Practicing Gratitude When You Have a Chronic Illness

Gratitude doesn’t change what we have in front of us; it changes the way we see what we have

Anonymous

This past Thursday was Thanksgiving here in the United States. I spent the day with my husband’s family and I couldn’t be more grateful to have them close by when I’m far away from my own family.

This got me thinking about practicing gratitude in general. How often do we really give thanks for what we have? Only once a year, when Thanksgiving rolls around? Or are we only thankful for what we have when we’ve lost it (in other words, when it’s too late)?

When you have an autoimmune disease or any other type of chronic illness, it can be challenging to feel grateful for what you have. I mean, how could I feel thankful for having near-constant joint pain, fatigue, widespread dryness, skin issues and brain fog, among other symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome and Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS)?

But, if I challenge myself to think harder, I can actually think of many ways in which I should be grateful for what I have. Many people, especially those who are less fortunate or who live in developing countries, don’t have access to a reliable healthcare system, including adequate treatment options, necessary medications, and educated health care professionals. Even here in the United States, many people with chronic illness struggle to afford their medications, health insurance or co-pays for doctor’s visits. While I am by no means rich, I’m thankful that I have the ability to take care of my healthcare needs when many people cannot.

Another thing that I’m grateful for is the amazing chronic illness community that I’ve connected with in the past two years of blogging on this site. Having a chronic illness can sometimes be lonely, and you may feel like no one understands what you’re going through (especially if none of your family or friends have a disease themselves, or if you don’t have a satisfactory support system). However, by connecting with others on WordPress, Instagram and Reddit who are in a similar situation, I’ve quickly realized that I’m far from being alone, and I’ve learned new methods of self-care that have helped me manage my illness.

Thanks for reading this blog post! If you’re an Autoimmune Warrior, what are you thankful for (that you may have forgotten to be grateful about)? Comment below and let me know!

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Toddler’s Strep Throat Triggers Neurological Autoimmune Disease

Nate Kenoe, pictured above, developed a frightening autoimmune disease after strep throat

Nate Kenoe was a vibrant, energetic 4-year-old boy. Unfortunately, he had had a string of illnesses, testing positive for strep throat five times over the course of eight months. Each time, it wasn’t immediately clear that Nate had strep throat- oftentimes, he didn’t even have a sore throat! Instead, he presented with less common symptoms, such as bad breath or a sore on his butt. When he would finally get diagnosed with strep throat, he had to take a less effective antibiotic treatment, due to his allergy to penicillin.

Eventually, Nate developed even more disturbing symptoms that weren’t in line with strep throat. He began to have sensory issues, feeling pains in his feet as if he were walking on rocks, experiencing coldness in his shoulders, and other tics. He also had dramatically changed behavior, including vomiting at the sight of food, urinating multiple times an hour and banging his head.

Thankfully, an attentive pediatrician recognized Nate’s symptoms as pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with streptococcal infection, known as PANDAS for short. PANDAS is a little-known autoimmune disease primarily occurring in children between the ages of 3 and 12. With this disease, strep throat opens the blood-brain barrier, allowing abnormal immune cells to enter the brain and cause neuro inflammation. It has been compared to autoimmune encephalitis (AE), another autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder.

The PANDAS network estimates that 1 in 200 children could have PANDAS; however, this autoimmune condition is often under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed due to its similarity with other conditions such as Tourette’s syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Nate’s own mother, a pediatric nurse, hadn’t even heard of the condition before.

Nate received antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications and had a surgery to remove his tonsils as a treatment for his PANDAS. As her son received treatment, his mother learned that PANDAS is in fact a controversial disease. Many physicians are skeptical that this autoimmune disease even exists, while others believe that there needs to be a standardized method for diagnosis and treatment.

One year later, Nate is faring much better than last year. However, if he gets sick, such as with a cold or virus, it will trigger another autoimmune ‘flare’ resulting in more sensory issues. Ultimately, Nate’s family hopes that by sharing his story, they can raise awareness about PANDAS, and in turn, help the disease get more research funding.

To learn more about PANDAS and Nate’s story, click here.

How Chronic Illness Can Kill Your Self-Esteem

Chronic Illness and Self-Esteem

I recently read a post on Reddit on the r/autoimmunity subreddit titled ‘Losing Everything‘. In the post, the author describes being diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune condition affecting one’s moisture-producing glands. The author has also been living with other autoimmune diseases, including Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis (GPA), for quite some time.

She goes on to say that since being diagnosed with these conditions, she feels like she is losing everything that makes her ‘herself’. For example, she is an artist, but she has lost the use of her dominant hand as a result of her conditions, leading her to quit her art. She also had a unique style, with beautiful thick hair and piercings. However, most of her hair has now fallen out and she had to remove her piercings due to constant infections.

The author’s post made me think of my own struggle with chronic illness and how having Sjogren’s Syndrome, Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS) and Benign Fasciculation Syndrome (BFS) has impacted my sense of self.

Although I have both good days and bad days, I often resent my body and these diseases for what they have ‘taken away’ from my life. I often think to myself, what would I have accomplished by now had it not been for this disease? Would I be further along in my career? My education? Would I have more social connections and deeper friendships? It’s hard to quantify, but I feel like my life would have been very different had I not developed autoimmune issues. In other words, I don’t feel like I can be my true ambitious self because of my chronic illnesses.

I could also relate to the author’s mention of her outward appearance, like her hair and piercings. I notice that I often think ‘why bother?’ when it comes to things like fashion and beauty, which were important to me before my diagnosis. I think this is because I’ve adopted the mindset that I am ‘diseased’, so why bother to look nice? This is definitely a negative mindset that I’m continuing to work on, but, I think it’s important to acknowledge how chronic illness can impact your sense of self- whether it’s your own self-image, or even your outward appearance.

I also recently read a powerful testimony on The Mighty by Megan Klenke titled, ‘How Chronic Illness Can Drastically Affect Your Self-Esteem’. In her post, she describes the shame that many individuals with chronic conditions and disabilities face, such as having to ask for help to do tasks that they once did independently, using a wheelchair, or dealing with embarrassing side effects of medications. Furthermore, Megan also points out that simple things like missing family functions or get-togethers with friends as a result of illness can make one feel left out and like an ‘awful’ family member or friend.

A YouTuber I follow named Samantha Wayne also created a video detailing her struggle with the impact of lupus on her self-image. She ended up being hospitalized and had to take time off to rest. During this time, she says she felt useless and like she wasn’t doing enough. Also, she had to step back from her job because being on her feet all day was taking a toll on her health. The medications she was taking, such as prednisone, also impacted her outward appearance.

Samantha did say that leaning on her support system has helped her to get through negative feelings about her self-worth. She also says that realizing that everyone is worthy, regardless of their health status, has also helped. Furthermore, she says that while her disease caused her to lose certain hobbies, like competitive basketball, she was able to adopt new hobbies and learn new skills such as video blogging on her YouTube channel, which she started in order to raise awareness about lupus. Finally, she says that practicing gratitude for the things she can do and what she has is another way that has helped to overcome her low self-esteem.

Has having a chronic illness impacted your self-confidence, and if so, how have you handled it? Let us know in the comments below!

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Top News in Autoimmune Disease – October 20, 2019

Evidence of autoimmune response in patients with autism

Autism impacts 1 in 59 American children by age eight and can seriously impair social skills and communication, and lead to repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. For the first time, a team of Boston, Massachusetts-based physicians and scientists have published a report detailing evidence of an autoimmune response against brain cells in patients with autism.

Matthew Anderson, MD, PhD, was the lead researcher in the study. His team analyzed brain tissues donated through Autism BrainNet, a non-profit tissue bank, and noticed that over two-thirds of the brains examined contained three uncommon characteristics.

Firstly, they noted the accumulation of immune cells surrounding blood vessels in the brain (called perivascular lymphocyte cuffs). Secondly, they found that there were bubbles or blisters (that scientists call blebs) accumulating around these blood vessels. Finally, upon further examination, they found that these blebs contained debris called astrocytes.

These findings are evidence of an autoimmune response and chronic inflammation in the brains of patients with autism. The scientists also compared the autistic brains to those of non-autistic donated tissues, and the presence of these findings in the autistic patients ‘significantly surpassed’ that of the control cases.

Although this study does not definitively prove that autism is an autoimmune disease, it is a first step in finding evidence of an immune response for this neurological condition. Anderson compared his team’s findings to research that multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease caused by the immune system’s destruction of the nerves’ myelin sheath.

To read more about this astonishing study, click here.

Family of woman with scleroderma seeks financial support

Yesenia Garica, 25, of Newhall, Santa Clarita, California, first began experiencing debilitating symptoms five years ago. However, it took years for her to get a diagnosis of scleroderma – an autoimmune condition that primarily affects the skin.

Symptoms of scleroderma include hardened and thickened skin, ulcers and sores on the skin, joint pain, muscle weakness, intolerance to cold, high blood pressure, blood vessel damage, and scarring of the lungs.

Yesenia has been hospitalized six times and had surgery three times this year alone. As a result, she now weighs a mere 74 lbs. Unfortunately, her health insurance does not cover the medication that she is taking to treat her symptoms. As such, her family has set up a GoFundMe campaign so that Yesenia can continue to take the medication and to cover specialized treatment at UCLA. So far, the campaign has raised $4,700 out of the $10,000 goal.

To learn more about Yesenia’s condition and to contribute to her GoFundMe campaign, click here.

Seeking treatment for chronic illness: when desperation takes over

Allyson Byers was desperate to find a treatment that worked for her painful chronic skin condition.

I recently read an article by Self magazine about a young woman named Allyson Byers who suffers from a chronic skin condition called Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS). According to the Hidradenitis Suppurativa Foundation, HS causes painful abscesses and boils to form in the folds of the skin, often around hair follicles, such as the underarms and groin. While the exact cause of HS in unknown, it is believed to be autoimmune in nature.

Although the condition isn’t actually rare, with about 1-4% of the general population affected, HS is often misdiagnosed as other conditions, like cystic acne. Patients also frequently don’t tell their physicians about their symptoms due to embarrassment, until they’ve reached stage 3 of the disease (at which point, surgery may be required).

Allyson was fortunate to have been diagnosed six months after the onset of the disease, as a result of a knowledgeable family physician who recognized the tell-tale symptoms. She then went on to see a dermatologist, who prescribed a variety of treatments, from antibiotics, to diabetes medication, hormone-suppressing drugs and even immunosuppressants. But nothing seemed to quell the prognosis of the disease, and eventually, Allyson found herself in so much pain, she couldn’t even raise her arms or even walk, due to the abscesses in her underarms and groin. It even affected her sleep.

Needless to say, she was desperate for a cure- or at least a treatment. Allyson said that in her desperation, she turned to alternative medicine to help. She tried everything from special diets, like the autoimmune protocol (AIP), to supplements and topical solutions (like turmeric, tea tree oil and special soaps). She even saw a chiropractor for a controversial diagnostic test called applied kinesiology, which involves exposing oneself to potential allergens and measuring changes in muscle strength. She spent thousands of dollars on unproven ‘treatments’ in her quest to reduce her painful symptoms.

I know all too well what it’s like to be Allyson—I have HS myself. Unlike her, however, it took six years for me to get a diagnosis (the doctors I had seen in Canada hadn’t even heard of the disease). Before I got diagnosed, I was so desperate for a cure that I purchased different creams, salves and ointments online, that had no medical proof, but that claimed to ‘cure’ my symptoms. One of the salves I bought caused a horrible burning sensation on my skin; another, an oil made out of emu fat (I’m not joking!), did absolutely nothing other than make my skin oily. Some of these so-called ‘treatments’ may have even made my condition worse.

Several members of my family, who are big proponents of alternative medicine, even brought me to a naturopath in the hopes of combating my Sjögren’s Syndrome symptons. I followed various different diets to no avail, took all types of unproven supplements, and even tried chelation therapy, which involves the intravenous administration of drugs to remove heavy metals from the body (this can even result in death). Although I am not against exploring alternative treatments and making lifestyle changes, none of these treatments improved my condition, and they cost even more than science-backed methods.

Like Allyson, I am tired of always trying to ‘chase’ a new treatment, scientific or not, in the hopes of finding a cure. Although I will never truly give up, I would urge others suffering from chronic illnesses not to get desperate; or at least to not allow your desperation to cloud your judgement. If you’re going to try an alternative therapy, at least run it by your physician first, so that you can ensure it’s safe before testing its effectiveness.

Have you had any success treating your condition with alternative medicine? Comment below!

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How a 71-year-old man got diagnosed with Autoimmune Encephalitis (AE)

Robert Given was a 71-year-old Accountant who ran his own CPA firm and was heavily involved in his local community. Although he didn’t have any prior history of autoimmune disease, he suddenly found himself impacted by a severe autoimmune condition.

While dining out with friends, Given suddenly slumped over, had a seizure, and urinated on himself. Restaurant patrons helped him to lay on the floor and called an ambulance. By the time the ambulance arrived, he had regained consciousness but was confused, refusing to step into the ambulance until his wife told him to.

After being evaluated by a number of physicians, including an internist and a neurologist, the medical professionals made several interesting discoveries. Given had had a sudden drop in blood pressure that was uncharacteristic for someone with well-controlled high blood pressure like himself. His wife also reported that he was losing his balance, had difficulty sleeping and sometimes had slurred speech. He was also highly talkative, to the point that it appeared to be logorrhea – a constant need to talk, even if the speech is often incoherent and repetitive.

Given had a second seizure, and was once again transported to the hospital. After this second episode, his doctor pondered what condition could possibly cause a sudden onset of both neurological and psychiatric symptoms. He hypothesized that his patient might have either Multiple Sclerosis (MS), or some type of heavy metal toxicity and ordered a round of tests to see if this was the case.

The tests came back negative for MS and heavy metals, and his medical team thought that they had to go back to the drawing board. Suddenly, however, his internist Dr. Hersch realized that he had seen a similar case several years prior; the patient had died, but his test results had revealed that he had autoimmune encephalitis (AE), a group of conditions in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the brain.

Dr. Hersch ordered a new round a tests that confirmed that Robert Given did indeed have a type of autoimmune encephalitis caused by a rogue antibody called CASPR2. Symptoms included fluctuations in blood pressure and heart rate, loss of balance, insomnia, and personality changes, and the majority of patients were men over the age of 65- just like Given!

Given has been receiving treatment for his condition at the Mayo Clinic for the last three years. Due to the difficult nature of this disease, his recovery is slow, but he is relieved to have been diagnosed in time to receive life-saving medication.

The Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance says that while Given is lucky to have received a diagnosis, their aim is to raise awareness so that others with AE do not have to rely on luck to determine the outcome of the disease.

To read the original story by Dr. Lisa Sanders from the New York Times, click here. Also, check out this trailer for Brain on Fire, a movie based on a real-life story of a woman with AE.

Top News in Autoimmune Disease – June 15, 2019

Girl with Autoimmune Disease Creates Teddy Bears that Hide IV Bags

Medi-Teddies are designed to hide IV bags for children receive intravenous treatments

Ella Casano was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura (ITP) when she was just 7 years old. ITP is known to cause low platelet levels, excessive bruising and bleeding.

Now 12 years old, Ella receives IV infusions every 8 weeks to ease the symptoms of her condition. As part of a class project, she had to come up with a business idea, and, thinking about her experience with IV infusions and how scary the medical equipment can look to children, she came up with the idea of the “Medi-Teddy”, a teddy bear that hides IV bags.

Ella’s family started a GoFundMe page to raise $5,000 to provide 500 Medi-Teddies to kids in need. For more on this story and to learn how you can donate, click here.

British Columbia Mother Sues Over Breast Implant Risks

Samara Bunsko is involved in a class action lawsuit alleging her breast implants made her sick.

Samara Bunsko, 28, of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada, is suing breast implant manufacturer Allergan over allegations that her implants caused her to develop various health issues, including hair loss, irregular thyroid and iron levels, headaches, fatigue and cysts.

Samara is the lead plaintiff in two proposed class action lawsuits against breast implant manufacturers, alleging that they did not disclose the risk of developing certain cancers or autoimmune diseases as a result of the implants.

Dr. Jan Tervaert, Director of Rheumatology at the University of Alberta’s School of Medicine, says that research shows that patients with a genetic predisposition for autoimmune disease have the highest risk of developing symptoms. Furthermore, patients who have had implants the longest are the least likely to experience a cessation in their symptoms once the implants are removed.

Health Canada is conducting a safety review of systemic symptoms caused by breast implants, including the development of autoimmune conditions. To learn more, click here.

Amy Hoey has five different autoimmune diseases, none of which have a cure.

Woman Describes her Experience with Multiple Autoimmune Diseases

Amy Hoey was a young teen when she began to experience a myriad of symptoms, including severely dry skin and body aches. She was told by professionals that she was likely just experiencing eczema and growing pains, when in fact, she had an autoimmune condition called psoriasis. Psoriasis can affect the joints and develop into psoriatic arthritis, which is what happened to Amy.

Later, Amy began to experience extreme fatigue, hair loss, kidney infections and chest pain. She went on to receive a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland.

She started to experience even more symptoms, including a butterfly-shaped rash on her face, mouth ulcers, and memory loss, which lead to the diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus. Lupus causes damage to the body’s internal organs, skin and joints.

To top it off, Amy also has celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system damages the small intestine in response to consuming gluten, the protein found in wheat.

Amy felt like she constantly had the flu. Worse still, the physicians she worked with seemed to know little about autoimmune conditions, and one even Googled her conditions in front of her! She also has had allergic reactions to medications used to treat autoimmune disease, and also has a genetic condition that makes her more susceptible to infections, which can be a challenge, since many autoimmune treatments work by suppressing the immune system.

Amy says her best advice is to focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do. While she had a difficult time accepting this at first, since she used to be an athlete, maintaining a positive attitude and working with a knowledgeable rheumatologist have been helpful for her treatment.

To read more about Amy’s story, click here.