What to tell our children about NMO?

Despite this blog, I’m a very private person. I go about my day without anyone really knowing the pain I’m in. I rarely (closer to never) complain and most of my family and friends forget that I suffer from Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO). But truthfully, some days aren’t good. On my “bad days” I tend to go into hiding, I work from home, I sadly cancel on social outings. I’m okay with that now. My husband is the closest who gets it (as best as any non-patient could), watching me in quiet agony sometimes and I’m sure overhearing my private pep talks to push through the day. And now my daughter is also privy to my suffering.

So how much do I tell her?

My daughter is 2 and a half now. As a mother I’ll do anything to protect her from the realities of this world. I don’t want her to know pain, sadness, disappointment for as long as I can. She’s growing up so fast and I’m often disgusted how quickly our world wants our children to mature. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to raise an ignorant, immature brat, but I do want her to enjoy being a princess, blowing bubbles in her milk and laughing at funny faces we make because she (and every child) deserves that.

On my bad days she’s seen me struggle a little bit. On those days I know a look she has on her face, that is a mix of understanding I’m not my usual energetic self with a lot of worry that something isn’t just right. It’s that look that breaks my heart. It makes me worry about that inevitable day, the one when another major attack happens, because it will, and we’ll have to figure out a way to explain it. I’m not pessimistic but a realist who thinks we should be as best prepared as we can be.

I don’t know if this is the right answer (like all parenting conundrums) but when she’s old enough or when I’m forced to find a way to explain it, I will tell her my harsh reality. And that’s ok because I want her to understand that sometimes bad things happen to good people and strong people can have weaknesses. What I have resolved so far is this – NMO will be my battle, not hers. I hope for a cure one day but if things become more challenging as we both age I’ll want her to go and live her life  and not become my caregiver. I hope I raise her well that she’ll want to be but of course, I won’t let her. I know I’ll potentially get some grief about this; there are a lot of families that believe one should take care of their elderly, and yes, there’s a certain sweetness and sense of responsibility I respect about that value. But I hope for my daughter to be braver than me, stronger, smarter, healthier than me and I want her to take that and be impactful to our world, not just impactful to me. 

16
Dec 2014
POSTED BY Jenna
POSTED IN

Family, NMO, Uncategorized

DISCUSSION 1 Comment

Should NMO patients get the flu shot?

Getting the flu shot is a personal choice. What do I mean by that? As a neuromyeltis optica (NMO) patient I’ve never received a concrete answer as to whether the merits of said flu shot outweigh any potential risks. So that’s what makes it a personal choice; that it is completely up to me to take what little information is available and make a somewhat educated decision. Let me take a step back…

I trust my team of doctors. Since my first attack I’ve always been treated with respect, have had the opportunity to voice my concerns and have always received honest answers. And I’m grateful because I know some patients don’t share my opinion about their healthcare, some even sharing the same team of doctors. Every year I have this discussion and every year there’s still not enough evidence. My neurologist is unsure how my symptoms will react, my general physician sees no harm and my rheumatologist strongly disagrees with the shot for those with compromised immune systems. They all make strong arguments and again, I emphasize, I trust them. I also respect them so much more for just being honest and saying, ‘collectively, we don’t know what the answer is for sure’.

So every year I choose not to get the flu shot. Truthfully, I’m tired of all the drugs in my system so one less excites me.  And I hate needles so if I can avoid one I typically do. But last year my daughter, then a year and a half, came home sick from daycare so often I coined the phrase, “sick diet”, which I attribute to my post-baby weight loss. This year started no different. As soon as the leaves started to change my daughter came home with a cold and I in turn caught it, which became a week long body shutdown. Not wanting to be sick for most of the winter again this year, I opted to try the flu shot finally. On a routine check up with my general physician he suggested the flu shot, which was available right then if I wanted it. It was 8am on a Monday morning prior to a hectic week of work. Sure, some patients feel a little unwell but we guessed the worse I’d feel is a sore arm at the injection site. I have after all, been taking good care of myself, working out regularly, eating and sleeping. As the fluid entered my arm I instantly felt unwell. I started to sweat, developed a headache and my body ached. And the NMO burning…the burning…And just as the nurse put the bandaid on the nausea hit me like the worst stomach bug I’ve ever had. Thankfully a waste bucket was in the room and my modest breakfast found itself in it. Thinking I could just push through my day I headed to my office but within the hour it was evident I had the full blown flu. It took me another week to recover from that teeny, tiny needle. 

I want to put out my disclaimer here: this experience is by no means my opinion that NMO patients shouldn’t get the flu shot. I also want to make it clear that the reaction I had could also have happened to any other person who doesn’t have NMO. I’ve had one bad experience with the flu shot and that’s not enough evidence to determine a pro or against stance. 

If you’re like me and unsure about the flu shot don’t wait until mid season before you make a decision. If you decide against it, encourage your family members close to you to get theirs. Also, I want to reiterate that every NMO patient is different so always consult with your team of doctors.

#TOUGHLIKEME

On September 20th, 2 days before my 5 year anniversary from my first major neuromyelitis optica (NMO) attack, which was a transverse myelitis (TM) attack that left me in a wheelchair for quite some time, I managed to finish a 10 kilometre run with a few members of my family. Originally encouraged by my Uncle Roy who just turned 65 and is planning to run 5 major world marathons, he set out to encourage us younger family members to get active.

This is my family pre 10k race. We’re all still so shiny and clean here. Note that it was really chilly (only 8 degrees celsius) but we warmed up quick!

before the run

 

This is me with my biggest supporter (mainly ’cause he listens to me whine a lot), my husband, Mike. After all these years, this is probably my favourite photo of us.

us

My pre-race message to other NMO patients. I call out other patients of any disease to find their #TOUGHLIKEME moment and be your own hero.

My uncle led us in a big team huddle with some inspiring words.

huddle

And finally after the months of training and hard work, here’s my finish to my run.

This is my family after the run. My Uncle Roy (the R) made us all t-shirts to represent a letter in our last name.  It was rather fitting to run it with my cousins and Uncle and Aunt. When I think about it now these are a few of my biggest supporters especially during my early days of NMO. My uncle in black didn’t run it but he jumped in the photo to be our “space” in our last name. Don’t get confused – van Amerom is my maiden name but I’m now legally (and proudly) a Drolet.

family pic

This is me (in the middle) with my cousins, Allison (left) and Gudrun (right). Allison barely trained but she raises a bunch of kids and runs a farm/vineyard so she’s always running around. And Gudrun ran herself thin for a few years now and was able to keep up with her brothers who are total machines. I’m so proud of both of them.Zoo6

 

To check out my time results compared to all of the other 3000 runners click here. I finished at 1:14:11, which beat my goal of 1:15 but just barely. I’m already trying to decide which run I’ll tackle next.

Allen’s View of the World

Allen has learned how to take pictures on my iPhone and his tablet in the last few months. Eric came up with a great idea for my next vlog to make a slideshow of all his pictures and what the world looks like through his eyes. So I hope you all enjoy we got a kick out seeing what he likes to take pictures of.

 

 

13
Oct 2014
POSTED BY Erin
DISCUSSION No Comments
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How does NMO define you?

There have been various research studies published by the International Committee for the Study of Victimization that look at people who have suffered serious adversity, everything from disease, prisoners of war and accidents and then continue to survive. Their studies have categorized people into three groups: those who were permanently dispirited by the event, those who got their life back to normal, and those who used the experience as a defining moment to make them stronger. I believe they call it the “hardiness factor”.

Over the years I’ve met NMO patients and their caregivers (because disease affects our loved ones too) in all of these groups. To say the first group saddens me is an understatement – I’ve personally come dangerously close to giving up so I completely understand the feeling. In fact, I’m sure I’ve done the range of groups several times over. When I was first handed the diagnosis all I wanted was to get back to normal. To this day I’m still not sure I’ve ever really acknowledged my true feelings about the diagnosis and all the events afterwards. Most days living with NMO is just a forced lifestyle change but every once in awhile I like to push the limits and make a point of trying to live life to the fullest. I know there are other patients far worse than me, some in wheelchairs or walking aids. Having experienced that temporarily I know that could easily be my reality too one day so I in that sense NMO defines me and how I challenge myself.

As of a couple of weeks ago I’ve been sporting this new accessory. DSC_0499My uncle, who just turned 65 yrs old, is a world marathon runner. He encouraged my entire family to participate in a 10k run coming up this fall. When I received the first email from him my initial reaction was that it just wasn’t possible. I haven’t run or even tried since my diagnosis. In my previous life I’ve completed a few runs and I always found it exhilarating. After several more nag emails I thought I’d take our pug for a longer walk and see how that went. Before long I was working through the back pain and I registered both myself and my husband towards a new fitness goal. That went well for several months. I was even running up to 5k regularly every other morning at 6:15am. But then I got brave and stubborn. A combination of limited feelings in my legs and being head strong led to damage in my ankle and this very unattractive air cast for 4-6 weeks.

So here I am 3 weeks before this run and I want it so bad. I’ve taken the cast off at home as much as possible but it still hurts more than I’m willing to admit. I’m a mix of anger, disappointment, demotivation and pent up energy. This will be my third attempt at this particular run having become ill with NMO and bronchitis twice before. And there are other family members registered who I don’t have a high opinion of anymore and I’ll be damned if they run it but I don’t.

This run is personal for so many reasons.

As of right now I don’t know if I’ll get to run it. At this point I don’t feel I’ll be ready. I’m still hoping to try but won’t at the cost of permanent damage. This injury breaks my heart but not for the obvious reasons but because the last several months have been a glimpse of who I used to be and I miss her.

Guide Dogs for the Blind

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I was recently in the Bay area with my husband, John, as part of a fundraising effort for the Guide Dogs for the Blind, a school training labrador and golden retrievers to become working dogs. I led a cooking workshop for the recipient of the silent auction item (a gastronomic evening with me) and her fourteen guests. After the interactive culinary class, we enjoyed the three-course dinner together al fresco at Joan Boyd’s home in Napa, owner of Boyd Family Vineyards.

The day before the dinner, John and I visited the GDB campus in San Rafael. It’s a gorgeous campus—I mean, who can beat that California climate and scenery? (Well, I guess the scenery would be of little value to the school’s human students.) It was nonetheless a nice getaway from the Houston heat, and with wine and puppies, what else could I ask for?

John and I got to experience walking with a guide dog (yes, John was blindfolded). We strapped the GoPro to our heads—the footage will later be made into a Blind Life YouTube episode. Best of all, we had puppy playtime! How could you not love those pups pictured above?

A future guide puppy is specifically bred and born in-house at GDB. At about 12 weeks, they meet their raisers, or volunteers all over the country who foster the puppies—socialize them and give them basic training—until they’re over a year old. THen the puppies return to the GDB where they receive additional training to become a guide dog—think of it as their master’s degree.

Owners are matched to dogs by personality, lifestyle, needs, even walking pace. Humans have to be trained on how to work with their guide dogs, too, so potential owners come stay on the GDB campus for two weeks for training. The GDB is set up like a cozy college campus, complete with a cafeteria with customizable menu, individual dorm rooms, a student center/union, a gym, and so on. At the conclusion of the two-week program, there’s even a little graduation ceremony for the dogs, during which they’re officially given over to their new owners. So cute.

I’ve thought a lot about getting a guide dog over the years, and after my visit to the GDB, it has become a more serious consideration. To learn more about the GDB, their mission, programs, opportunities, how to become a puppy raiser, and how you can support, visit the Guide Dogs for the Blind website.

19
Aug 2014
POSTED BY Christine
DISCUSSION 1 Comment

Shattered

Friday, I was tlelainia08idying up in my studio and I smashed a vintage candy jar. It slipped right out of my hands. My hands are failing me right now. I am struggling, even typing this. As an artist, I can’t tell you how scary that feels. I had 3 days of IV steroids last week and I feel shattered, just like that candy jar.

Right now, my throat is raw from acid reflux, which I get every time I have steroids. I have doubled up on the medication that’s supposed to protect my stomach, but once again, it’s just not enough. My stomach is raw. I can’t eat or drink without causing pain. I am so thirsty, but drinking just makes things worse. I feel like I have strep throat and it hurts to talk. My vision has been blurry off and on and I’ve had some horrendous headaches.

Yesterday, I took my dog to his annual vet appointment. When we came home I decided to lie down for a nap…I woke up 5 ½ hours later. The whole day just blew by. I was up for a couple hours (long enough to check in with my husband who’d been at work all day) and then crawled back into bed. I lost track of how many hours I slept.

Sometimes the best I can do is survival mode. It’s not by choice and it’s something I am still working on adjusting to. I’m sharing the truth of this moment (without wanting to sugar coat it) so if you’re living with NMO and struggling right now, you’ll know you’re not alone. I’m right there in the trenches with you, fighting for all I’m worth. We may be bruised and battered, but I promise you, we are unbowed.

 

 

 

 

 

11
Aug 2014
POSTED BY Lelainia Lloyd
POSTED IN

Everyday life, NMO

DISCUSSION 6 Comments

5 Years Living with NMO

Last month was my 5-year anniversary of my 1st attack. I have to say I am truly blessed what I have overcome from that one day or actually that whole year. From being paralyzed on my left side and losing my vision in my left eye and going from doctor to doctor trying to figure out why I kept having attack after attack. Now looking back what I have all accomplished is making me realize I really am a strong and determined woman. Of coarse being diagnosed with a chronic illness forever changes your life and it takes awhile to understand why you? Some days are better then others and some days you are just tired of being sick and jumping through hurdles just to get through the day. I do have to remind myself some times I am truly blessed what I have over came.

Eric and I were so thrilled when we found out I was pregnant in 2011 with Allen. It was such an experience going through invitro and having NMO. A lot of people think it couldn’t be done or didn’t know how I would handle it? But I did it! It was the best I felt in years! After having Allen in 2012 was hard for me I was going through the change of being a new mom and my NMO was having fits and I had 3 flares within a few months I also gained a ton of weight due to all the steroids. In 2014 I said I couldn’t live being this heavy so I took charge of my health and started to become healthy again. Now since I lost over 66 pounds I feel so much better.

It is also hard for me to really sit down and think about truly all I went through from the beginning. I think the reason why is I don’t want to relive that awful year of being diagnosed it was so depressing. But sometimes you have to do it. Since that is what makes me the person I am today. I try to look at it from the prospective of now look what I have all accomplished! I still have to tell myself once in awhile NMO doesn’t define me I define what is NMO.

Surviving Summer

mexicanchefsalad The last 2 weeks on the west coast of Canada have been HOT. For those of us whose NMO symptoms are exacerbated by heat, this time of year can be challenging. One of my biggest challenges in the summer is dealing with dinner. By the time dinner rolls around, it’s super hot in my house (our house faces east and gets full sun all day) and as a result, I am fatigued. The last thing I want to do is cook.

Here are some of the things that help me cope and make sure we’re still eating healthy:

When it’s too hot to cook I will either make an effort to prepare anything that needs to be cooked on the stove or in the oven early in the morning when temperatures tend to be cooler. Later, I can reheat using my microwave. I try to choose foods for the majority of our dinners that can be cooked on the BBQ but another great option is using a crockpot. You can cook an entire meal in a crockpot without heating up the house and loading it up usually takes less than 10 minutes.

 

Here are some of my go-to crockpot meal ideas:

-A whole chicken & veggies: Add a cup of water or sodium free chicken or vegetable stock to the bottom to prevent sticking and to thicken into gravy at the end. I season the chicken with fresh rosemary, garlic, paprika & black pepper. MMM!

-Chili: This is about 5 minutes of prep time and can be eaten as is or become chili dogs, sloppy Joes or as chili over a baked potato. I use my own basic chili recipe which is crushed tomatoes, black beans, kidney beans, corn, onions, peppers and seasoning. In the summer, I use Yves veggie ground round (a vegetarian option!) as the protein so I don’t have to fry ground beef (or in my case, ground buffalo) on the stove. I add it to the chili about ½ an hour before serving.

-Shredded chicken fajitas: Pour a large jar of salsa into the bottom of your crockpot and then lay boneless chicken breasts on top. Just before dinner, remove the chicken and shred the using 2 forks. Mix shredded chicken with the salsa in the crockpot. Serve rolled in tortillas with sour cream, grated cheddar cheese and guacamole.

*Note: I start these meals at about 8 am and let them cook all day till 5 pm. Check your crockpot manual for cooking times and temperatures.

 What would summer be without salads? Years ago, everywhere you went, there were salad bars. Oddly enough, I enjoyed having salad for dinner and so did my husband. I’ve managed to recreate a salad bar at our house. I spend about an hour chopping up our favourite veggies, boiling some eggs & peeling them, grating or cubing cheese, draining & rinsing a tin of garbanzo beans and so on. I usually buy a big box of mixed greens. We like pickled beets, cottage cheese, sliced ham and turkey and croutons as well. I organize everything in individual containers in our fridge. When dinner time rolls around, I put all the fixings out on the counter and we assemble our own salads. An hour’s work pays off in providing enough fixings for 2-3 meals. Prep once, eat twice-that’s a win in my book!

 Another way I cope with preparing meals in the summer is to serve dinner on paper plates. It’s just my husband and I, but we don’t have a dishwasher and who wants to stand over a hot sink in 30C temperatures? Not me! I live in a very eco-friendly part of Canada where we’re able to recycle paper plates into our weekly compost, so I don’t feel overly guilty about doing this. Also, my hands are incredibly numb and the heat makes it worse so I tend to break a lot of dishes in the summer. Believe me, paper plates are cheaper & safer!

Some nights, I am just too exhausted to cook and we either get take out or go to a nice air-conditioned restaurant nearby. Sometimes I just have to give myself permission to cut myself some slack. Is it just me or does food prepared by someone else always taste better?

So, I’d be interested in knowing how you cope with the things you find challenging in the summer heat and I bet our readers would to. Leave a comment and let’s beat this heat together!

 

*Photo: Mexican Chef Salad, a favourite at our house!

21
Jul 2014
POSTED BY Lelainia Lloyd
DISCUSSION 1 Comment

Heat Intolerance and NMO

I have a love/hate relationship with the sun.

The winter was long and extra cold this year. I felt an overwhelming sadness by the constant darkness, so much so that we took two trips down south just so I could feel the vitamin D warm my skin. The natural sunlight gives me a boost of energy, it helps me recharge and most importantly it helps calm those pesky neuromyelitis optica (NMO) symptoms that happen in the cold. But too much of one thing is a bad thing…

Now I find myself in the heat of the summer, already scanning the Internet for hotel deals to stay in Whistler next winter. With the heat comes a different set of NMO symptoms that plagues me. The fatigue bothers me the most because I always have a jam packed day and love to keep up to my almost 2 year old daughter. I’m irritated by the weakness in my hands, quietly cursing under my breath each time I’ve almost dropped a mug or struggled to undo a bottle cap.

They call it “psuedoexacerbation”, where symptoms seem or actually do get worse. It can happen in the cold and/or the heat, exacerbating different or the same symptoms. If you’re unlucky like me neither climate is preferred. The cold/heat can slow the nerve impulse transmission to the already damaged parts. Fun, right?

I’ve tried the cooling vests, ice packs, etc. with little or no success so like everything else in life (and this disgusting disease) I find planning helps make things a little easier. Not that I avoid the heat but I’m strategic about when I expose myself. The sun is at its highest early afternoon so I get my tasks done inside then. I take walks or bike rides with the family after dinner time and fortunately my husband does all our yard work. If I find myself in the sun midday I take my time, take breaks and try to drink a lot of water. And always schedule in time for rest afterwards.

It’s much more convenient to take the easy route and complain about NMO but instead I choose to consider it a disciplined way of life, one that requires me to always plan ahead.