I’ve Got Friends In Low Places

I have been low for a while now. I can handle one, even two or three life challenges at a time. But recently, I definitely have had been pushed to the extreme, with multiple health issues, and then life after life struggles too. I am getting by, but not without multiple cries a day, lots of cuddles with my cat, and a beautiful little girl keeping me going – who heard me crying in the shower the other day, came to me and asked in her sweet, little voice, “Mommy? Why are you crying?” (Lesson Learned – the shower does not muffle my cries enough.)

Where do I even begin? Maybe at my toes and work my way up?

As much as I hoped and prayed that the third time trying to decrease the prednisone past 10 mg would be successful, it didn’t work. Once I hit 7.5 mg this time, not only did the ankle swelling return quite quickly, but so did the welts on my legs where my fat tissue becomes inflamed and super sore. For a while there, I really believed that the third time trying with a more tapered decrease would do it. And I would get off the prednisone and skip off into the sunset, drug free. When I saw my rheumatologist on Friday, this was the time when she said we couldn’t wait any longer. I have now been on prednisone for 11 months. The original plan was 6 months. This time she really spoke to the need of getting me off the prednisone, and mentioned the long term damage it can have and how we are running the risk of that now. So, because my legs flare up each time we decrease, I have now started taking Imuran. It’s an immune suppressant drug, and the idea is that instead of the prednisone treating the inflammation, the Imuran will stop by body from causing the symptoms in the first place. Sounds good, right? In theory. Imuran has some of it’s own major side downsides, such as affecting your liver, lowering your white blood cell count, making you susceptible to any other form of infection or sickness, and increasing chances for certain forms of cancer. Because of this, I start at lower doses for two weeks and get weekly blood work to monitor. If things go well, and I don’t see any other obvious side effects like a rash or vomiting, then we up the dose, wait a couple weeks, and then up it again, holding that dose steady for the next few months. Imuran takes about 2-3 months to take effect, so what we will try to do is get my legs “normal” at 10 mg of prednisone, and then begin decreasing by 1 mg, every couple weeks, if don’t get any flare-ups. But my doc did not want to take another chance of trying another prednisone taper, with no back-up, and then losing that time before starting Imuran anyways. If all goes as plan, I can get off the prednisone and only be on the Imuran for about 6 months. Wish me luck.

If that wasn’t enough, I found out that results from my recent pap smear show abnormal cells. If left untreated, cells that could turn to cervical cancer. The good news is that my cells are at the lowest stage of abnormal, and the statistics of removing the cells are high, and lots of women have treatment and then normal pap smears in years following. Both my family doc and the gynecologist she referred me to said I should be able to have the procedure of removing the cells within a few weeks. Turns out the earliest appointment I could get was December 20th. So, fingers crossed that in the next half a year, those cells don’t go crazy and morph quicker than they can be taken out! I am doing ok with this news, as the stats are positive, but like c’mon, do I really need to be dealt this too?

And then I guess we get to my head and where I am mentally. Besides the obvious health issues mentally draining me, I have been faced with changes in friendships and relationships, that have really gotten me down. I am questioning my career happiness. It just seems like all areas of me are really heavy right now. And I miss my mom terribly.

It doesn’t help that I feel so alone through this all. I do need to pay respect to the wonderful friends that I do have though. In the last little while, I am blessed to have some close friends and family recognize my struggles, and check in with me. Whether it’s a text asking how I am doing, or taking time for a phone call, or just sending me something to make me giggle. And for that I am very appreciative. But I will admit I long for a constant support. Someone to come home to each day who is there to listen and get a good-old fashioned hug. Now, my cat is there at the door each day when I get home, but she can’t drive to the store for me when I really need some Haagen Dazs. And she sleeps in my clean laundry basket, which just makes more laundry for me to do.

I keep myself in check by running through the questions my therapist used to ask me to gauge my level of potential depression. I still want to shower each day, so I am doing ok in that sense. And I can still find joy in the things I love. Check. Check.

But man, oh, man. What I would give for some time with my mom right now. Just to smell her. And feel her hands. And listen to her voice. I would give my left lung…

I’ll Tell You What I Want

I still don’t feel like thinking about my health. But I know I need to stop just letting it be, and actually do something about it. I mean my med doses. I had just been coasting on this one dose for weeks. Previously I had a plan, knowing which days I would be taking what doses, and looking forward to decreasing. This time, I had no mental capacity to reduce again. I think part of it was being scared to decrease to 10 mg for a third time and get the horrible leg inflammation again. Which would mean a whole new set of challenges and decisions that I just long for not having to make. The other part is that I am sick of thinking about my health. (Ha! See what I did there? That happened without even on purpose.) I was at 12.5 mg for almost three weeks. I had slight swelling of the ankles in that time, for a few days here and there. But luckily no new inflammation bumps on my legs. Well, there were two that got red, but not big and sore like before. So. I did it. Last Thursday I decreased to 10 mg. Third time’s a charm?? I now have slight swelling in my ankles, but so far, no new bumps on my legs. Although it’s sometimes hard to tell what is new and what is a left over bump from before. I am hoping and praying that the swelling will not get any worse and go away within a week or so. And then my plan (yes, I am making a plan) is to decrease to 7.5 mg in about another week. I will stay at 10 mg for two weeks at least. It seems like my body needs a more gradual decrease to keep the inflammation away, so I will listen to my body.

I actually took a calendar for May, June, and July, and colour coded out my various doses. I felt a visual would help me see a pattern in how long I could, or couldn’t, be at a certain dose. I’ve determined that one week on a dose is not enough. Two might not even be enough, depending on new symptoms. So I am going to stay at 10 mg for at least two weeks (again, hoping the swelling goes away), and then assess.

I have a lung doc appointment on Friday. Hopefully my new asthma medication for this past month has helped. But I do have a bit of a chest cold now, so I am not sure if the results will be hindered by that. Then I see my rheumatologist on July 22.

What do I want? I want to be able to keep decreasing my prednisone dose, and get off these flipping meds, without having to add on any other medication. That’s what I want. Now tell me what you want, what you really, really want.

Reminder – Oath To My Daughter

I wrote this oath on Monday, November 5, 2012. I like to revisit it whenever I feel I need a reminder of what I promised to her. I am doing really well on my promise for popcorn and pickle suppers. A few other items I need to focus on, as of late.

I will be a woman you are proud to call “mom”.
I will make decisions that keep you as my priority.
I will provide you with a loving home and family.
I will ensure you know and believe that not only are you beautiful, you are bright.
I will ensure you know and believe you have more to offer than just your pretty smile.
I will own my errors and take responsibility for them.
I will allow myself one good cry and then not shed tears for those who do not shed tears for me.
I will make popcorn and sliced dill pickles for supper if that’s what we fancy.
I will show you how to fall in love with books.
I will be spiritual so you can follow your own spiritual path.
I will make sure you can eat alone in a restaurant when you are a young adult and not be self conscious.
I will not accept anything in my life that’s not deserving of me, my daughter and my spirit.
I will laugh with you.
I will cry with you.
I will show you how writing can be your best friend.
I will show you how to be a friend.
I will be a woman you are proud to call “mom”.

Body – Smarten Up!

I’m pissed off. I am pissed off at my flipping body for being a huge dork.

After seeing my rheumatologist two Thursdays ago and being at 10mg for almost a week, the swelling and new bumps started again. In my appointment, we discussed dropping the doses again, but when my feet told me otherwise in the following couple of days, I listened. This time I increased just to 15mg, instead of the 20mg that we did before. Looking back, I was pretty sure that the leg symptoms started when I was at 10mg, so I wanted to see if 15mg would give me the same improvement as 20mg would. I am slowly seeing less swelling, which I will take. It was a good experiment to see what level I really need to have to keep the erythema nodosum (EN) away. Conclusion = 15mg.

At my doc appointment, she explained that if I keep getting flare ups, we may need to discuss adding on an immune suppressant as we did before and then chose not to. But she said we weren’t there yet – that was before the second flare up happened. I think we are there now.😦

Before, I was so hesitant to add on another drug, that has its own negative side effects, but now that I have physical symptoms and I am in pain, I am very open to adding on another medication layer, if it can keep the EN away and get me off the prednisone. I called my doc today and left a message with the update. I asked if I should try tapering one more time, or just give me more drugs…

And yesterday I saw my lung doc again. Even though I have been on an inhaler for the last couple of weeks, my lung tests still show signs of an obstruction. What this means is that when I blow out, I should be able to be blowing out 70% of my air in the first second. In one of the tests, they test me first without any medication. Then I take 4 puffs of an inhaler and test again. Before medication, I can blow out 66%. After medication I can blow out 73%. It’s an improvement, but the daily inhaler I take should have had me with better results than 66%. So, we are adding on more puffers!!! Another drug added to the one I am already taking. And hopefully next month there will be better results.

For the last few months, I have been really emotionally positive about my illness. I received good news from the Vancouver specialist. I felt that I really only had a huge “one time thing”, and I would reduce the prednisone and skip into the sunset. But recently, that doesn’t seem to be the case. And I am scared. And worried. And mad. And scared. Did I mention scared?

Body. This is me kicking you in the pants to smarten up. Did you feel it?

She’s Got Legs… (Sung to the tune by ZZ Top)

Wow. An entire month of not writing. I have been a busy bee. A busy bee with legs and feet so swollen, they couldn’t wear shoes!

So after that last post, I dropped my prednisone again and three days later I noticed my ankles were swelling. I called my rheumatologist again and left a message. I increased my prednisone back to 7.5mg, but still no improvement over the weekend. I decided on Monday I would call again, and if I didn’t get through to my doc, I would leave the message that I was going to emergency the next day. My feet were so swollen that I couldn’t point my toes, I was starting to get pins and needles feeling, which meant nerves were pinching, and shoes did not fit. Not to mention the constant pain that the swelling and inflammation bumps created. Lucky for me, her assistant answered and I got in to see her on the Wednesday.

When I saw her and lifted my dress to show her my legs, her response was, “Can I take a picture of your legs?! I promise not to post it on the internet.” She then went on to agree with my previous diagnosis of erythema nodosum. Then she asked if she could call her resident in, show him my legs, and test him. I agreed, so she did. He came in, took a peak, asked me a few questions and then said the same thing, “Erythema nodosum.” We chatted a bit more and then he said, “This is awesome!” To which I replied, “Yah….no….this is NOT awesome. But I am glad I could bring you some career excitement today.”

Now, to make things even MORE interesting, there is a lung disease that also includes this skin condition – sarcoidosis. Interesting that my friend Trisha came across this in her research and my doc mentioned it right away. She did say that my biopsy would have shown if this is what I have, but to make sure it wasn’t something that developed afterwards, she sent me for a chest x-ray and bloodwork to double check. Nope – not that.

Anyhoo, the plan was to try gout medicine for a few days, as it is a normal treatment for this, keeping my prednisone at 7.5mg because we have been trying so hard to reduce and get me off of it. But if I didn’t see any improvement within a few days, then I was to increase my dose to 20mg. She explained that if I had just come in only with this condition and not been on prednisone already, she would have prescribed 40mg, but again, we are trying so hard to get me off this darn drug. So she admitted she didn’t know if 20mg would even be enough to make an impact. So, away I went with a gout prescription and hope. {She did tell me the pharmacist would try to tell me I had gout, but I was to correct them. This happened, a few times. To the point I just accepted with the pharmacist that I had gout.}

Three days passed with no improvement. I told myself if I woke on Saturday morning and I still had swelling, I would increase to 20mg. Which I did. I had a little cry and then did. Gah! SO FRUSTRATING. February. I was told February. I know that things change, but having that mental goal of February and now we are in May is really sh*tty. But, you know what? By Sunday morning my swelling had gone down significantly. That fast. Prednisone. The miracle drug that cures one thing and makes you horrible in 10 other ways. Anyhoo. Feet are fitting into shoes again. Success.

This was all happening right before our HUGE CCB show on May 14th. It brought back so many memories of my initial days of illness before our show in August that I ended up missing, you know, being in the hospital and all. So besides the physical pain I was constantly in, I was worrying (trying not to worry) that I wouldn’t be able to dance again. If I didn’t have the show, I probably would have given the gout medicine (I don’t have gout) a few more days. But time was against me.

So, the swelling was almost all gone and the bumps remained. But I could handle the bumps and soreness from them. As long as I could dance. Which I did.

The good thing about increasing my dose this time, was instead of staying on the higher dose for 4 weeks at a time, I only needed to try one week! So as I write this, I am already back down to 10mg a day. I will admit I am worried and hypersensitive to my legs again, as this was the dose last time the erythema nodosum started. There is still almost no swelling, but a few new bumps have appeared. My legs now show more of a fading purple mark where they bumps were, instead of being bright red and swollen. I am hopeful that no additional ones will start and in a few more weeks the discolouration will be gone.

I went to see my doc for a follow-up today, but she was running behind, so we had to reschedule for tomorrow as I couldn’t miss Arrnie’s hip-hop performance at school. I don’t expect her to say much, just that it’s good that we are seeing improvement and that we will continue tapering and monitoring.

If you Google erythema nodosum, that was pretty much me. But for your viewing pleasure, I will include pics of my very own legs! (This pic doesn’t due them justice…)

Leg Pic

I Have Fatty Shins

So, it’s clear I get the weirdest and most random health issues. My latest one? Inflammation of my shin fat. Yes. Shin fat.

A few weeks ago, I found a small, hard lump on my calf. The skin became tender and red in the area and I thought it was maybe just an ingrown hair? But then another one appeared on my other leg under my knee. They looked like bruises, but there was a significant bump with each one. So I made an appointment with my regular doctor and by the time I saw her, there were multiple bumps all over my legs. They are sore and painful and super annoying.

Diagnosis? Erythema nodosum. Inflammation of fat tissue on your lower legs. They can be connected to some medications, pregnancy, strep throat, and cat scratch fever. We ruled out all of those (kinda sad I never had cat scratch fever), so instead, I have them for no reason, which is also a reason.

There is no treatment, and they should go away on their own within 3-6 weeks. Even though the doc I saw said there would be no connection to my lung/vasculitis?? disease, I still called and left a message with her office, letting her know of this new symptom. Just in case.

I also dropped my prednisone down to 5 mg, starting tomorrow. I have been at 7.5 mg for two weeks and I still feel good, besides my fatty shin problem, so I am going down again. Wish me luck!

Those Darn Lungs

Turns out I may have asthma. This is what my monthly lung function tests are now showing. We are going to wait another month and test again, and if the results still show signs of it, we have a couple of options. We can either start treating it right away with inhalers, or I can have a more detailed lung test done at the University to confirm the suspicions. Heck, I will take asthma over vasculitis any day.

Back in my uni days, I was diagnosed with seasonal asthma and had inhalers, but it was never horrible, and just kinda went away on its own. And even now, I don’t actually feel any symptoms. Because of that, I questioned if I needed to even treat it. But my lung doc explained that if it goes untreated, it can cause long term damage from scarring and become worse. So, I guess we should treat it.

Other than that, the tapering of the prednisone will continue, and I will see my lung doc again in a month.

That’s it. These health updates are getting quite boring now. But maybe that is a good thing.:)

Cha-Ching

I can’t remember being stressed out about finances, as much as I am now. The economy is not great. We all know that. I first really experienced it when I was laid off last November. I consider myself extremely blessed that I found work so quickly and started working in February, and accepted the 18% salary decrease. I was grateful to be working and enjoying it. I made the monthly reduction work these last couple of months with a decreased budget, but I was notified last week that starting May 1st, my hours will be reduced to 4 days a week. This is to avoid having to do complete layoffs. There goes another 20% salary reduction.

Yesterday I was looking at my budget again, crunching numbers, and getting some advice from girlfriends on even more ways to save. I am open to suggestions! Trisha noted my monthly Book Budget and suggested the library instead. To which I replied, “There is always enough money for books.” This was something my mother said so often, that it has become a part of me. We both find/found joy in not only reading, but owning books too. It’s like each time another book is placed in our personal library, and angel gets her wings. How can we deny angels their wings?! However, I have cut that monthly budget down to $7 a month. That will still allow Arrine one book during our ritual of walking to Whyte Ave and then going to Chapters. I can use the library. J

I am trying to counter my anxiety over this by focusing on the positives from it. An extra day at home will allow me to do more of the daily household chores and upkeep, instead of during my time away from Arrine or when I am with her. It will also give me more time to find cost savings, like being able to go to various grocery stores for the best deals. I can sunbath more in the summer while reading my book from the library. And maybe find time to pursue my editing interest.

But for now I need to put some of my plans on hold, which is hard mentally.

I am thinking a lot of my parents and how things were when we were growing up. We never had a lot of money, but they always found ways to cover dance and golf costs, which I know are very expensive. And I now can appreciate more, the sacrifices they would have individually made for my bro and I to golf and dance. So I thank them.

Even though I need to work on reducing my stress related to this, I am still very joyful and content. I’m trying to look at it as a fun challenge. ….yah!…

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