Diagnosis Pt. II

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Conquer Chiari Walk Across America

If you haven’t seen Netflix’s Diagnosis by now, you’re definitely missing out! My husband and I started watching it a few months back and we instantly were hooked. For years I have been classified as a medical mystery. So many different doctors told me: “it is in your head” or “it’s just a muscle sprain” and the occasionally “I honestly don’t know what we’re looking at.” I had shingles at seven (rare at that age) which confused a lot of medical personnel, but this was nothing that was to come.

Throughout my childhood I was seemingly healthy. I had chronic nosebleeds most summers, my ankles rolled so many times I lost feeling in them, and my knee caps started dislocating around the age of 12, but other than those issues I was pretty healthy. I had my tonsils and adenoids removed around the age of eight for chronic inflammation and I had ear tubes put in as a baby because of ear infections. Other than being overweight I looked and acted like a normal child.

Dislocations

It started with my ankles. From the time I could first remember I often rolled and twisted my ankles. I had such instability in my ankles that my ankle became numb from how many time I rolled them. Then fast forward to 2003. I did gymnastics and was always super flexible. I was at a K-Mart reaching up for an Easter Basket when I experienced my first knee dislocation. I’ve never experience such pain in my life. Unfortunately many more dislocations in both my knees and hips would follow.

Raynaud’s

Around sixteen my hands and feet started turning blue especially in cold environments or stressful situations. I went to the ER once for “diabetic” like symptoms in my feet (they were blue and numb) and was discharged with a migraine. My primary care physician (PCP) diagnosed me with Raynaud’s Syndrome and I was told to try to limit my extremities to cold temperatures. I bought some special gloves for when the temperature dropped, but we went forward not knowing this was a clue to the puzzle.

Idiopathic Anaphylaxis 

Around the age of twenty-two, I started having major issues. It began with an allergy problem. I would have anaphylactic reactions out of now where and to foods I have had multiple times with no problems. I lived in fear as I was terrified that whatever I ate could cause my throat to close. I had one emergency room visit where they administered epinephrine and one allergy clinic emergency where they administered it as well.

I had extensive allergy testing done and thought I had something called mass cell activation disorder. Based upon a blood study the allergy specialist said that I have higher amount of basal cells or the cells that cause a reaction to allergen. I kept Benadryl and my epi-pen on me at all times. Despite testing several allergens, no food could be pin pointed as a trigger and I was thought to be allergic to some unknown spices. 

Fast forward a few more years I had a skin and bone marrow biopsy done after I went to see a dermatologist for urticaria and allergic reactions. My skin basically overreacts to stimuli. I was diagnosed with idiopathic anaphylaxis. My bone marrow biopsy came back normal, so they ruled mastocytosis out, yet I am still having allergic reactions. I was told by one doctor that I have irritable bowel syndrome and maybe that was causing these reactions, but since becoming pregnant in January 2018, I have gone into a bit of remission.

Gastrointestinal 

I started having gastro problems in 2014 (around 22 years of age). I had chronic diarrhea and a lot of nausea with vomiting. I lost a lot of weight unintentionally because I was so sick that summer. I had a colonoscopy done and all that was reported was inflammation. I am picky about what I eat because I am afraid of the outcome. I started cutting out heavy sugars, fats, and spicy foods. I later went on to have such bad abdominal cramping that it caused me to almost faint. I had my gallbladder taken out at seventeen from rapid weight loss and from cutting out fats from my diet that caused gallstones, so I knew it wasn’t a gallbladder issue. My PCP prescribed dicyclomine for stomach cramping and diagnosed me with what he though was irritable bowel syndrome. Another doctor I saw said he thought I had diverticulitis because of the extreme pain I was in. I remember driving to the hospital and then changing my mind and pulling over to ride the pain.

Atrial Fibrillation 

While I was ongoing my allergy and gastrointestinal issues in fall of 2014, I stood up and immediately felt faint. I went to the bathroom and I looked white as a sheet. I felt clammy and my heart felt like it was palpitating out of control.

I had previous “attacks” where my heart would beat so fast for no reason. I went to the hospital once when I was sixteen for it and they ruled it as an anxiety attack, although I disagreed at the time. I know anxiety and I was watching a movie in a hotel room complete relaxed at the time.

I felt beyond sick. I collapsed to the ground and told my boyfriend at the time I needed to go the emergency room. I felt like I might die. I began feeling nauseated and I knew it was serious. Upon arriving I told them I was having chest problems. I thought maybe it was a heart attack. I was already crying because I could feel my heart. It pounded. It felt like it would explode. They did an EKG right away and called the cardiologist on call. They said it was atrial fibrillation. The doctor had never seen someone my age with it. They tried administering drugs to get my heart back in rhythm but to no avail. I consulted with my dad (a nurse) and we agreed I had to be cardioverted back. Basically my heart need to be shocked. They put me to sleep with an anesthetic and I woke up not long after with a pain in my chest but a normal heartbeat.

I had a couple more episodes after this one but no where as severe. I was tested for POTS because of the problems I had feeling faint upon standing and I had almost passed out several time while using the toilet.  Despite matching on a lot of the symptoms the test came back negative.

Muscle Pain & Weakness

This has been the most persistent symptom of them all. I have pain every day in my back and neck. I thought when I had my operation (posterior fossa decompression) that I would be better, but it’s much worse. It started in the summer of 2015. My neck and back would put me in tears it hurt so bad. My PCP at the time told me it was a muscle sprain. I tried muscle relaxers to no improvement. Doctor after doctor told me the same thing. Must be a sprain. I finally received a MRI and my doctor failed to mention that the results stated I had a cerebellar tonsil herniation. She told me that it shouldn’t affect me and basically it’s all in my head, so I fired her immediately and went to a neurosurgeon that specialized in Chiari Malformation (after doing extensive research about what cerebellar tonsil herniation meant). Combined with the other symptoms I will further talk about in this post, with the herniated tonsils was too much to “be in my head.” I continue to have major cervical instability pain that makes everyday a challenge for me, but I have great days and I have bad days and keep progressing to hopefully a manageable pain future.

Memory Loss

In that summer of 2015 I began having severe short term memory loss. I used to have such an amazing memory and was quick to recall facts, names, etc., but now I was constantly arguing with my boyfriend at the time about things I didn’t remember. Where did I put my keys? Did I take my medicine? I couldn’t remember doing the most basic of tasks. It was terrifying. How would you feel if you couldn’t remember a good portion of your actions? I started having panic attacks because of what was happening.

Slurred Speech & Aphasia 

In addition to the memory issues, my speech began to slur. I wasn’t even aware of the issue until I called my dad and he asked if I was intoxicated. I began to have difficulty speaking my thoughts. A sort of aphasia, I guess you could call it. I often confused words or had a difficult struggle in getting out my thoughts. Going from a scholar to this was extremely defeating. I was in what was supposed to be my senior year of college when this hit. It took a toll on my grades and my self-esteem. I was terrified. As we were formulating ideas (before the Chiari results of the MRI), we were thinking possible brain tumor. Was this the beginning of the end for me? I began to mourn the person I once was. I went from running 5Ks for fun to being a lifeless shell of my former self.

Migraines

The migraine were extreme. I’m talking full on nausea, ocular issues, light sensitivity. I basically lied in a dark room praying for it to end. I couldn’t open my eyes. The pain shot throughout my head and felt as if it were going to explode. I began to see a neurologist. I tried several anti-migraine medications: zomig, amitriptyline, rizatriptan, and others. The migraine were almost daily. I would have to miss class and basically laid there in agony. Too sick to eat, in too much pain to move. I currently am going through a remission of this symptom ever since getting pregnant with my son. It’s been a miracle from suffering so frequently to having them so rarely and I hope it’s something that will continue this trend.

Balance

My balance was beginning to become terrifying. I would suddenly feel as if I would fall over when walking normally. I was on high alert as I was afraid I may fall at any moment. It got to be so bad I’d use a walker to make sure I didn’t fall right before my surgery. I felt like this was an all time low in my health. Here I was. I was supposed to be a healthy, happy twenty-three-year-old and I was using a walker to get to my college classes. I was humiliated, but more so terrified for what was to come.

Nystagmus

Another symptom that appeared mysteriously was found at my eye exam. I ended up having vertical nystagmus that had previously not been seen. I later found out that it was a symptom of Chiari Malformation that had not been caught before. It was very slight, but sure enough my eyes made uncontrolled repetitive movements up and down. Nystagmus can indicate central nervous disease, so I was on high alert after I was told I had it.

With all of these symptoms coming in different waves, I knew it was time. I needed answers. I am tired; tired of the doctors juggling different diagnoses and medicines back and forth. It’s physically and mentally exhausting having to explain myself over and over and people not understanding half of what I go through; Not understanding why I can’t make it to their event and why it’s hard for me to confirm plans and how hard it is for me to put on a mask, pretending everything is okay. I’m tired of answering “I’m fine” or “I’m okay” because explaining that my chronic illness is eating away at me everyday is too long and difficult to mention. I’m tired guys.

I decided to email the doctor from Diagnosis and she led me to the online Facebook support group that aims at trying to diagnose you. And… I got my answer. All this time of not knowing and I’m fairly certain it’s correct and I mean that I am 90% certain. Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome (EDS) with Mast Cell Activation Disorder and Chiari Malformation, both side conditions of EDS. In the past I thought I might have this, but I was told there was no test for it and that is incorrect. I have all of the matching identifiers of this connective tissue disorder.

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I couldn’t believe it. I had heard about EDS being in the spoonie community, but I had never really pinpointed it as the cause of my many issues. I took the Beighton Scale Test and I am a 8/9!  I am making an appointment soon with a geneticist to have a blood test done and to determine what the odds would be of carrying on my Hypermobile EDS on to my son and future children. I can’t help, but feel comforted that I have a label now. Maybe the doctors will finally take my pain seriously with this diagnosis.

My future is uncertain, but I strive to be one thing: happy.

Here’s to 2020; the year of knowing.

Happy New Year.

xoxo, 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

Originality

Some of my past readers may have noticed that I “revamped” my blog and change a few thing around, but that doesn’t change the fact that this my personal blog and I use it to talk about my struggles with severe depression and anxiety, my Chiari Malformation diagnosis. I think most people are terrified that they are alone and so if this can give my readers a sense of unification or understanding, then my job is done.

So many things have occurred since I last chimed in. First of all, I have a “new” position at the same job as a dog bather. I basically wash and deshed (which is a number of hair removing techniques),  brush teeth, clean ears, brush out, remove mats, and give pawdicures to lovely (mostly, although some are plain assholes) little and HUGE doggies. I like this position better because I don’t have to put as much stress on my neck and back as I did as a playroom attendant. I also feel like my job does have purpose. I got to make an adoptee Dalmatian mix all pretty in hopes of getting adopted and a freshly adopted Chow mix a deshed and brush after being severely neglected. My shift hours are also amazing for my chronic pain. I work 10 am – 3:30/4pm, which gives me enough time to sleep in and prepare myself for the shift and also allows me to have time to relax and unwind when I get home. I usually come home and lay on my heat pad for a couple hours. I work Monday-Friday, which is great, as well, because I get the weekend off to spend with my mom, but also having a schedule is good for my depression and anxiety.

I have slacked off a bit in Mav’s training, but we have come LEAPS and BOUNDS since my last post. I had a severe major depression episode and was completely upset after having some really hard personal news hit. I was shaking and wishing that I was not here. I finally let Mavis out and she immediately came over and laid on my upper arm by my face and just stayed still. I didn’t teach this to her at all, but she knew that her mom needed her help. She did so amazing and I felt like all my training had been justified. I also took her with me to a psychologist appointment and she did wonderful! She remembered her blanket commands and sat on her blanket and ignored the door opening! She had little slip ups in the hour long appointment: barking at a plant, falling asleep, and being a little restless. She tooted and snored in the room and my therapist couldn’t help but laugh.

I’ve been trying to cope recently with my chronic pain and anxiety. Today was very difficult in terms of pain. The back of my head had a weird pressure feeling right where my cerebral tonsils are (where my surgical incision is). I also had bad neck and back pain and weird muscle cramping. I thought about asking to go home early, but stuck it out. I got home and used my heat pad for about two hours straight. Tomorrow I am heading to Lubbock for my cousin’s wedding and will be taking my best little pug with me. She won’t be going to the actual wedding because she isn’t that ready to be in public. I get very anxious around event like these. A lot of people make me extremely anxious and then also being judged around family is a worrisome of mine. Hopefully all goes well.

Thanks for staying with us!

xo,

Cass & Mav

Hopeless

I’m really starting to lose hope with how much difficulty I have had to face just to get any relief. Last Sunday my mother, boyfriend, and I traveled to Houston, Texas in hopes of meeting a neurosurgeon who specializes in Chiari Malformation. My dad did a lot of research to find Dr. Parrish and was delighted with his history and his military background. My mother took off Monday from work and my best friend volunteered to look after her dogs, while my boyfriend’s brother looked after our pets. We set off on Sunday afternoon and made our way though the rain to my aunt and uncle’s house.  On Friday I learned that my insurance had not yet approved the visit because of the distance we had to travel. My dad called the office to see what could be done and was told that everything would be just fine because my dad offered to pay for the visit out of his pocket.

This has all been so stressful for everyone. We all ate at a wonderful little Mexican Restaurant called Tony’s and they had excellent enchiladas. It was nice visiting with my Aunt Babette and Uncle Daniel and I know how much my mom loves hanging with her sister, so I was happy she was having such a good time after constantly stressing about my situation.

We made our way to the hotel that smelled oddly of feet, but was close to the hospital. Zach and I enjoyed the hot tub while sharing a white chocolate mocha. For a minute we had relaxation and peace as the heat radiated through our bodies.

After a decent night’s sleep it was time for the appointment. My primary’s office decided to call at 7:30am and wake me up to ask me if “my headaches were better after stopping my birth control.” You see, she seems to think that this all is in my head and my birth control, that I have had no problems whatsoever for the past four years, might be causing me headaches, memory loss, aphasia, and my other Chiari symptoms. Obviously I had no intention following those bogus directions because I’m probably not even taking birth control, might be all in my head, ya know? So I told them no. I was hoping they would tell me my referral went through, but to no luck. I checked on it and they again said it was not authorized yet. We’ve never had trouble with our insurance not covering my many visits (through all my side issues with this malformation), so I was finding it odd that it took over a week to authorize it.

While we were getting ready for the appointment, after no luck of getting back to sleep, I got a call from Texas Tech to set up disability services for me. I was relieved at all the different options that were recommended for me to help me be successful despite my disorder. I can have extra time to finish assignments, tests, and to get to class, which will help so much as there are days I can’t get out of bed  because the pain is too severe to function. I now have a little more hope for my school work. I’m so close to being finished that I do not want to put a halt on it. I should graduate this Summer and since I attend TTU through Waco, they do not offer the classes I need every semester, but only once a year usually, so that would put me back a good deal.

After we were all ready we made our way to the Methodist Hospital for my appointment. We didn’t have any breakfast because my mother was too nervous to eat and we were running late on time anyways. We showed up thirty minutes before my appointment, signed in, and I got a stack of paperwork to fill out. As I went to sit down my dad surprised us hiding in the corner of the office. He originally couldn’t make it because he had orientation for his new job and they got me in for this appointment within week, leaving no notice. He luckily had a very understanding teacher who wanted him to be there with me. I was happy to have my dad there because he is a nurse and knows so much medical terminology and would be far more familiar with the “lingo.”

I began filling out a novel of information packets asking me every bit of information about my medical history, what brought me into the office today and so on. My mother and boyfriend headed back to the hotel to grab my wallet I left in the glovebox because my crappy memory and being rushed made me forget what I needed! I spent about thirty minutes scribbling my life history down when I finally finished the packet and turned it in. We waited and waited and waited. Slowly an hour past until finally I heard my name being called. I was excited to finally be able to see the doctor. We got up and walked up to the door when we were met by a lady who told us that they hadn’t received the referral so Dr. Parrish could not see us. My dad immediately started getting frustrated and told her: ma’am, I talked to someone last Friday, who said it was perfectly fine for us to come if I paid out of pocket.” She began questioning his story: “at our office?” “Dr. Parrish’s office?” We found out that the lady that told my dad that we should come was likely on vacation and nobody else admitted to it. The lady kept saying “you should’ve gotten a name,” as if it would have made any difference. After she went and consulted with the staff three times, the ultimate decision was no. We all became emotional and I stormed out, extremely frustrated. My boyfriend calmed me down as I began to get more upset. I truly believe that these things happen to me more than the common person and that I am stricken with bad luck. There is no other explanation.

My parents came down to the lobby after us. I began feeling hopeless and heartbroken. My dad said that the lady began to get emotional because he explained to her that no one was helping his daughter and that he just wanted to do what was right for me. They both took off work, spent money on gas and a hotel, and were willing to spend a lot on the appointment just so I could see the doctor and get some help. It really is hard not to be pessimistic in these situations. I’m tired of being in pain and having doctors not believe me. I’m tired of being physically exhausted and drained. We got into the car and at a much needed lunch at Smashburger. A black bean burger and a peanut butter chocolate milkshake served as the perfect pick-me-up. As we headed home on the three hour drive, I got some wonderful rest from the help of a muscle relaxer and dreaded my upcoming week.

It’s funny how everything turns out like this.

xo,

Cass.

Insomnia and Pain

Life as of Right Now

I have been having such a hard time with pain, migraines, and insomnia. Every night I either can’t get to sleep or wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. I’ve counted and I take roughly Twenty pills a day. Twenty!! Between my muscle relaxer for my back, my anti-anxieties to sleep, my need for tylenol, and my daily vitamins and meds. I now have an infection of my mastoid, which absolutely is painful. It’s finally stopped throbbing after three days of heat compression and antibiotics. My neck and back aches constantly from the Chiari and I really just want to lie in bed all day. I am struggling to stay positive, but I know that I am a strong individual and that I CAN do this. I miss my not having my dad and mom by my side every step of the way, but I’m growing up and this is one challenge that I’ve been given to tackle. I will continue to fight and stay motivated, it’s the only thing I can do right now.

My referral to the neurosurgeon has been approved and put in and they will be contacting me next week. I can’t wait to finally have a plan for things.

Cassandra’s Chiari

I can’t tell you all enough how much it means to me to have a support system in place. 15 shirts is incredible so far. I’m very appreciative of everyone’s love and willingness to help.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1077188662300543/
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Above is the link for the Facebook event to buy the shirts; Please invite your friends and family and share.

About Cassandra

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In case I have individuals who don’t know me personally reading my blog, I decided I would introduce myself and talk a bit about my passions. First of all, I’m a full time student at Texas Tech University and majoring in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. Yay science. I used to hate science in high school, but I absolutely love it now that I’m in the real world. My favorite subject is microbiology.

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I also work part-time at a wonderful little vet clinic as a vet assistant. Animals are my absolute favorite. There is nothing more satisfying knowing that I helped an animal and made a difference in their care. I am seriously thinking of becoming a veterinarian for dogs, cats, and small animals. I used to watch Animal Planet 24/7 and Steve Irwin was my idol. They have a permanent place in my heart. I love style, yet I usually dress super casual in a sort of I-don’t-care-what-anyone-thinks way, but there are occasions where I show my sense of fashion. I’m addicted to pinterest! Who isn’t these days? I actually have a board for my chiari malformation. I think it was one of my ways to cope when I found out. Pugs are my favorite animals and when I graduate, I will adopt one! I live with my boyfriend of 14 months and his brother in a cozy duplex with our Pomeranian, Eli, and our Tabby, Oliver. My mother lives right across the street so I get to see my other babies often too: Tasha and Ginger, the sweetest Chihuahuas with loads of personality. I have the most amazing parents and am so lucky to be close to both of them. My dad lives in Livingston on the lake with our Doberman, Max. He’s a nurse and served in the military for twenty+ years. My mother is my best friend and is the sweetest and most bubbly person you will ever meet.

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 I have one brother, Rhett, and sister-in-law, Jackie, the parents to my two little nieces: Emelia is almost three and a new little girl is due in January. I also have another “sister” that I’ve bonded with so closely since we were sixteen. Dianne is my other half and keeps me sane. I am so lucky to have the amazing family I do. I love my Grandparents, Aunts, and Uncles very much and my boyfriend’s family are wonderful too!

My favorite things include: science, horror films, kewpies, netflix binging (right now we’re watching Sons of Anarchy), hedgehogs, crafting (sewing, knitting, crocheting, etc.), Lily Allen music, hiking, Halloween, tattoos, decorating, vans, aliens, unicorns, stop-animation films, pugs, of course, fashion, decor, the paranormal, nature’s beautiful places, action movies, online shopping, and uncrustables.

Things I want to do: be more physically active (get in shape), visit New Zealand and Thailand, start cooking, beat this fight.

Thanks to all!

xo