1 in 5,000

We always knew I was different. Completely aware I was rare. Everyone has always made jokes about it here and there due to the silliness of it all. But it wasn’t until recently that it was discovered that I am one in 5,000-8,000 people rare. More rare than just a few extra parts. More rare than a strange combination of chronic illnesses.

This journey officially began this past fall with a bleeding flare. I was bleeding easily while on my normal steroid dose. It was irritating me enough to mention it to my doctor. After extensive research and dissing it all we agreed that EDS was a possibility. I was advised to see a geneticist. A three-month wait and a two-hour appointment appeared to be yet another dead end. The doctor was not educated enough in each type of EDS to accurately diagnose EDS. While I knew an EDS diagnose would not change my treatment plan I was extremely frustrated. I was left with no answers to my bleeding which was progressing and a bunch of symptoms that did not fit into a symptom list of any of my current illnesses.

While I knew an EDS diagnose would not change my treatment plan I was extremely frustrated. I was left with no answers to my bleeding which was progressing and a bunch of symptoms that did not fit into a symptom list of any of my current illnesses. (*Note there is still question if EDS is present).

I moved on as we all do when no answers are clear. I had a voicemail when I returned home one afternoon. Neither my mom nor I recognized the doctor’s name left for me, so I concluded they had the wrong person. I returned the phone call innocently without much thought. Little did I know it would change my life.

I was told I have HHT. This is the reason my POTS is out of control. Due to my migraines, I would need a brain MRI because they highly suspect that there is something linked to this illness present. Additionally, I would need testing on my heart. Just like that, she wished me a good day and the phone call was over.

I had three initials because the person I spoke with did not know how to pronounce the name. Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia. Locating a description was a challenge. Gaining an understanding of the big picture of how this illness had been affecting my body for twenty-three years felt impossible.

“HHT is a hereditary disorder that is characterized by abnormal blood vessels. A person with HHT has a tendency to form blood vessels that lack normal capillaries between an artery and vein. This means that arterial blood under high pressure flows directly into a vein without first having to squeeze through very small capillaries. This place where an artery is connected directly to a vein tends to be a fragile site that can rupture and bleed.

An abnormality that involves a larger blood vessel is called an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). Some people with HHT will also have AVMs in one or more organs. AVMs occurring in the lungs and brain and can lead to serious complications. Everyone with HHT should undergo screening for lung and brain AVMs because if these are detected, they can be treated. The HHT Foundation recommends that all patients and families with HHT be assessed at an HHT Treatment Center for proper screening and treatment.”

From my reading, I learned that at least three genes are mutated in this disorder. There are far more questions than answers as there are with most rare diseases.One article reported less than a dozen doctors who specialize in this disease in America.

Plenty of testing needs to be conducted to give them a full picture of how this is affecting my body. So far a special hearing test/ doctor appointment is set up.  We are waiting to see what heart tests should be run and how often. Lastly, a brain MRI will need to be approved by the insurance. This is half of my medical mess at the moment.

Coping With a Rare Disease:

I have coped with chronic illness by learning as much as possible, then educating others. However, it is impossible for me to gather the amount of information I desire because it simply does not exist. Therefore, my coping methods need to be adjusted. I am confident that connecting with the rare disease community will provide comfort for me. Furthermore, I am asking as many questions as I can come up with for my medical team and setting realistic expectations because they are learning with me.

Each illness comes with a set of emotional struggles. It is tempting to go numb but feeling the emotions is an important step in grieving. Each illness seems to shape our character. I am taking HHT along with all my illnesses one hour at a time with a smile and plenty of uncertain tears.

June is HHT Awareness month. “Light your candle with us on June 23rd – Global HHT Awareness Day – to honor those with HHT who bring light to the world.”

Undercover Zebra

I am so excited to have an amazing EDS warrior guest post today, Hana. Please share to help us raise awareness for this rare disease.
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Ever hear of Undercover Boss? Well, this is Undercover Zebra: Where chronic illness warriors go undercover as healthy individuals to chase their dreams in the real world. On this episode, we have Hana Belanger, an 18-year-old girl with the main diagnosis of  Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Hypermobility Type (hEDS) who dreams of being a cinematographer in the music industry. As an adolescent, she must figure out her own identity, chase her dreams, and not let a rare disease define her. If you think this to be a challenging feat, then you are right. She is…an undercover zebra.
I start every morning the same way, not wanting to get out of bed. Whether it be my 5:45 school alarm to Bowling For Soup’s “High School Never Ends” or sleeping in past noon on the weekends, the act of waking up is just another arduous chore no likes to endure. So far, just like any other teenager in the world, or really, any non-morning person in society.
Once I finally persuade myself it is worth getting up, I “oil” my joints with either Icy Hot or Arctic Ice analgesic gel. Whichever I just happen to have on my bedside table at the moment. Hypermobility is a symptom of EDS, however, in the morning I find that my joints much rather be stiff with pain, like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. I also tend to take this time to pop back in any joints that may have popped out of place while sleeping the night before. Got to love all those constant dislocations and subluxations. More symptoms due to the faulty collagen my body produces. Mornings with a connective tissue are never boring.
Next step is getting dressed. My favorite comfortable get up has to be pajamas, especially my zebra print ones. Sadly, school dress code does not allow for pj’s. Next best outfit of choice? a baggy band t-shirt and a pair of leggings. Don’t forget to accessorize with wristbands, a mood stone choker, and a plethora of braces and KT tape to keep all those joints in place. Pretty sure my joints like to go out more than I do. I always am found wearing my knee braces, but my collection expands to wrist braces, ankle braces, a back brace, and even a neck brace. I also have a cane I decorated in zebra print duct tape because when you need some extra support you have to make sure its cripple swag awesome.
My morning concludes with the breakfast of champions: AKA medication and vitamins. Then, on school days, I rush off to spend 6 long hours so I may be educated enough to graduate. After 12 years of this grueling routine, it does become tedious. I also have a work study internship with my local cable access station, a slam poet, and freelance videographer. The last three are the most fun I believe and give me a huge platform to be myself. When I am on stage or behind a camera I do not feel like the sick kid. I feel like a poet. I feel like a professional videographer. I feel…human.
Many days it is hard to hide the pain I am going through. EDS likes to throw curve balls more than Alton Brown on his show “Cutthroat Kitchen.” Often I wake up with migraines and nausea, which takes hours and even sometimes all day, despite medication. I have injured myself in school walking to lunch and working a one-hour film shoot. It’s as if EDS does not want me to live my dream.
But I will not cave into this awful disorder. That wouldn’t be very punk rock of me to give in. I know my limits and I go as close to the line without crossing over. I make sacrifices when it is safe to do so to enjoy myself. I have been to music festivals and concerts, filmed all day events, went to my Junior Prom, etc. EDS does not have to rule how I live. I just have to adapt to my circumstances in order to survive.
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Illness Awareness Month

Illness awareness months are a big deal providing an avenue for education. Furthermore, it gives those enduring the illness a set apart time to celebrate all the victories they have had over their illness. It seems more socially acceptable to take off the healthy person mask revealing how life is with a monster on the loss inside. Our awareness month also gives us the much-needed reminder that indeed we are not alone despite the feeling of isolation. It is a cracked door allowing outsiders to get a tiny glimpse into living with a chronic illness.

May is one of those months that someone was like let’s see how many illnesses we can raise awareness for in this month and they might have been a bit overzealous. On one hand, it’s great, especially if the majority of your illnesses have the same awareness month. On the other hand, it is a bit much in a short month.

With a complex illness, you could easily take a year or more talking about the illness, testing, medications, and daily living. Times that by over 12 is hectic. To complicate things a bit more the majority of us have more than one chronic illness!

  • American Stroke Awareness Month (promoted by the National Stroke Association)
  • Arthritis Awareness Month
  • National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month
  • National Celiac Disease Awareness Month
  • Hepatitis Awareness Month
  • Lupus Awareness Month (promoted by the Lupus Foundation of America)
  • Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month
  • Mental Health Month
  • National High Blood Pressure Education Month
  • National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month
  • Preeclampsia Awareness Month
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Chrons & Ulcerative Colitis.
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome

I currently have a diagnosis of the following just from this list: Lupus, Ulcerative Colitis, Osteoporosis, Arthritis, and Asthma. In addition, I might have Autoimmune Hepatitis and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

I always like to challenge everyone to learn one new thing in May about one illness. I am a strong believer in education others about chronic illness. I have encountered medical professionals who have been in need of education (I am not trying to be rude in any way). I have had people in the medical field ask me what’s Lupus? A basic understanding is helpful. Knowing just a little bit helps, even if you are not sick, for the day you encounter someone with an invisible illness.

I could go on all day on this topic, but I won’t as I am sure you have plenty on your to-do list today. Have an amazing day! Be sure to Like Chronically Hopeful on Facebook and subscribe to this blog! There will be a handful of guest bloggers which I am SO excited for!

A Mother’s Perspective: Chronic Illness

I am so excited for today’s post. We have a courageous mother of a daughter with several chronic illnesses. It has been an honor for me to speak with her briefly and to read a bit of their inspiring story. I hope you are encouraged. ~ Victoria

I am Kimberly, a full-time single mother, but more importantly mother of a teenager with chronic illnesses. EDS, POTS, MCAS.
Receiving a diagnosis is not a destination, but more so a journey.
Here is  a brief account of our journey to date:
It seems like yesterday on one hand and a lifetime on another. Three years ago during a rheumatology visit, unexpectedly during examination, the physician began piecing random dislocations, atrophic scars, fatigue, velvet skin, and overall illness into EDS. As he was identifying pieces, he stated this appears like Ehlers Danlos syndrome. I have worked in the medical field as therapist for 20 years and this was new to me. So like most, I instantly googled everything I could sitting there. I recall immediately being referred for blood work, Physical therapy, and cardiology that same day. Upon leaving his office I don’t think I will ever forget the look on his face. It was one of concern, sadness, and unknowing to me an awareness of a journey that was heading our way. As my daughter and I sat in cardiology she jokingly ask “so what do I have”? We proceed to laugh as she said EDS meaning explosive diarrhea syndrome. We laughed and I knew whatever it was we were going to conquer it.
As time progressed with additional falls and dislocations therapy ensued. It suddenly appeared dizziness and nausea were occurring. New referral and now POTS (Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) diagnosis added.

Ok, but now what about these strange rashes. Well, that lead to MCAS(Mast cell activation syndrome). A few other diagnosis came along being eosinophilic colitis and pineal brain cyst through testing. Most recently TMJ and cervical compression issues also noted.  If you have been through the diagnosis process you know it’s not so easy as picking up the phone and immediately obtaining a physician appointment. Some list were 3-6 months long with genetics 1 year. Then you add follow-up visits for a wide range of disciplines. It’s overwhelming and difficult to manage a ‘normal life’ whatever that even was.

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In gaining awareness of these disorders and living it daily I have found a new appreciation for anyone experiencing these. I have seen the suffering from physical pain, fatigue, and mental components from anxiety/depression that a teenager should not have to deal with it. Being a teen is hard enough, let alone adding a chronic illness. Yes, it’s a struggle. Do I still feel we  will conquer this….. no. We have accepted at this time there is no cure. We manage symptoms. Do I feel deflated…. yes. As a mother, I like most want to fix my children’s problem. I have found that being supportive and her biggest fan is the best I can do right now. I have listened to her requests to give her more control when she declines testing. I get it when she says “why should I it doesn’t change or fix anything”.
I want others to know it’s challenging as a parent, but it will be ok. You have to be prepared for sudden ER trips that will change your family plans, hoping that loud sound wasn’t a fall or passing out again, keeping a watchful eye for strange rashes, preparing for school IEP meetings, and wow what about that mediset. Goodness, the medications seriously is this all? Expecting a teenager to recall all these and learning to fill set herself…. What happened to driving, boyfriend, and social issues teenage parents have? They are still there, but different. Friends change, the real ones stay, but it does change. No one prepares you for this.
With all the losses you feel, I promise that if you embrace the journey and take the good with the bad it makes life better. I don’t know what the future holds, but I am hoping through advocacy and research more treatment options become available. I know joining a support group locally was one of the best things I did. Talking to people that have been where I am and offered supportive listening. I am forever grateful to them and blessed to have a wonderful family that help. Are there days when I’m mad… yes! I’m angry and scared. What happened to college based on interest, not physically accessible and near physicians in the area!
You as I have learned, having a chronic illness, is life alternating for everyone. I surely wish my daughter didn’t have it. However, she does and I intend to ride this journey with her and advocate to the best of my ability for her and others like her so that there is dignity, respect, and research to aid in hopes of a cure one day. This is my journey and hope for a final destination.
Chronically Hopefully,
Kimberly

Cause I Was Born This Way

January the month I was born and is also birth defects awareness month. Although you cannot tell by looking at me, I have a birth defect. I was clueless that I had a birth defect until days before my 20th birthday. A severe kidney infection eventually led me to a cystoscope, also known as a bladder scope. When I woke up, surprise! You were born with a few extra parts, specifically an extra kidney (supernumerary it overlaps my other one) and an extra urethra (they are twisted tightly around one another).

I had never heard of anyone having an extra kidney. Birth defects are more common than the average individual thinks. According to the CDC, “Every 4 ½ minutes, a baby is born with a major birth defect in the United States.” Shockingly, it has been reported that only 10% of birth defects are caused by environmental factors such as drugs, infection, or exposure to radiation. The more reading I have done the more that I have learned that it is common for an individual to be born ‘different’ living typically than in late adolescent to their early 20’s discover either a birth defect or genetic defect. It is vital to highlight, that while prenatal care is essential it is not a guarantee. Furthermore, if a child has a birth defect or genetic defect, it does not mean that the mother did something wrong.

Expectant Mama, please do the best that you can do ensure that your precious baby is healthy. I encourage you to seek medical attention as necessary to keep up with things. In addition, take the vitamins you and the baby needs. Exercise. Furthermore, talk to other Mama to get additional advice. You will have peace of mind knowing you did all you could to contribute to your baby’s health. Commit to Healthy Choices to Help Prevent Birth Defects. There are valuable resources on the internet worth looking at,Learn about the policies impacting children’s health care provides information on children health coverage.

More on a random birth defect note, I also have two extra bones that we are aware of.

Okay, I know I just took a turn by throwing in the genetic defect, but I figured it is an additional topic that doesn’t get nearly enough exposure. “There are more than 6,000 known single-gene disorders, which occur in about 1 out of every 200 births.” The majority of these disorders are considered rare.

I had been told from a young age that I was rare from medical professionals. Additionally, my doctor growing up would always laugh while telling me I was just weird or different. Therefore, I believed I was odd without a reason.Symptoms would be visible at school and my peers would question me, to which I would simply respond that I was different and there was nothing to worry about.

In Kindergarten we were watching a video about bears. They had told us bears can touch their nose with their tongue but people can’t. The teacher paused the video and encouraged everyone to try proving the point the video made. However, I was able to like the bear touch my nose with my tongue. Of course, my new trick was amusing.

Then around middle school, my mom noticed my back was not straight to the point my right arm is about 8 inches longer than my left. I had a lot of strange little things. However, it wasn’t really until recently that I became aware how odd these little corks are.

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I began having bleeding issues when I began my first Remicade. I bleed into the line. I honestly thought the PA did something incorrect. However, it happened again with my second treatment. Then I began bleeding at home. About two weeks ago I found a graphic that talked about bruising with Ehlers- Danlos Syndrome. The light bulb when off. I asked around if an individual could bleed with it and they can.

“Ehlers- Danlos Syndrome is a collection of inherited conditions that fit into a larger group, known as heritable disorders of connective tissue. Connective tissues provide support in skin, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, internal organs, and bones. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is known or thought to alter the biology of collagen in the body (the most abundant protein), which can lead to multi-systemic symptoms.”

The main types of EDS are as follows Hypermobility, Classical, Vascular, Kyhoscoliosis, Arthrochalasia, and Dermatosparaxi.

I e-mailed my one doctor who to my surprise agreed that this is an excellent theory to explain the missing puzzle piece. Unfortunately, I won’t know for certain until March, which is when I see the Geneticist.

Some of my EDS symptoms that indicate EDS include, but are not limited to mitral valve prolapse, unstable joints, dislocating joints (at least half a dozen times a day), hyperextending, and easy bruising. There is a multitude of symptoms associated with EDS. In addition, this explains why my POTS is not typical.