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

Paresthesia.

Another day, another attack. I started this past Wednesday thinking it would be an average, uneventful day, as most “hump days” are; Mid-way through my cell biology laboratory, I soon realized that this would not be the case. My episode initiated with me having an extremely difficult time concentrating: I tried my hardest to stay on task, but simply could not focus. I read the same line again and again, but couldn’t comprehend its meaning. My chin began to feel numb with a dull burning feeling (paresthesia) that quickly spread to my entire face and head. It’s relatable to the feeling I get when my foot “falls asleep.” 

I went to the bathroom to examine myself, thinking it could possibly be an allergic reaction (my face sometimes feels hot and numb-ish during a reaction), but my face looked normal with some minor flushing. I became confused and tried to fight the urge to cry as anxiety flooded over me. I returned to class, asking my teacher how much time remained on our experiments. He told me that they would take the whole alotted time because we were fitting two experiments into one lab session. I expressed to him that I wasn’t feeling good and needed to make a phone call; luckily my teacher has a little knowlede about my health problems and therefore is most understanding with my condition and needing to take breaks. 

I called my dad,  a nurse of over twenty years of experience, and explained to him what was going on. I began to cry stating that I didn’t feel right and explaining my reoccurring symptoms. I began to feel faint. My dad thought it could be a possible allergic reaction or an anxiety attack, but I didn’t feel panicked. My breathing and pulse seemed too slow (to me), feeling as if I wasn’t receiving enough blood to my head. I splashed water on my face, took deep breaths, and went back into the laboratory to grab a snack and water from my bag. At this point I had red splotches on my face and chest from being stressed (my mast cell activation disorder causes me to break out during stressful situations and hormonal changes). 

I apparently looked unwell as I was greeted with a face of concern. I felt like I was going to pass out and told my instructor. He instantly became  worried and left the lab with me, asking me to sit down while he called the principal of our campus. He asked me if I needed an ambulance and I told him no, although now I wish I had just gone to the emergency room, given the insight I have now. He didn’t know what to do and was told to call campus police so that they could make sure I was okay and help escort me. I had called my mom and asked her to come get me, although I was hesitant because I didn’t know if this was going to pass soon or not and I hate to miss out on classes and labs. The police were most kind; they got my information, talked to my mom on the phone, giving her directions, and they escorted me to the lower level of the building, carrying my bags. I continued to have a hard time concentrating and I was taking awhile to answer easy questions, as my thoughts slowly gathered. I began having an intense pain at the base of my skull, almost as if I had a headache or migraine in that location, and prayed that this episode would pass soon. 

My mom was finally able to pick me up and drop me off at her house (I live an hour and a half away) making sure I had lunch, a drink, and comfort before heading back to work. I continued to feel strange until I fell asleep; when I awoke an hour later I felt better, but  pretty drowsy and fatigued, exhausted from this ordeal. I fell back asleep for another couple of hours until my mom came home from work and drove me back up to the campus to retrieve my car and drive home. This attack was similar to my episode a couple of weeks ago, except my heart felt like it was beaming and operating too slowly, instead of rapidly. I am puzzled as to what the source of these episodes is.  

I wrote a message to my primary doctor the following morning describing my strange and frightening day. He returned my phone call a couple hours later, expressing the upmost concern. Firstly, after I explained everything, he has become increasingly convinced these attacks are related to some type of heart arrhythmia or malfunction. I have contacted cardiology and have an appointment to be fitted to wear a heart monitor for a couple of weeks in hopes of “catching” one of these episodes. The hope is that we can identify what’s triggering these symptoms I’m feeling and how we can manage them. He then proceeded to inform me that my stool sample results came back and indicated a high level of lymphocytes (white blood cells) in my stool with negative cultures, an indication of many different things that need to be addressed urgently. He advised me to schedule a gastrointerogy appointment as soon as possible to have some more testing.

 It’s been a hectic couple of weeks with the girls (Mavis & Eleven) and myself being sick. I’m praying that things improve and that I can get some answers to this challenging puzzle! I additionally met with my new allergy specialist on Thursday afernoon, who ordered an array of blood tests to see what my mast cell levels looked like and if I have a spice-related allergens. He scheduled me to return to have a skin test performed that indicates whether I have an allergy to certain foods. He wants to test for mastocytosis and create a more efficient treatment plan (clearly what I’m doing currently is NOT working). In addition to my appointment with cardiology next week, I also meet with my new pain management specialist with hopes of managing my increasing nerve pain. 

Trying to tackle everything one by one.

Much love,

Cass

WIMB?

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I was so excited to receive my box on Monday night full of wonderful spoon approved goods! As promised I made this cute little display to show off what’s in my Be Kind To One Another Box from Cass! This box of gifts made its way all the way from Australia and includes:

I have tried a few products already including the mineral blush, Brazilian Beauty body lotion, Argan Oil, lip balm, and Face Cream and all of it is so wonderful. I felt like I million bucks last night pampering in my goodies. I can’t wait to try out the rest and I am so grateful for being nominated and chosen for one of these amazing boxes.

I have a picture in the side bar that links right to Cass’s Youcaring page for donations if you are interested.

xo,

Cass

Top Five Chronic Pain Go Tos

I am going to try my hardest to blog more regularly and especially about my illnesses because my blog was founded on the prediagnosis and diagnosis of my illnesses. I have been having a rough time lately with my pain amount which has lead to something I call painsomnia, or insomnia caused my unrelenting pain while trying to sleep. I have some go to things I use during pain episodes depending on the location of the pain and the severity.

1) The Leacho Snoogle Total Body Pillow – I originally used some of my gofundme money to buy this gem before I had my decompression surgery and it really is wonderful. According to the chart below from sheknows, sleeping on my stomach (which I have done for years) is the worst position for my neck, hip, and low back pain I deal with everyday. Using this pillow not only allows be to get in a comfortable position, but it also keeps me from reverting back to my stomach. The Snoogle can also be formed in different ways for different uses, proving pregnancy is not the only source of intense pain. I definitely recommend purchasing this pillow if you suffer from chronic pain.


2) Heat- my heating pad, in particular, is from the 1960s (or so) and therefore heats up like a little hot plate, which I love! Let’s be honest, the modern heating pads have a temperature maximum that just doesn’t do it for me. I usually use my heating pad at night on my lower back. Heat is a wonderful remedy for muscle aches and pains! Hot baths also are part of my pain regimen with some Epsom salts to soak in!
3) ESA – my emotional support animal helps me with the mental desperation chronic illnesses leave me with. Mavis is usually by my side whenever I’m in pain. Besides providing loving company, my little girl can tell when I’m not feeling well and cuddles up with me to share the burden.

4) Cervical Collar – I use my cervical collar when my neck begins to tire out. Every time I go to the movie theater I use my brace because I begin having pretty significant pain from straining my neck to get a proper view of the screen. My neck has become quite sensitive after my laminectomy and it’s is easily irritated. I am limited on the degree I can turn my head and it often cracks and pops at different times, so stabilizing it can help with pain and support.

5) Medication Regimen – last, but not least my prescriptions and medications aid in managing my pain. On a daily basis I am accustomed to taking tramadol, alieve, Tylenol pm, gabapentin (nerve pain), methocarbinol (muscle relaxer), and lidocaine patches for my neck, back, and nerve pain. I also use a muscle rub and different oils for massages (Bed Bath & Beyond’s Aromatherapy Collection).

If you have any reccomendations on what you use for your pain please let me know.

Xo,

Cass

pain.

I have a hard time explaining to people that I will not get better. This is only going to get progressively worse, if anything, and I am in pain everyday. Most of the students I go to school with only worry about making it to Friday, so they can party on the weekend. They complain about having to study, while here I am not sure if I am going to make it through class because the pain is too bad. I write this from my couch, heat pad on high on my back, neck brace on with my Real Time Pain Relief MAXX ointment lathered on my neck and back praying that this pain will pass quickly. I am on methocarbamol, a muscle relaxer, and am trying my best to only take one tramadol a day. I have lidocaine patches that I wear 12 hours on (although they don’t ever stay on that long!), 12 hours off on my lower back. I take tylenol and advil daily in addition to these other medications to try to alleviate anything. The pain is the worse thing having to deal with, but I also have weekly allergic reactions. Last Wednesday I had a horrible reaction that left me wheezing, covered in red splotches, and horrible gastrointestinal discomfort. I try my best to push forward and to see the best, which I have so much to be thankful for, but sometimes it’s hard to stay focused. I also suffer with depression and anxiety. The brain’s way of processing pain is similar to depression, so it definitely can have an impact on my mental health. I have had to take a year off in total from college to deal with this and it’s something I’ll have to fight everyday for the rest of my life. I am so incredibly blessed to have a partner willing to stick it out with me and be not only my best friend and husband, but my caretaker too for days that I can’t get by or nights that I come home with tears.

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I want to create a safe place for people suffering, not only with chronic illnesses, but with mental health as well. We are in this together. Please feel free to comment if you need help or want to discuss your challenges.

Xo,

Cass

Chiari Malformation Month (September)

Hey guys!

So this is delayed because I had a difficult time working iMovie, youtube, and all the ins and outs of the technological platform, but I finally finished my Chiari Malformation Awareness video for September (Chiari Malformation Awareness Month)! In this video I discuss how I came about my diagnosis and the challenges I continue to face living with this invisible illness. If you have any questions, please do NOT hesitate to ask!

XO,

Cass

Yes!

Well I’ve been a busy busy busy bee! First of all I started back to school and that has occupied all my free time. I’m taking five classes for my last fall semester in college: Organic Chemistry, Exercise Physiology, Biology Seminar, Pathophysiology, and Abnormal Psychology. So far I’m doing relatively well for such a full load, but chemistry will always be my down fall. I have to focus and buckle down to get ahead. 


Other news, I got engaged! The man of my dreams got down on one knee on October 7th and I say yes without hesitation. Caleb is my best friend and my soulmate. I knew pretty quickly that he was the one for me. If you haven’t found your significant other yet, let me tell you, love at first sight is possible because it happened for us. I can’t write enough to explain my absolute admiration for this man. His soul, his humor, his smile, his eyes, his everything… I love it. He’s the reason I wake up with a smile and go to bed with sweet dreams. Having a long distance relationship is difficult, but it has been well worth it and I will be moving mid October to join his side.


 I’m so entirely excited for our upcoming plans: house decorating, furniture shopping, wedding plans! I’m ready to spend the rest of my life with him! Caleb, Mavis, and Oliver, my little family is perfect! I’ve never been so happy in my life. That explains my absence! My goals are to survive this semester and prep for my last one in the spring, plan an amazing wedding with my fiancé, get in shape with my honey for our big day, get married to Caleb in front of God, my family, and friends, and graduate with my bachelors in Biology and a minor health professions. 


As far as my spoonie situation, things have gotten worse. I had a pain management appointment back in late August where I received six large injections in my back with the hopes of relieving my pain. I was numb with a pinching for less than 24 hours. My back has been excruciating. I went to the doctors and almost passed out in the clinic from the severe pain. I received a renewal on my pain medication (luckily, because I was petrified I would not get refill), a muscle relaxer prescription, and a shot of toridol. My mother had to pick me up and I slept as soon as I got home for a solid two or three hours until Mavis demanded my attention. I’m becoming less hopeful about my situation with my back, but hopefully I’ll be receiving better medical care here in the near future. I’m constantly praying that my back will become manageable and that I can live without being dependent on pain meds. Thank you to all that continue to follow my difficult but lovely journey. To all my spoonies, don’t give up. You do have a purpose; if I have one (I want to be a great wife), you surely do too. 

Xo,

Cass

Follow me on snapchat (@cassandrasheab), Pinterest (@cassrobnson), instagram (@cassrobnson) for more of Caleb’s, Cass’s, and Mavis’s adventures!