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

Vida

 Rollercoaster. That’s what my life has become. So many ups and downs. I had an amazing trip to Galveston. I stayed with my best friend, Dianne for a glorious week by the beach! The water was amazing and the weather, so pleasant! I took Mavis along with me and she got to enjoy her very first beach list and could not get enough. She officially loves sand: eating it, tossing it, and covering her bitty body with it! She also is a professional seashell collector and bird chaser. Galveston is such a dog friendly area and I was imagining my future along the coast with my curly-tailed babe. I collected so many sea shells and enjoyed hours at a time on the shore.

Along with the much needed and wonderful getaway, I started talking to a certain someone. At first it was friendly hellos and cute little questionnaires. What started as an interesting chat became so much more. I have found my soulmate. I know this seems sudden and completely out of the blue, but I think when you know, you know and well, I know, at least I’m fairly certain. This man treats me so incredibly and accepts me for all that I am. I’m not an easy package and I know this. How do I say, “Hey, I have a chronic illness and bunch of issues, and I’m sorry, but this is who I am”, and expect another to say “okay, I want you regardless.” Not an easy task to take on and it makes opening up hard, but I did and to my surprise, I was accepted. Chivalry is not dead, I know this to be true now. Caleb treats me with the upmost respect and I feel at peace around him. I think we just connected right away and we have so much in common. I think all my praying and hoping has finally paid off. I’m passionate about our relationship. I think it’s easy to say that this is the one for me. C is already my best friend and I’m not one that easily trusts others, but yet, it’s so natural for me to trust him.

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With joy comes pain. My pain has been unbearable lately. The past three days I have basically been bed ridden with severe back pain, debating whether or not to make he emergency room trip. I constantly worry that this is what my life will become: Days at a time suffering. Tomorrow I have a pain clinic appointment to hopefully get this under control. I also got news that I cannot be genetically tested through my health network because they don’t do that type of testing. I basically have to research on my own to get my diagnoses, but I just don’t have the energy or time right now and it’s just a label, isn’t it? If this pain doesn’t subside, I don’t know what I’ll do. I need tomorrow to come so I can see if this pain relief will come.

In other bad news, my finances are quickly diminishing. My parents are divorcing and so their finances are suffering too. I don’t have enough money for classes or even enough to live on hardly. I’m so stressed. I don’t know if I will be able to graduate this May after all, if I don’t have enough money for it. I wish I could change so many things, so many stupid decisions. I have blown through my money. I’m the typical dumb young person. I thought I was ahead by having a savings account, but that can only go so far. I finally was able to make a payment while awaiting my loan to go through, thanks to my dad

One last thing! I’m hosting a fundraiser to help support my living and medical bills. Bravelets are wonderful little bracelets in all different styles that say ‘brave’ to support a cause. They come in a number of different colors, but the featured are some of my favorites: glacier blue, pink, and silver. I hope you love them as much as I do!

Xo,

Cass & Mav

Chronic Pain Must Haves

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I finally managed to finish my “Chronic Pain Must-Haves” after working on it for a solid week and testing out some of the recommended products. Here we have it; I narrowed down what I personally think is a must when enduring chronic pain. I realize I’m “new” to the area, but with three months of serious pain, I feel like an expert already, although I know others have suffered through several more. I hope that my list helps both those who have just started experiencing chronic pain and those who have had it for years. Without further ado, lets get down to the necessities.

Neff-Daily-Purple-Beanie-_1694961. Daily Sparkle Beanie – Neff – $18 –neffheadwear.com. What’s better than a soft beanie to warm your head on a bad hair day? (Check out the ones from Burton: super soft!)

41Sbma7L6vL._SY355_2. Aromatherapy Body Lotion and Massage Oil – Bath & Body Works – $13 ; $16 – bathandbodyworks.com. I have had terrible insomnia for a couple of months now. I had to try aromatherapy after I heard it works for some: I absolutely adore it. My boyfriend is kind enough to give me nightly massages with this oil and yes, it is quite incredible. The scent Lavender Chamomile is perfect to create a relaxing feeling. Now do they put me right to sleep? Not quite like Ambien, but definitely helps set the tone for the night.

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3. Blue Jean 11oz Muse Facet Jar Candle – Capri Blue – $32 – gypsy05.com or Amazon. I realize this candle is quite expensive in comparison to what most people usually pay for a candle, but I love this scent. My mother got this as a gift and I ended up snagging it and loving the scent. It’s a mix of citrus, white musk, and patchouli and it lasts for a good while!

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4. Awareness Case – Inspired Cases – $15 – inspiredcases.com. If you are suffering from a disorder or illness, inspired cases is sure to have an awareness/support case. I love mine because not only does it support Chiari Malformation awareness, it also fits well and has textured print. A portion of the proceeds goes to a select cause! They have cases for iPhone 4/4s, iPhone 5/52, iPhone 5C, iPhone 6/6s, iPhone 6/6s+, Samsung III, Samsung 4, Samsung 5, iPad mini, iPad air, Note II, Note 3, and Note 4!

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5. Huggie Bear Heating Pad – Bitten – $22 – amazon.com. This awesome little pal not only serves as a lovable friend, but also a heating pad for when you need some heat therapy on sore muscles. Herbal lavender and buckwheat scented and comes in brown or tan. I use a regular heating pad and a fan heating pad for my neck, but I have my eye on this one.

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6. HRH Nail Lacquer – Butter London – $15 – butterlondon.com. Any nail polish will do really, but painting your nails to support your illness is wonderful. I like Butter London, but the price isn’t desirable. I would try Sinful Colors available at Walmart and Walgreens.

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7. Lush goodies – Lush – $14.95 – $259.95 – lushusa.com. I love lush products, especially the adorable wrapped gifts. Although I rarely buy products from Lush, and if I do it’s usually for a special occasion, all of it smells amazing and are to die for.

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8. Dammit Doll – DammitDolls – $15.95 – dammitdolls.com. Now, I haven’t actually gotten my hands on this little guy, I’ve heard they are super awesome when it comes to releasing anger and stress. The dolls patterns are limited edition and they come with a sewed in patch that reads: Whenever things don’t go so well, and you want to hit the wall and yell, here’s a little dammit doll, that you can’t do without. Just grasp it firmly by the legs and find a place to slam it. And as you whack the stuffing out yell “Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!” Perfectly said.

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9. 3-Piece SkinCare Kit – Devonne by Demi – $39.95 + S&H – devonnebydemi.com. I really have enjoyed the Devonne by Demi skin care products. They smell amazing and work well. I don’t however see myself ordering every month, so I went with the 1-time shipment and have to say, I’m a fan. I even got a little candle with my purchase that smells delightful. The Devonne by Demi set is to “bridge the gap between the pimple years and the wrinkle years.” It comes with a deep facial cleanser that is coconut-based, a hydrating radiance mist that is loaded with antioxidants, and a 3-in-1 moisturizing primer that absorbs excess oil and minimizes pore appearance. The whole set is a wonderful skincare routine with great results.

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10. Fight Like A Girl Signature Unisex T-Shirt – Fight Like A Girl Official Gear – $19.99 – fightlikeagirlclub.com. These shirts let you show off your support in several different colors. They even have a tie-dye colored shirt, if you just want a shirt to support every cause! I bought a purple one, a size up for a comfort feeling. They also have other wonderful designs.

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11. Netflix – Netflix – $7.99 – $11.99 a month – netflix.com. Okay I watch a ton of netflix, I’m a certified marathoner. My boyfriend and I don’t even have cable because we really don’t need it with the selection netflix has. There are up and downs to it, but I have been a user for six years now and don’t plan on quitting anytime soon. They have a first month free promotion on now. Choose to watch Grey’s Anatomy, Sons of Anarchy and special netflix series like Orange is the New Black, The Killing, and The United States of Tara. They have three different options basic, standard, and premium.

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12. I am Brave Shield Necklace – Dogeared – $48.00 – dogeared.com. I love Dogeared’s necklaces; they are so dainty and have wonderful messages on it. “Strength is always in style…” This “make a wish” necklace is a reminder that you are strong enough to get through this struggle- God wouldn’t give you anything you couldn’t handle. They also have this style in gold and available on black silk instead of sterling silver or gold chain.

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13. Striped Shopping Cart – Typhoon – $29.99 – $49.99 – containerstore.com. I’ve started having difficulty with my backpack. As much as I adore my Burton pack, it’s too painful and heavy right now for my weak muscles. I recently ordered one of these shopping trolleys to use as a rolling backpack. These shopping carts are quite common in the UK, I can see why! There is an umbrella pocket, two side pockets, and an additional exterior pocket. It holds up to 40 pounds and is removable from the frame. It folds up for compact storage as well. Get it soon because the striped one is on sale currently!

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14. Snoogle Original Total Body Pillow – Leachco – $59.95 – amazon.com. I can’t go on enough about how much I love this pillow. It is like several pillow in one and supports my aching back and neck. The cover is machine washable and replaceable. There are several different ways to use the Snoogle too, making it the perfect all-in-one pillow. This has become my most favorite item by far and has kept me from sleeping on my back and providing the support I need to get some rest!

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15. Black Sheep Sleep Mask – Pompon Designs – $18 – etsy.com. Sleep masks are awesome for spoonies. Although it’s hard to get used to at first, the sleep masks definitely help with keeping out light for daytime naps. This one just happened to be cute!

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16. Mermaids Tee & Legging Pajama Set – ASOS – $43  – asos.com. I was saddened to see that this set is out of stock today. Comfy pajamas are obviously a must and ASOS has some really cute options to choose from. Most of my comfy pjs are from Victoria Secret, so make sure to check out their selection as well. Stay away from satin and fleece as they usually are uncomfortable fabrics that don’t allow for breathing.

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17. Amira Faux Fur Slipper – MUK LUKS – urbanoutfitters.com or amazon. I got a pair of these slippers for my birthday last and year and I practically live in them. They run about fifty, but are worth it because they are so comfortable and keep your toes nice and warm!

That completes my must-haves! In summary these products help me make it through the day. I also wear a hoodie-footie (adult onesie) from pajama grams when I’m not in a blanket mood. Start shopping now! There are some good deals that are in right now and the prices will go back up shortly, don’t miss out!

In other news I have an appointment this upcoming Monday with the specialist neurosurgeon, Dr. Parrish. After a horrible experience last Monday where I was told multiple times that I have a referral to psychiatry put in (completely unrelated to my main visiting reason: filling out SDS paperwork, DMV Disability Paperwork, obtaining an Ambien prescription, and Pain Management- all for Chiari). Although she filled my paperwork out, I could tell she was not on board with the Chiari diagnosis. She said that the symptoms are most likely due to migraines (blue hands? Aphasia? Memory loss? Hand tremors? Loss of balance? Extreme neck and back pain? Insomnia? All from migraines, eh?) and that I should stop my birth control because it could be the cause (over 4 years taking with no problems before).Then she said that I had normal flow of CSF (b/c ventricles) and that I don’t need anymore pain medicine (she seemed to be astonished I got the prescription in the first place). I picked up my MRI report later that day which clearly states that there is visible blockage in the major intracranial vessels with a 6mm herniation of the cerebellar tonsils. But it is all in my head… Technically it is, but that’s beside the point. I decided I will no longer be seeing my primary of six years if she is not willing to believe me and that she can’t even read a MRI report correctly. Anyways, got my paperwork filled out, which was my main intention and I got my sleeping pills because I have not been able to sleep hardly whatsoever. I am anxious to see the Dr. on Monday and get his expertise on my malformation. I’m sure we will schedule a surgery date (planning for right after finals) and get the ball rolling to get me better.

Xo,

Cass