Bachelor’s of Science 

This past May I walked across the stage at Texas Tech University and accepted my diploma after five years of intense work, tears, and way too much stress. My undergraduate started in Fall 2010 when I took a few dual-credit classes to prep me for the years ahead. I entered McLennan Community College (MCC) as a full time student in Fall of 2011 after earning my high school diploma (with honors). I continued to live at home and work part time as a waitress and a babysitter. I was inducted to Phi Theta Kappa after my first semester for my grade point average and hard work.

In Fall of 2012, I moved to Austin to attend The University of Texas at Austin. I was accepted into the school of nursing, but switched (due to the anxiety of the competiveness of the program) to a nutrition major. I worked part time as a nanny and completed a few classes, but I grew too depressed to continue on. This was one of the worst times dealing with my depression. I became suicidal and questioned my life therefore, I returned home after the semester and took the following spring semester off to deal with my mental health. I began seeing a psychologist every week and focused on my health and diet (as I put back all the weight I lost and more due to the extreme mental agony).

Summer 2013, I returned to classes online and went back full time to MCC. I lost the weight I had gained previously to get in the best shape of my life. I got my first long-time job as a Client Service Coordinator at Banfield Pet Hospital and my GPA went back up! In May 2014 I earned two associates with honors (AA & AS).
After attending full time in the summer to get all my prerequisites finished up, I transferred to Texas Tech University as a Biology major and a Chemistry minor. I enjoyed my first year full of exciting science classes and excelled academically, but I began having health issues. I had unexplained faintness, rapid heartbeat, and chronic gastrointestinal problems. In September 2014, my heart went into atrial fibrillation and it had to be cardioverted back into rhythm after IV drugs did not work. I also began having intese allergic reactions and anaphylaxis which lead to my diagnosis of Mast Cell Activation Disorder.

Despite suffering from these issues, I was on a great path until summer of 2015. I quit my job because I was discriminated against for having depression and anxiety that did NOT interfere with my job. I was targeted by the head veterinarian (who was pretentious) along with another girl I worked alongside (she was the only black employee and she also was having a tough time). We were both basically treated unfairly and made to quit. I was told if I didn’t quit, I would be placed on leave without pay. We were thinking about getting lawyers involved for discrimination, but as anxiety goes, we both dropped it. This is when I began getting increasingly ill and I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I started having brain fog and trouble with words and times (which is maybe why they thought my depression interfered with the job, only it wasn’t my depression at all).


That summer I attended classes full time and worked part time as a veterinarian assistant, but this is when I started having extreme problems (hence the archives start here!). Some of the symptoms I began experiencing was muscle weakness, slurred speech, confusion and brain fog, daily headaches, migraines, loss of balance and coordination, and horrible neck and back pain. The pain was so intense I would lay on the floor crying. I started seeing multiple doctors (even at the emergency clinic). I was told that it must just be a muscle sprain over and over again. As my symptoms progressed, I was let go from my job for fear that I may get hurt. I got several images taken: X-ray, CT scan, and MRI. I was told everything was normal. Luckily I had my dad on my side and we would not give up until I had an answer. I got my hands on the actual MRI report which stated: patient has a herniation of the cerebellar tonsils; something my doctor did not think was important to mention to me. I made an appointment to talk to her and she said that shouldn’t affect me at all because “my flow was good.”

Arnold-Chiari Malformation: “structural defects in the cerebellum. That’s the part of the brain that controls balance.”

She insisted that I just needed a psych referral and basically disregarded my physical concerns, needless to say I fired her. I fought hard for a consult with a “Chiari Expert.” My dad actually found a doctor in Houston that specialized in neurology and did posterior fossa decompressions as part of treating Chiari symptoms. I made an appointment with him and had severe issues having my insurance cover it. My dad offered to pay out of pocket for one appointment; we arrived, cash in hand, only to be told that was incorrect and they didn’t take payment from the patient (only insurance companies). My dad begged for them to see me, seeing how badly my symptoms were progressing, but we were turned away. He didn’t stop until he talked to the insurance representatives and they agreed to cover an appointment.

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I finally met Dr. Parish in November and he immediately diagnosed me with Chiari Malformation. My hands and feet were numb due to the lack of proper flow of the spinal fluid cord and he assured me that he could successfully complete the operation with a good chance of aiding or resolving some symptoms. On December 9th, 2015, I under went brain surgery to correct my defect. I had a leg graft taken to be placed in the back of my skull to allow more room for the cerebellar spinal fluid (CSF) to flow. This was an extremely hard time for me as I finished my semester only days before having to be operated on. That semester was truly a grueling one; I had to battle ongoing symptoms of the defect while having to focus on school. The brain fog was immense and it was hard for me to concentrate and memorize. This was the start of working harder than everyone to maintain my grades. In addition to all of this, my grandmother passed away in November only a couple weeks before my operation, but I made it through.

I tried to use my winter break to recover. I signed up for Spring classes foolishly. I was so eager to stay on the path to graduation which was planned for December 2016. After making it all the way through April, it became too much for me to deal with. I wasn’t used to studying after the operation, which is thought to be a Traumatic Brain Injury because of the invasiveness and the aftermath. I couldn’t cope with my confusion. Although my numbness and slurred speech improved, I had much difficult thinking of the right words, staying on a schedule, and had a horrible memory. The pain, which I thought had been resolved (probably masked by the incision pain?), reappeared in March. I made the choice to medically withdraw. My anxiety was incredibly high because I had never had such problems with school as I did that semester.

That summer I had so many life changes. My previous relationship ended and I met Caleb. I questioned my ability to go through another year of school, but I pushed forward. I ran into financial issues as I had to find out the hard way that financial aid is hard. I returned to school in August 2016, determined that it would be my last fall semester. I changed my minor from chemistry to health professions because I would have had to stay an extra semester for one class and I had had enough! I somehow made it through a grueling semester in which I moved and made some serious changes.

January 2017 I started my last semester at Texas Tech, extremely terrified at the course load. I’ll admit that I’m terrible at chemistry and had to buckle down to pass. I somehow managed to make it through despite facing some discrimination along the way (short story: my chemistry teacher blew up on me for forgetting how to set up and apparatus). The months were the slowest of my life. They dragged on and on and I counted the days I had left. I finished my last final on May 12th; that feeling of waking up the day after and coming to the realization I don’t have to endure this repetitive cycle of driving 72 miles back and forth to school and constantly stressing over attendance (that’s what chronic illness does) and proficiency (grades!) is over… it’s liberating, the best feeling in the world! I can’t believe I did it. Over 5 years of hard work with so many challenges and setbacks. I’ve done it! I drove to Lubbock alongside my mom, Caleb, and Dianne to accept my Bachelor’s of Science on May 19th!

So what now? Where will my life take me? I’ve spent this past month applying for jobs left and right, in hope that the perfect one will arise and be interested in my education and experience. I’ve been looking at administration jobs because I know with my chronic pain and conditions, a standing job isn’t ideal. I’ve been working hard this month: exercising, eating healthy, and attending appointments (neurology, allergy, and my PCM to manage my care). I ended up in the ER late May after some terrifying symptoms (numb and blue limbs, confusion/brain fog [worse than usual], feeling faint, & low blood pressure) occurred. It was concluded that I had complex migraine (how can this turn your limbs blue with the blood pooling?) and I got a referral for neurology to see why I am having chronic migraines and neurological issues. The ER doctor said that he saw an old lesion on my cerebellum, which makes me wonder if it is a result of the decompression or something completely different. I fainted a couple weeks later and experienced rapid heart beat upon standing, so a referral to cardiology was put in as well. Praying that I can get these symptoms under control!

Managing my health and upcoming career is stressful to think about, not to mention my endless wedding planning for our upcoming October “I dos.” I often think about my future life and what it will turn out to be. I’ve always wanted to be a mother, but I never thought chronic illness would affect me so much. I just need a steady career and some more answers and/or treatments to manage my defect and diseases. Right now I’m battling my thyroid disease as my medication needs to be adjusted (my synthyroid dose is too low). I just found this out on Friday after my biopsy consult. My doctor that had ordered this test had my results and said nothing (why you have to investigate yourself!). No wonder I’ve been feeling so sluggish, run down, and hungry. Despite working out and eating healthy, I’m not losing any weight! So many times I haven’t been informed of my test results, which is why now I will request a copy!

Here’s to my crazy life ahead (post-undergraduate)! Let’s see where life leads me! Congratulations to the Class of 2017!

Xo,

Cass

Decompressed.

Three and a half days in the hospital, five IV pokes, and an arterial line: I had brain surgery and survived. We headed to Houston on Tuesday, December 8th to give us plenty of time to plan for the bumpy road ahead, staying the night with my Aunt Babette and my Uncle Daniel in Katy, about a 45 minute trip down the road. The day before surgery I could hardly eat. I was so nervous and had absolutely no appetite. I got a call around four pm and was told to be at the hospital bright and early at six in the morning. I knew this would be a hard time for all of us because it meant us leaving around 4 am the morning of and hardly no sleep the night before. I took an ambien the night before in order to drift off to sleep and before I knew it, it was 3:30 am, meaning I had to get up and shower with surgical scrub again and wake my mother up. Once we finally made it to the hospital, the staff made no hesitation in getting me changed into their specialized “Bair Paws” gowns that allows hot or cold air to flow through the gown to keep the patient at a desired temperature. Once I was all dressed and had socks on, the nurse asked if I had used the surgical scrub everywhere. I told her I had not, that I only used it on the back of my head and left thigh. Embarrassment pursued as they made me throw away my gown, change my linen, and rewash with their specialized hot rags. Eventually I got settled down into my new gown and was categorized as a fall risk, so I got new socks and a fancy yellow wrist band. The nurse went over all my information several times to make sure they got every single thing wrong with me: my cell mast activation disorder, tegaderm allergy, my four previous surgeries, etc. etc. etc. I had my IV put in and met with the anesthesiologist. She told me she would monitor me under anesthesia and make sure that all my vitals were fine. She informed me that another IV would be put in while I was under and that I would be given something to relax before they wheeled me back. Amazingly, I was not nervous. I was ready. I met with Doctor Parrish and the operating room nurse before they wheeled me off. I said goodbye to my mom, dad, Aunt Cindy, and boyfriend after they gave me the drugs and took me to the operating room. I arrived to the sacred cold sterile room and the anesthesiologist told me she was going to put me to sleep now. I told her “okay,” and on we proceeded.
I woke up four hours later in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) with a smile on my face. I asked nurse Julia, who was awesome at what she does, if I was alive. She laughed and told me that was the first time she had ever heard that one. I couldn’t believe that I made it through and I was awake and feeling relatively great. My mom and my boyfriend were the first to see me with a smile on my face (top left circle) and I told them I loved them and that I was completely alright. Nurse Julia was wonderful and got me about nine different cups of water (thank goodness I had a catheter in) and ice chips as they had no beds in the intensive care unit opened. My dad and Aunt Cindy snuck back in the PACU to see me. My dad previously worked in PACU and as an OR nurse for many, many years, so it felt quite natural to invade any hospital’s “PERSONNEL ONLY” signs and see me, since the lady letting visitors in rudely told my mom that my dad and aunt could not see me. Nurse Julia was able to give me a lot of pain medicines because I began feeling it badly. The shearing pain of my incision in my neck. The cut-muscles, burning. The sting. My leg where my dura patch was taken from began hurting and I was wailing in pain, but content because she was so nice and helping me with my requests. I kept thanking her and telling her she was so nice and that I would leave feedback for her. I got her whole name because I wanted to tell the head people that she was so wonderful. It means so much when people are nice to you, especially when recovering from neurosurgery. I was in the PACU for several hours until a bed opened in ICU and off I went.

My first night there was rough, I started feeling the affects and my tears got the best of me. My throat was on fire and I was told I couldn’t drink any more water (after drinking about 15 cups) because it could mess up my sodium levels (my dad told me this was BS. He said I was young person, not some seventy-year-old). I was not allowed to have as many meds as I did in PACU because apparently that is the “trial” period where they determine which drugs work best for you. The night I arrived I had a young nurse named Brittany helping me and she was teaching a student. I had no idea what the student’s name was, all I knew is she was not well informed about any medications I was on and believe me, trying to explain to the nurse-in-training that you need your prescribed muscle relaxer, but she has no inclination to look in the record at what you’re taking or what you needed, is beyond frustrating. I told her I needed my muscle relaxer about ten times and she began shooting off anti-anxiety meds: klonipin? xanax? NO, I NEED MY MUSCLE RELAXER MY SURGON ORDERED, NOT AN ANTI-ANXIETY. A blank look. Ok, let me check. She said dilauded about fifty times in confusion as to what muscle relaxer I needed, again WRONG medication CLASS. She asked do you know what you took? I said “Don’t you have that in the chart?” I mean I hate to be rude, but really. I am in ICU, INTENSIVE CARE, and you are not knowledgeable enough to check the chart and see what my Doctor had prescribed or what pain medicines I received before in PACU that worked. I JUST HAD BRAIN SURGERY. I began crying and paging the front to please send in Brittany. I explained to Brittany what I needed and she took care of it right away. I was given morphine (which I had a mild reaction to top bottom right photo of burning and inflammation [they dosed me with benadryl and boom out like a light], but who cares, it was well worth it and I hid it from the neuroward staff every time, in fear they would say I couldn’t have anymore) and I fell asleep and was woken up around 2am for a CT scan. I was in and out the whole night so I don’t even recall waking up from the CT scan. I recall them taking me back to my room and telling me my scan looked good and that I just had air built up behind my incision. I drifted off to sleep and awoke to a new nurse, Kevin. Kevin was so awesome. I told him about the difficulties I had the night before and he got the nursing manager to take down my comments and concerns. Kevin took out my arterial line, catheter, extra I.V., and got me walking with the help of a wonderful physical therapist. He even hooked me up with delicious hot chocolate and told me I am one of the few patients who admit the like the hot cocoa. I loved it and drank probably four cups in the morning’s span!

After I was up and walking, they determined I was functioning properly and I was moved to the neuroward on the same floor, but down the hall. I spent two more nights in the regular hospital recovering. I could not get my pain management under control for quite awhile and was nauseated the first two days, vomiting my meals up, soon after consumption. My boyfriend stayed with me in the hospital every night, insuring I had the proper treatment throughout the night and to provide company, of course. He laid in the bed with me as we watched movies together, a.k.a he watched and I fell asleep about ten-twenty minutes later. My baby helped me through so much. Anytime I needed to go to the bathroom he was there helping me to the toilet. My mother also helped me enormously in the hospital and took me for outings to the lobby to see the Christmas tree and lights and the gift shop. I would either fall asleep or get nauseated and we would return about ten minutes later to my room. She ensured I had a meal three times a day, despite my lack of interest, and called the nurse when I needed pain medicine. She showered me and walked me around with my walker several times. My dad and Aunt Cindy only were there the first day in ICU and said goodbye once I made it to the main ward. I was happy that they both came out to make sure I was well taken care of and made it through my surgery. My dad later returned to drive me from the hospital.

After I left the hospital we stayed at a hotel for one day to make sure that I was  out of trouble. I had continued problems: several fits of vomiting and a hard time with pain management. I later found out that this surgery (brain surgery) is one of the most painful recoveries out of almost all surgeries. My mom brought me Starbucks Frappucinos, the un-caffeinated Vanilla Bean, to keep me happy and we even had Chinese food delivered to our room! My mom was so thoughtful to provide all these arrangements for my boyfriend and I.

I now have been home since last Sunday, almost a week, and my mother has taken care of me. Through my tears and pain she has been by my side. I gave my boyfriend some “time off” to catch up on sleep, but he visits me daily. I slept over at my house one night and my “ambien hallucinations” were too much for him to handle so I decided to stay with my mother until Monday. I am getting stronger a bit more each day and going longer without my pain medication and muscle relaxers, but it has been extremely hard. I luckily have not had an infection or any severe problems yet. I have noticed a few sensations that worried me, but I’m giving it time until I see Dr. Parrish in January. I had half of my staples removed yesterday thanks to my boyfriend (one had to be removed on Wednesday because it was literally pinching me and burning). I will have the rest removed (again by my boyfriend who learned via youtube and thanks to Dr. Parrish’s (have to go on vacation) staple remover kit) on this upcoming Wednesday, which will mark a full two weeks! The pain is still there, though, and I can’t believe it’s been less than two weeks. I have been using ice packs and heat pads on my neck and leg and have been relying heavily on my mother to help me. I am, however, feeling better. My pain in my back is finally relieved, my hands and feet have feeling to them, and my spirits are uplifted. I hope to be closer to God and that I can heal through this, work out my other disorders and be tested, and that I can become healthier and happier.

With much love,

Cass

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