma, so I will refer the two organizations I trust to help patients without requiring a donation or membership.  These organizations count on donations from people other than patients. If you pick up the phone and call these foundations, they will give you information over the phone for free.  
1.  The Scleroderma Research Foundation Contact Info and Downloads for newly  & not so newly diagnosed patients
2.  The Scleroderma Foundation  Contact info and Downloads for newly & not so newly diagnosed patients.   

Patient Communities:
Very helpful.  I recommend the following:
1.  Treatment Diaries   
Outstanding community founded by cancer survivor, Amy Ohm.  They will not ask you for money to join, and it’s a great way to connect with fellow patients.
2.  Inspire:  Another great online patient community that will not ask you for money to join.  

So, those are my comments about those 5 steps based on 20 years with scleroderma.  Many autoimmune diseases have similar symptoms to fibromyalgia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and drugs used to suppress the immune system for cancer treatment, like methotrexate are often used in the early stages of scleroderma.

I would like to add that If you are newly diagnosed or seeking better care because what you are doing, don’t be afraid to look at how people with other diagnoses are coping.  We share the same experiences like loss, grief, anger depression and so much more.  My diagnosis of sarcoidosis was accidental.  I went to 4 different ER’s before UCLA took my trouble breathing seriously and and did the tests  that lead to a lung and lymph node biopsy that provided the sarcoidosis diagnosis.  Until I was given Remicade because of the sarcoidosis, my symptoms were progressing of both the scleroderma & sarcoidosis.  I had to fight for the recommended Remicade and bypass 3 other medications that needed to try and fail before using remicade because of cost.  Since 2007 and receiving Remicade with Methotrexate, the pulmonary fibrosis in my lungs has stopped progressing.  Fighting for care sucks, but it’s exactly what we have to do to get what we need when someone says “no” due to cost.  If you take anything away from this post, I urge you to keep fighting.  It’s hard.   I;m not going to lie, there were times I wished for death. I would tell myself, “I wish this was over.”  Until I realized my scleroderma was not going away and over, meant death.  I made it through the worst of it.  I think it is luck I am not dead because many die from scleroderma every day.  I’m here because it was not my time.  I continue to heal and become stronger because I am my own best advocate.  There are times I put my foot in my mouth and make mistakes.

If you skipped to the end:

Advocating for yourself is on the job training, even with help.  And there is no shortage of people looking for minions for financial gain or to fulfill some messianic fantasy.  So, watch your back, Jack.  Rest between battles, because you won’t win every single one.  Somedays, your only goal needs to be to live to fight another day.  Most important, the best possible outcome may not be what you want.  It may take compromises, like giving up certain foods and activities and worst of all (at least for me) asking for help.  If you have to give things up because you can no longer do them, take time to grieve, but try not to let it consume you and it times, it might but you can crawl out of the jaws of what’s consuming you.   There are no guarantees in life, but there is hope if you look for it.    Keep looking for hope.  We all have limited time here, cherish what you get.  I never said this would be easy.  I still struggle at times, I take antidepressants, I see a psychiatrist to manage my meds for anxiety and have a checklist of depression red flags for me.   Exercise and writing are my outlets.  My happy place is time with my son.  My dogs get me out of bed every morning.  Find you tools, then fight.

 

Scleroderma and Me: An Update.

Woman and her child holding hands. child reaching up to touch balloons.

Posted May, 2013.  Update since test; negative for pulmonary hypertension; James of Bounce to a Cure, broka another world record while raising funds for scleroderma research.

I left the video up to share with other patients, and let them know that sometimes it’s not pulmonary hypertension.

We interrupt this wonderful life for scleroderma.

Watch this video for more information…

Click Here 

Why I Am Not Scleroderma

Dog barking with caption: "some days, we just need to get our bark on."

 

Yesterday on Facebook, I expressed my disappointment with  I.Am.Scleroderma campaign.   I do like and support the foundation who did it, because so many patients benefit from their work.  I am not happy with that campaign. You might ask, why not send a letter?  Well, I had a thought, expressed it on Facebook and wondered if other patients felt the same way.  Plus, I don’t post to make any friends,  I just post honestly.  I was told once I should think in a more marketing perspective by a former so-called mentor.  We no longer speak and it was a very smart decision, but that’s a whole other post.

I write to get conversation going about not only scleroderma & sarcoidosis, but also associated conditions like  pulmonary hypertension, Raynaud’s Phenomenon and mental health.  So, in the spirit of Scleroderma Awareness Month, and my slacking last year by not speaking out when the I.Am.Scleroderma campaign started, I want to explain to you why that statement offends me so.

This is not an attack on The Scleroderma Foundation.  This is my disagreement with their choice of wording for a campaign.  Since deciding to independently volunteer to raise awareness and have no attachment to any non-profit, I have the luxury of speaking from my heart, and not from a marketing perspective.  I have nothing to loose by sharing my feelings, because that’s all they are, my feelings.    They will not buy or sell anything.

Anyone who sees me is free to cuss me out for saying what I feel about the meme.  Please comment.  I will moderate, but as long as there are no racial slurs or snake oil, I will make sure it is visible.  See, it’s not the sharing that was encouraged by the campaign I dislike.  I read some great posts by patients and saw some great videos blogs as well.  The program is great, but the message is: I am scleroderma.  Putting a period between the words does not lessen the anger that statement creates.  I have sat n my feelings for a year.  One reason was I thought I just needed to calm down.  I haven’t.  So, here is why I am not scleroderma:

I had my first serious complication from scleroderma in 1996.  After two digital sympathectomies, I thought my hands would just return to normal and life would go on as planned.  It did not.  I continued to loose range of motion all over my body.  In the second semester of my sophomore year in nursing school, at then Viterbo College,  I was evaluated for physical fitness to continue on to do my clinical rotation.  As I reached down and found I could not touch my on toes, it became painfully clear that scleroderma was progressing faster than I ever imagined.  I think it was that moment that triggered profound depression and anger.

From that moment on, I didn’t say it, but I thought of myself as scleroderma.  I was diagnosed with depression for the first time and received counseling therapy through the VA in Sparta, Wisconsin.  It took weeks to get to the statement, but my therapist said to me, “Karen, you are not scleroderma.  You are not your diagnosis.”

Skip To the End
It was easy to say, “I am not scleroderma”, but it was not easy to feel.  My actions reflected my feelings for years.  I took a blow torch to many bridges and hurt people who tried to help me in ways I continue to regret.  I have forgiven myself, but I will always regret my actions.  I can’t change them and those actions in my past have opened my eyes to create a better future.

So when I say that I am not scleroderma, it comes from a place I worked hard to get to.   A campaign called, “I am scleroderma” makes me sick.  The name makes me sick.  I can in no way endorse it.  I want very much to share the blogs and videos from the campaign, but doing so shares the message, “I am scleroderma.”  I can no longer find the campaign on the website, but there is a a mess of scleroderma blogs with a Scleroderma Foundation logo with the words, “I.Am.Scleroderma.” on it.  I will read the post, but I won’t share it because I cannot share that statement.  Well I’d share it with a paid endorsement  and a disclaimer that it’s a paid endorsement.  (Hey, a girl’s gotta get her pedicure on when she can.)

Thank you for taking the time to read my  thoughts about a poorly named, but well intended campaign.  My wish when I started blogging in 2009 was to share the message with fellow patents of any illness that they are not their diagnosis.  I learned the very hard way, which has made me cynical at times.  I only hope this post helped to better explain my reasons for hating the name of it and not the foundation.  I will continue to walk and support patients.  I will continue to share their useful information.  I will also never hold back the way I really feel.  Also, I noticed I am unable to find that meme I.Am.Scleroderma on the foundation’s website.  Yay!!!

Cat with cherry tomatoes on paws and balanced on head.
Let;s take a deep breath and remember that we can’t agree on everything. Come on, you know it would be no fun of we did.