Friday, October 4, 2019

In the Clinical Trial of Life, You Are Always an N of 1 (RD Blog Week #5)

I’ve felt this for a long time, but I’m finally writing it down, because I think it’s good advice for newly diagnosed patients, and I wish someone would have told me something similar when I was first diagnosed.

Clinical trials are scary. Many patients feel they would only participate in a clinical trial if they were desperate, in a last ditch effort if no other treatments work.

But the reality is, in the clinical trial of life, you are always an N of 1.

No matter how tried and true a treatment is, no doctor can ever adequately tell you or know how you will react to a medication. Sure, by prescribing something, they may be acknowledging that the perceived benefits are greater than the perceived risks, but there is never really any way to know for sure until you’ve tried it yourself.

No two patients are alike. When you’re first diagnosed, everything feels scary and unknown. And you look for common ground, for people that are going through the same things that you are. And that’s great. It’s 100% necessary to find patients like yourself.

But again, the reality is, in the clinical trial of life, you are always an N of 1.

Having both lupus and RA, I took Humira with the acknowledgement that it could make my lupus worse. However, I never imagined that six months into treatment, I would suddenly have the worst lupus flare I had ever experienced, which left me almost completely bedbound for two weeks. When I finally realized that I couldn’t brave the storm any longer, my PCP suggested that I see my rheumatologist as it sounded to her like the flare may have been the result of Humira.

When my rheumatologist told me to get a pneumonia vaccine, I did so without question. I ended up getting cellulitis and almost lost my arm.

You are the only expert in yourself. Even when you’re body betrays you and has gone rogue, you still know your body better than anyone.

So if you approach a clinical trial the way you approach any other treatment, or vice versa, it normalizes it. It doesn’t make it as scary.

Because in the clinical trial of life, you are always an N of 1.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

We Are All Part of This Community, No Matter How We Are Doing (RD Blog Week #4)

As of late, I haven’t been blogging. It’s not so much that I haven’t had things to say as much as it has been a struggle about whether or not I should say it. I hesitate to express feelings I’ve held for quite some time. But, here goes…

I have made great friends through social media, blogging, and the chronic illness community, and I am forever grateful for that. However, I feel like so often it turns into a competition of who has it worse.

So, when I’ve been doing relatively well, I hesitate to share it. In the last two years, I’ve bought a house, gotten engaged, and gotten married. And while I know that the friends I’ve made through this community are happy for me, it’s hard to confront the larger community when so many others are struggling.

And it’s not that I don’t struggle with lupus and RA. I definitely do. It’s just that the suffering is no longer constant for me.

I’ve wanted to share everything that’s been happening, both the good and the bad, but it’s hard. It’s hard when you’re happy and want to celebrate it. It’s easier to rail against the bad stuff – medications not working, doctors not listening, struggling to stay above water when you feel like everything is closing in around you – because you know that others can relate. You’ve heard it all before, over and over again. You hear less of the good things.   

And it diminishes everyone to not allow the sun to shine through the clouds. It diminishes all of us, because we are not just these illnesses. We are wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, friends, and so much more.

We are who we are, and we should never have to apologize for that, or fear that having a good day and sharing that, is going to anger those who aren’t in the same place.

I think that as a community, in order to be cohesive, we need to celebrate our triumphs and our tragedies, our highs along and our lows, whether medical or otherwise. We need to support each other, not tear each other down.

It starts with a simple question: How are you? That’s pretty basic, right? But what’s not so basic is to actually listen to the answer to the question, and to enthusiastically respond, regardless of what the other person’s response is. If someone’s doing well, be their cheerleader. If someone’s struggling, encourage them.

We’re stronger together. We’re stronger when we display a unified front, when we fight as sisters and brothers in the struggle, no matter what stage of disease we are in. We must acknowledge our shared experience. Our shared experience is what brought us together in the first place, and our shared experience is what will keep the community going.

In a world filled with so much divisiveness and strife, we need to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

The sooner we stop fighting with each other, and start fighting for each other, the better off we will be.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Looking Back On 12+ Years of Chronic Illness (RD Blog Week #2)

When I was diagnosed with lupus and RA 12 years ago, I thought my life was over. I was in my first year of graduate school. Professors and my doctors told me that I should drop out of school. I didn’t listen. But I’d be lying if I said that having lupus and RA didn’t change things for me. They definitely did.

Deciding that I didn’t want an academic career was a difficult choice, but one that I made. I knew I wouldn’t be happy or competitive in that kind of environment. It shouldn’t be that way, but at least when I was preparing to enter academia, it was.

Getting a second master’s degree in health advocacy  was another choice that I made. Looking back, I don’t regret anything (except my student loans), but I do wonder if things would be different, or if I’d feel the same way I do now.

Getting my first full time job after being a student until the age of 30, buying a house, getting engaged, getting married, and considering starting a family, are honestly things I couldn’t have imagined 12 years ago, when my life seemed to be taken over by lupus and RA. All things chronic illness.

Some things in my life have clearly settled, but in terms of what I want out of a career hasn’t. I’m trying to figure out where I belong and where my skills are best suited. I’m doing my best at maintaining a full-time job, but I’m interested in alternative careers.

I’ve worked so hard to fight my way through eight years of graduate school to not really knowing exactly where I fit in.

Honestly, when I first got sick, marriage and children were an open and unanswered question. Would I find someone who would love me despite, or in spite of, my complicated illnesses? I did. However, the jury is still out on the whole having kids thing, so that’s TBD.

At the core, I’m still me, just different. My priorities changed. And that’s how life is, even without illness.

Now, I do have a desire to have a family, so what that’s going to look like is going to be interesting. And that’s where a lot of my focus is right now. The specter of having to go off of medications that I have come to rely on, and what that will mean for my home and work life, is a huge deal. There are so many unanswered questions.

I think a lot of what having a chronic illness does is that it forces you to face unknowns that healthy people don’t necessarily have to think about.

For 12 years, my life was almost entirely consumed by chronic illness. Now it’s consumed by things that are normal for people my age; maintaining a job, exploring what else is out there, dating, engagement, marriage, children.

Obviously, chronic illness colors all of those experiences and makes most of them more difficult. But I’m no longer just a chronically ill person. I was someone’s fiancĂ©e and now I’m that person’s wife. I hope someday to become a mother.

In a way, it’s sad that chronic illness isn’t my complete focus anymore, but it’s also refreshing.