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!

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Dogs!

This took much longer than I expected to write. Many people on the Chronically Hopeful Facebook page were interested when a service dog post went up about a month ago. Please understand that I have done research to the best to my ability. This is just a general overview. There will be additional service dog posts in the next few months.

There is a substantial difference between a service dog and a pet dog in the eyes of the law and social norms. Let’s begin with the basics. A service dog is for an individual with a physical disability.  These dogs are allowed to go anywhere and everywhere their human goes.Assistance Dogs International elaborates on this, “Service Dogs assist people with disabilities other than vision or hearing impairment. With special training, these dogs can help mitigate many different types of disabilities. They can be trained to work with people who use power or manual wheelchairs, have balance issues, have various types of autism, need seizure alert or response, need to be alerted to other medical issues like low blood sugar, or have psychiatric disabilities. These specially trained dogs can help by retrieving objects that are out of their person’s reach, opening and closing doors, turning light switches off and on, barking to indicate that help is needed, finding another person and leading the person to the handler, assisting ambulatory persons to walk by providing balance and counterbalance, providing deep pressure, and many other individual tasks as needed by a person with a disability.” There are many tasks a service dog can be trained to do. Additionally, service dogs can be paired with humans for autism and hearing.

Your pet dog is not allowed to accompany you in public without a specific reason. Many view a service dog as medical assistance or even medical equipment.

Service Dog Central provides some clarification on the differences between psychiatric service dogs and therapy dogs. “A therapy dog is an individual’s pet which has been trained, tested, registered and insured to work in a hospital, nursing home, school, or other institutional settings. The therapy dog and his partner visit to cheer patients, to educate the community, to counter grief and stress, and generally be good canine ambassadors within the community. Most therapy dog partners are volunteers, but some states recognize professional therapy dogs partnered with therapists and other mental health professionals.”

Psychiatric Service Dogs are generally for people with a mental impairment (these words are chosen to line up with the laws that are in place). A mental impairment in the case would include mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. Anxiety, depression, and PTSD would fit under emotional/mental illness. They can be granted access in public places.

A partial listing of therapy dog organizations:
The Delta Society http://deltasociety.org
Therapy Dogs International http://tdi-dog.org
Therapy Dogs Incorporated http://therapydogs.com

On the other hand, emotional support dogs have very limited public access.

On the other hand, emotional support dogs have very limited public access. Emotional support animals provide compassion, support, and friendship to his or her owner. These animals have an irreplaceable role in their human life. Not only do these animals assist their humans emotionally but also improve physical health. Many studies support that animals lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, lower triglyceride, reduced stress levels, reduced feelings of loneliness, and increased activity. Currently, my cats are emotional support animals. I have a special bond with each. Furthermore, they can sense when I am going to pass out, fall, or shake. Even so, they are not allowed in public. I wouldn’t bring them out in public either because that would provoke anxiety.

A multitude of agencies is out there. My first recommendation is to speak with your vet if you have one. Each agency is different. However, most share that the waiting list is long. Comparing agencies is vital. Furthermore, get as much information as possible on each one. Due to this reason, some people also find training agencies. Either your current pet dog (if he or she is qualified) or adopting a dog than the trained works with you both.

Some additional agencies include but are not limited to:

NEADS

NEADS (National Education for Assistance Dog Services, also known as Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans), is a non-profit organization and is based in Princeton, Massachusetts. Our Service Dogs become an extension of their handlers and bring freedom, physical autonomy, and relief from social isolation to their human partners who are deaf or have a disability.

Accredited by Assistance Dogs International, the internationally recognized governing body that establishes industry standards and practices, NEADS offers a wide spectrum of Assistance Dog services, including: Deaf & Hearing Loss, Combat Veterans, Physical Disability Classroom, Therapy & Ministry, Children with a Disability Children on the Autism Spectrum, Deaf & Hearing Loss, Veterans, Physical Disability and more.

Assistance Dog’s International can help you find a program closer to you. They have a variety of resources.

Service Dog Trainers A list of trainers across America.

I hope this information is helpful. Please share your pet’s name in the comments!

 

Med Changes

Chemotherapy. One of those words with plenty of weight. Plenty of assumptions attached to it. For example, only Cancer patients receive it, this is a  myth. It is only a word. Only a medication designed to assist an individual in some way. Autoimmune diseases are treated with low dose chemotherapy. Chemo suppresses the immune system and helps inflammation.

Personally, I have encountered three chemos to date to attempt to control my illnesses. First I did methotrexate self-injection. Than Mercaptopurine was added. (This combination is not advised.) I couldn’t handle that for long so we made the switch to  just Mercaptopurine.

I stopped Mercaptopurine the end of last month. Medication changes are challenging. Needless to say, it can increase pain and symptoms. It is a difficult medication to start and to stop. Though I am not a fan it did suppress my immune system some, therefore, stopping it increased pain. However, it was worth it because I have begun my journey with Remicade.

Remicade is a biologic which is received through an infusion. It can be used to treat Chrons, Ulcerative Colitis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis, Ankylosing Spondylitis, and Plaque Psoriasis. Remicade suppresses the immune system, similar to other medications used to treat autoimmune disorders. Most times, to qualify for a biologic an individual must fail other treatments or have difficulties getting off steroids. The Remicade web page provides additional helpful information.

The first three infusions are loading doses and are given every two weeks. I had my first Remicade infusion November 8th (but I have been on another biologic and received other medications via an infusion). Personally, I pre-medicate in the car on my way to the infusion center. An hour before I take Prednisone, Benadryl, and Tylenol. The infusion lasts a total of three hours. I had nurses and a PA adjusting the speed of the Remicade every few minutes. In addition, they monitored my vitals.I felt beyond wiped out afterward as if the life was sucked out of me.

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That evening I was extremely achy. In addition, I had high pain in the lower right side of my abdomen. I was in bed by nine pm. However, that is the extent of the side effects I experienced. The joint pain was slightly better for a few days. I get my second loading dose soon. Eight weeks is the time frame that an individual should start to encounter improvement.

My next infusion is in a few days. I am extremely tired. The pain levels have returned to preinfusion. The weather isn’t helping any. The pressure is dropping. Additionally, we are expecting a mix of rain and snow. All in all, I am ready for my second infusion. Things feel much more hopeful on Remicade.

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Ulcerative Colitis Update

This flare began about a week ago. My liver enzymes are high again, though not nearly as bad as in the past. The theory is that this is from my immune system attacking it. The major difference is that this time I am still on 15 mg of prednisone, which I also refer to as my safety net. The pain has been extremely intense this weekend. With these flares, it feels like being hit by a bus I know it sounds dramatic, but the intensity is hard to describe. The main issue is the abdominal area. Evey joint hurts, my ears ache,I have the chills and nausea. Of course, the fatigue is 50x’s worse than normal.

My Gastro retired last month and that was heartbreaking. She was the first gastro I had trusted and had compassion. I saw the new gastro on Friday and it was nerve-racking, to say the least. I am not a fan of seeing new doctors because my case is complex. I was relieved that this doctor had listened, was up to date on my medical mess, had some compassion, and was ready to start something new.

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Most of you know that in addition to Lupus and POTS I have Ulcerative Colitis. Eating has been a struggle when the Prednisone is lower than 15 mg. Currently, I am on a combination of two anti-inflammatories, Prednisone, and Mercaptopurine (a chemo also known as 6mp). The goal for any chronic illness patient is to come off Prednisone. In my case dropping to 5 mg or coming off means going into the hospital. This is a common issue for people with a chronic illness. I know I am not alone in this struggle. #It’s A Spoonie Life! Thankfully, I have been blessed and have not suffered major side effects from Prednisone. 6MP is my second chemo. I am not a fan. I have had no improvement on it.

With all that being said I got the extremely exciting news that I do qualify for a biologic (which I knew). And of course, my new gastro feels it is time to begin the testing and paperwork. Testing include normal labs CBC, Comprehensive Metabolic Panel, and Hep Panels. In addition, TB testing is required. At the same time, insurance paperwork is started. I will be on Remicade. I will be writing a Remicade blog post soon!

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A huge thank you to everyone who participated in invisible illness awareness week! I was honored to be involved, but I wish I could have done more.

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