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

EDS

This past week has been an especially difficult one. I worked Monday thru Friday, which as a part time employee is a rarity. Getting through the week is an achievement for me with the much needed reward of a weekend of rest (for the most part, minus chores). I talked to my NS and it has been concluded that I need to have genetic testing done to determine if I have any underlying conditions. One suspect in mind is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a group of disorders that affect the connective tissues that support the skin, bones, blood vessels, and many other organs and tissues. Defects in connective tissues cause the signs and symptoms of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which vary from mildly loose joints to life-threatening complications.

U.S. National Library of Medicine

After talking at length with several members of my Chiari support group, it was suggested that I may be suffering from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and that my Chiari might actually be a secondary condition caused by the EDS. I have suffered from frequent dislocations and sprains since the age of ten without much of answer as why. I have hypermobility of my joints and my skin has always been very smooth, but I generally develop keloids when healing from surgical incisions.

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(source)

One condition that EDS can cause is Craniocervical Instability (CCI), or the instability of the craniocervical junction due to the lack of connective tissue support. The condition mainly occurs from repetitive stretch injuries of the neck (which can cause Chiari Malformation, nerve dysfunction, thickened odontoid capsule, retroflexed odontoid, and cranial settling [source]). Unfortunately EDS can only be managed and there are no definite treatments. CCI, however, may be helped drastically with a craniocervical fusion where the skull would be pulled upward into the correct position.

I’m not sure what the future holds for me. I have an appointment with the rheumatologist for additional testing on July 18th and I will be tested for EDS along with other rheumatic diseases to see why I am having this chronic pain. For now, I am back to wearing a soft cervical collar when I am not at work. It’s not the most fashionable of things, but it does provide a bit of relief. If you have to wear a cervical collar, too, you might want to try a collar to snazz your look up.

xo,

Cass

New Leaf.

Turning over a new leaf is always a difficult task, but one that I have been faced with. After completing almost three months of school, I was devastated to realize I had to withdraw from my classes. Not only was I suffering with severe anxiety (that has gotten worse since my operation) and depression, but my memory is getting even worse. I am having problems recalling times, dates, and with my school work: even the most basic of terms, which has caused a great decline in my grades. After talking to my doctor, he determined I should withdraw because I was basically over doing it and could potentially threaten my recovery. I have now been out of school for a little over a week. While it is comforting, knowing that I don’t have to stress over assignments and tests, although I am still enrolled in my last Spanish class, I am disappointed that I couldn’t keep up with the semester and that I won’t be graduating this year. I have to take back control of my health, so a neuropathologist is in order to get my cognitive function tested. I’m not sure what results will show, but maybe going through some therapy (such as speech therapy, etc.) will aid me in recovering some of prior abilities. In addition to dealing with my “brain issues,” I have to test out several medications in order to help me with my a&d. I have tried so many different ones, that I’m becoming a bit exhausted and hopeless that I will ever find something that works.Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 9.41.35 PMI have to report some ups amongst my many downs. First and foremost, I have a new addition in my life: Mavis. Mavis (pronounce Mahv-is, not Mae-vis) Odessa is my twelve-week-old Puglet, who is the light of my life. My parents and my boyfriend all went in to gift me my tiny biff for my 23rd birthday. From about the age of six-years-old, I have obsessed over the idea of having a pug. My parents were always against it, so it never became, until now. We first met her on February 6th and then picked her up on March 6th. I am currently training little Mav to be my service dog with the help of Lelah Sullivan’s book and hopefully Service Dog Express (whom I’ve contacted and will hear back within two weeks). She is so full of joy and energy and today she completed her first day of intensive training and did wonderfully. I took her in public and tested her ability to hold her attention on me. This being her first time, cars, birds, and little noises distracted her, but she soon got the hang of keeping focused on me with some great reinforcing clicker training. She’s my little companion and I can’t wait to see what a difference she will make in my life, once she is trained. Another little joyous moment came with a new job. I now work at a doggy daycare center and have enjoyed it thus far, but have decided it is too physical for me to sustain. I didn’t realize the full extent this operation would take on me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I over did it. I can’t keep up with everybody else, which is hard for me to accept. My memory and my strength (physically and emotionally) has degraded. The frustration that comes with this is unbelievable. I know that I am not alone, but yet I feel it most days in terms of my mental/emotional/physical status. I can’t guess when I have flare days, yet I have to push through them with excruciating pain in my neck and back and brain fog that won’t shake, no matter how hard I focus on concentrating. My ability to stay focused has diminished and I am beyond irritated at myself, although I know it is out of my control, that I cannot control it. I have found some support through Chiari Life on facebook that has helped me feel more united, but I still am struggling.

One last thing! I wanted to expand my blog into my other passions: as you might’ve noticed from my last post. I am trying to start loving myself more and more and appreciating the things that I am good at and enjoy. I love fashion, but I hardly have been able to be fashionable because of my condition. Most days I have felt exhausted and not up to dressing up, so now that things are getting better, I want to share my passion as well as my training updates with Mavis, and other bits and pieces of my odd little life. I hope that whoever follows my blog, will continue to, and whoever doesn’t will be drawn to a new diversity.

Much Love,

Cass & Mavis

follow Mav on instagram (@mavisodessa) for updates on growing up.

(images are created/taken by me. Please do not repost without permission)

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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Three Days.

I tried to write this post earlier, but a migraine came on and I had to give up and takIMG_7021.JPGe a nap. I could feel it pulsing in the vein that resides smack dab in the middle of my forehead. Naturally, I had to capture a photo to document the intensity my vein had trying to escape from my face. I mean wow, I’ve never seen it like that.

Anyways, I feel like a lot has happened since the last time I journaled:

I spent Thanksgiving morning with my boyfriend’s wonderful family and they provided a delicious home cooked meal with lots of vegetarian friendly options: sweet potatoes, mac n’ cheese, corn, rolls, potato salad, casseroles, and the amount of desserts! mmm. The only time my family has Thanksgiving is with my grandma who would cook all day and the day before making a variety of dishes, so I won’t lie, it was hard. I was happy to be around loved ones, but felt a since of great loss. I felt the sting of emptiness and pain as I remembered my grandma’s wonderful foods and her working so hard to make everyone else happy, just as Zach’s grandma did. It was bittersweet. As soon as we finished eating and searching for black Friday deals, we were off to Midland for my grandma’s visitation and funeral.

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I knew it was going to be hard. My entire dad’s family was in attendance for her funeral and she had a beautiful ceremony. I was in charge of getting the music together and I wouldn’t want anything to go wrong. I made sure that everything was perfect for the technician. I was surrounded by my aunts and uncles, cousins12295526_1518058948520350_3981899939229491289_n, parents, brother, niece, sister-in-law, and boyfriend as I confronted the heartbreaking loss of my grandma. I held my darling niece the entire time. She looked up at me with tears streaming down my face and her little confused look made me smile because she was so innocent and pure and knew nothing of pain. She couldn’t comprehend what was going on, only that her daddy and auntie and her loved ones were crying. She felt a teardrop on her hand and pointed at my eyes. She began to say something, but was quieted as it was during the service. I can only imagine she was going to say why are you sad, or why are you crying Aunt Cass? She definitely helped me with the loss because I felt so much love. I am not a mother, so I don’t know the entirety of the love a mom has for her child, but I do know how much I love my niece. I would easily die for her in heartbeat. Unconditional love felt instantly. I am lucky to have my family. My mother, father, aunts, uncles, my brother, who has completely changed from when we were children into a loving father and husband, my sister-in-law (who is eight months pregnant with my second niece!), my niece, Emelia, who is the best behaved toddler I have ever met and is genuinely kind and caring and full of life, and my boyfriend, who reassures me everything will be okay and puts up with my many moods of sadness, anger, and happiness, that interchangeably occur at various times of the day. I am lucky to have my grandma in my life, who made the biggest effort to see my brother and I as children, despite us being a military family, and I am lucky that I got to live in Texas for the past seven years to see my grandma more often and connect with her (and my extended family) for the remainder of her time on earth. After she was placed to rest we had to part ways and head back to Waco for my MRI. It’s hard to “snap” right back into normal life again. It doesn’t seem normal. Nothing seems normal.

They found two tumors on my spine: benign hemangioma(s) on my T7 and T9. My doctor called me on Wednesday to let me know that he wasn’t going to operate on them because he didn’t see that they would cause an issue. What bothers me is the increasing numbness and pain I have felt in my lower back and legs. My neurosurgeon seems to think that the Chiari is causing these issues, so I trust his judgement and am proceeding forward with the decompression surgery without the tumor removals. I will be evaluated a few months after surgery to see if any problems persist. I’m praying these tumors won’t cause me any problems and that all my issues are stemming from the Arnold-Chiari itself.

I decided to take an incomplete on chemistry and pick up where I left off next semester. My teacher said he is willing to work with me and help me anyway he can so that I do’t have to retake the class and can literally pick up right where I stopped. This is all assuming I feel well enough to attend school for the spring semester. I was luckily able to finish my other classes successfully (and I believe well): microbiology, ecology, anatomy and physiology (online) and personal fitness and wellness (online). I can’t explain enough how extremely hard this semester was for me. I am impressed that I prevailed and pushed myself through. With the support of my family, friends, and boyfriend, who provided me with love, encouragement, and transportation, I was able to make it. If I didn’t have them I would have dropped all my classes and swallowed myself in self-misery. I now only have one more final to take online and finish tomorrow.

I also got an undercut in preparation for the surgery this past Friday. My wonderful hair stylist, that I’ve been going to for over a year now, graciously donated her skills to provide me with a shave that wouldn’t turn out totally butchered (As I have sIMG_7022een with some decompression surgery photos). I understand this is an esthetic pleasure, but it meant a lot to me to keep my self confidence through this and my hair, for me, is a source of my femininity and creativeness (I like to style it [when I’m not totally exhausted {so hardly ever}]!)

I’m winding the days down now until my surgery. It’s this upcoming Wednesday.  Three days left. I am finally beginning to feel the jitters. I becoming nervous and scared. I have thoughts: maybe I should just forget about it and cancel my surgery, I would live, but be in misery. I picture a life full of pain and then say, no that would be ridiculous because I am in so much pain that it can only get better. I think about death. As much as I try to avoid it, the thought always comes back. I’m still dealing with the loss of my grandmother, which makes thinking of this even harder. I can’t imagine what would have happened if she passed away during my hospital stay. I wouldn’t have been able to go to her funeral or make peace (if you can call it “peace”). I still ache knowing I won’t see her on earth again. I know she wanted to go and be with God and didn’t want to suffer, but it still is hard.

Today was a decent day. Despite from suffering with nightmare and night sweats, I slept until about 10 am. I got my toenail and fingernails painted, purple and sparkly for Chiari, took a nap, and even got the strength to get up and go see Krampus with my mom, boyfriend, and boyfriend’s brother. This was the first movie I had seen since The Martian and was worried because I was in a lot of pain for that movie, but today I managed it quite well and only started getting pain jolts towards the last twenty minutes or so. I would say a good day.

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I ultimately want everyone to know how much I love them and how I much I  appreciate all the wonderful things that have been done for me. Never lose faith and keep pushing forward.

xoxo,

Cass.

Grateful.

I’ve never experienced so many ups and downs within the span of only a couple of weeks. After my little pity party post, I decided to really try to focus on the positives in life. I joined the movement 99 Days of Freedom, whose mission is to see how Facebook users life are impacted by quitting for 99 days.

In response to Facebook’s controversial mood experiment involving some 700,000 unwitting users, we launched an experiment of our own, determining how life without Facebook impacts user happiness

I surprisingly haven’t missed it yet. The only thing I miss is chatting with my boyfriend via Facebook messenger, but in all honesty we have phones for that and I should be focusing in school anyways. People constantly try to compare themselves to others and I am 100% guilty of this! You can’t compare your life to another person’s because we are all so unique and it is completely absurd to discount your “joys,” to compare them to a celebrity/friend/etc.’s success and oh so happy life. Life is like houses: they may be pretty from the outside with their freshly mowed lawns and little white picket fences, but on the inside the house could be a train wreck and no would ever know unless they entered. I’ve decided to keep track of three different things (or more!) each day that I am grateful for. For example today’s entry:

11.17.2015 – Today I am grateful for:

  1. my boyfriend’s support through my Chiari journey; today my boyfriend drove me to class and waited through it to take me home. He willingly paid for our groceries with no hesitation, although I will pay him half back. He says “I love you” at the most perfect time when my self doubt grows increasingly strong.
  2. my mama; my mother has been nothing but a godsend through this all. I do not have a child so I do not know the true connection a mother feels with her child, but I can tell you that my mom would go to the end of the Earth for me and I her, too. I truly could not have gotten through this all without the love and support of my family, friends, and my amour.
  3. my therapist’s guidance; I’ve always had a tricky time finding the right person to talk to about my hard times, but I finally did back in 2012 with Dr. Hightower. I feel completely at ease to spill my thoughts and finally let out my worries. I try to be strong for everyone around me and for myself, so having moments to release this and get advice on how you can make things better, absolutely is a necessity.

I got the idea to think or write down these grateful moments from time.com and their guide to be happier. I’ve had so many lows in my life, but it does make me appreciate the highs I do get to experience and it makes me really think about consequences before my actions.

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So starting with two weekends ago on November 8th, I traveled to Austin, TX with my mom, dad, and boyfriend for my brother and s-i-l’s baby shower. My second niece is due on January 17th, 2016! Although I am not too entirely close with my brother and his family, it was nice to be able to catch up a little in the hustle and bustle of the hive. My niece, Emelia, is almost three (on January 10th) and is such a sweet, kind and caring little girl with a big heart. I love that child with my whole heart and it makes me so happy to have her in my arms. I can’t wait to be a mother one day, after I can put most of this behind me (surgery, school stressors, family stressors, etc.). I have always been nurturer and my desire to have my own child has always been there. Seeing Zach hold Eme and play with her makes me feel ecstatic; one thing that has helped me through each day is seeing how our relationship has gotten closer. We talk about our future plans all the time and I pray that we will be happy together and make things work through thick and thin. We were put in each other’s paths for a reason and I know being with Zach has changed me fore the better. I’ve grown more confident in myself and with my self image (learning to love my flaws), to let the little things go, and to relax because life happens: there is no sense in getting devastated over an event you cannot change, no matter how hard you try (yet I still do at times and Zach helps me through my dark days). I love our relationship: our netflix marathons, salted baths, call of duty nights, diet coke obsession, neopets, star wars collection, dvd/blu ray hoarding, sci-fi-horror movie nights, road trips with plenty of snacks, walks in the sunset, mini day hikes, fall out 4 game sessions and cuddles. We understand each other’s nerdiness and fully appreciate it.

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This past weekend we traveled all the way to Midland and back to see my grandma, who is nearing her final days. I can’t thank my mom and boyfriend enough for driving me out to the middle-of-nowhere-west-Texas. It means so much to me to be able to see my grandma and be able to  express my sincere love and gratitude for this woman that has given so much to my dad, uncle, aunt, and to me. I have never seen such a strong, independent woman. She’s tough as nails, but cancer was the only thing that could stop her. I can’t begin to explain all the sacrifices she has made to give her children a good life and in turn my brother and I through our dad. I was so happy to be around her and see her smile and bring joy to those around her. I am praying I will be able to see her again this upcoming holiday and that she can hold on to meet her great-granddaughter. Despite the circumstances, I enjoyed the trip. On Friday night we ate thai food on all white sheets in the hotel room watching Inside Out (which, if you haven’t seen it, you MUST! I think it is easily one of my very favorites and teaches such an important lesson why we need all of our many emotions to be happy – coincidentally perfect for my life). It was nice seeing my aunt and uncle and being able to be amongst family even though the hard times.

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While spending the evening at my grandmother’s house I watched the horror unravel the Paris attacks on the news. I am utterly speechless at the heinous murders that took the lives of 129 people in a place loved by so many. I cannot understand the capacity of hatred an individual has to have to do something like that, there is no way they are human, just cold terrorist monsters. I began checking instagram to see who was at the Le Bataclan during the mass shooting and bombings and began praying for those people. One picture stood out to me immediately: a young couple that looked to be in their early thirties enjoying the perks of being young and alive- Gilles Leclerc and Marianne Labanane, I later found out to be. The young gentleman with a prominent mustache and his girlfriend thought they would be enjoying an Eagles of Death Metal concert and having a great time. I begin to pray for them, for all the victims and their loved ones. I later found out on Sunday that Gilles had been one of the victims, but his girlfriend Marianne was alive, but in shock. I didn’t know these people at all, but I felt a connection to them; perhaps because I, too, am young and have gone to concerts and can empathize. Something in my heart pulled as I was hoping that these two would be safe and reunited. I’m saddened deeply by the tragedy that took place at Le Bataclan and across Paris that took the lives of so many. I can only hope that it gives the wounded and the victim’s family and friends comfort knowing how much an impact they had on the rest of the world, uniting many nations together.

After the rollercoaster of a Friday, we traveled home for only one night. I sleep best at home, so I was happy to be back in my bed after more than twelve hours of traveling to and back and two nights on a stiff mattress in a motel. One night to take a hot bath and enjoy the comforts of home. The next morning we set out for Houston, where my appointment with the neurosurgeon, a Chiari specialist, resided. On the way down I slept through the entire car ride thanks to my muscle relaxer. That was a special treat for me, as I hadn’t slept well for the past several nights! After meeting my aunt and uncle for some Mexican food and getting lost in downtown Houston, we finally made it to the hotel and settled in for the night. My boyfriend and I went down the the hot tub and enjoyed the immense heat of the spa- we have always wanted one and really love soaking. Afterwards we watched The 100 and the Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals game where we were disappointed by a close loss. That night was miserable. I had a nonstop migraine that consumed every sinus cavity of my head. I woke up around four am, trying to get any type of relief. I started a hot bath and put a cold towel over my eyes like suggested by a chronic migraine sufferer, but to no relief. I could not get back to sleep, so I patiently waited and suffered until seven am to get ready for the day.

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The time had finally come to see the specialist. After we waited for a good bit, I met Dr. Rob Parrish, a retired Army Colonel and Board Certified Neurosurgeon with specialties in Microvascular Decompression for Trigeminal Neuralgia and Hemi-Facial Spasm and, most importantly for me, Chiari Decompression. Within only a few minutes, Dr. Parrish confirmed I had Arnold-Chiari Malformation Type I with a simple temperature sensitivity test to my hands and feet (which were surprisingly worse than I previously had thought) and a few questions about my migraine headaches. He told me I would be a good candidate for surgery and that my symptoms should improve, but he could not give me a definite answer that my pain would subside; one of my biggest problems. I began to cry as I imagined what my life would be like living through pain. My dad reassured me that the surgery would help and that everything would be ok. I set up my decompression surgery for this upcoming December 9th to have a dura patch placed on the back side of my brain from a fascia graft from my leg. I can’t begin to explain the relief to know that a doctor does believe and acknowledges my pain and symptoms. It’s truly a miracle.

I have to be cleared with the cardiologist beforehand to make sure I am in complete sinus rhythm after having to receive a cardioversion last year after going into atrial fibrillation (a.fib). Dr. Parrish is adamant that I see a cardiologist in Houston at the Methodist Hospital he works at. I have been tested before after my first initial attack. I wore a cardio monitor for two months and had no definitive results. I am a bit eager to know what things look like now because I have had episodes of tachycardia probably related to a side condition. The doctor noted that my reflexes were way too entirely active and that I need that looked into as well. A lumbar and thoracic MRI will be done to determine whether I have tethered cord syndrome, another malformation that relates to neurological disorders or some type of spine trauma. Exactly three weeks from now I will be operated on. I am praying for all the success that I can possibly receive from this surgery. A life with no pain.

I know this post is massively long, but I have had so much happen. If I can make it through two more weeks of school work, I’ll be in good shape and ready to go.

Xo,

Cass

 

 

 

 

Diagnosis

I got my MRI results on October 2, 2015 at 3:20 am.

My diagnosis: I have a congenital defect called Chiari Malformation Type I, my cerebral spinal fluid outflow is being blocked by my cerebellar tonsils protruding through my foramen magnum. So in other words , my skull is too small for my brain. (That’s where my smarts come from!) This is a rare disease and effects 1 in 1000. This is what is causing the pain and tingling in my arms and legs. Everything has finally matched up and I am relieved to have an answer finally. So what does this mean?

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I have to undergo decompression surgery to allow the CSF to circulate like it’s suppose to, a type of brain surgery. It luckily isn’t too invasive as they will only have to remove the bone at the back of the skull and spine. The dura overlying the tonsils will be opened and a patch will be sewn to expand the space.The goal is to relieve compression of the brainstem and spinal cord, and to restore the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid.

The surgery will take 2-3 hours and I will be in the hospital for 2-4 days for recovery.

I do not yet have a scheduled date as I need to meet with my neurologist and my neurosurgeon.

Purple is the color to support Chiari Malformation Awareness, so I’ve changed my profile images to purple to raise awareness about this rare disease.

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If you have the ability please share or purchase one of these shirts I designed to share awareness about Chiari Malformation and to support me in my recovery, it would be much appreciated.

https://www.bonfirefunds.com/cassandras-chiari

Much Love,

Cass

The MRI and Pain

Last Tuesday I had my MRI. I still have no results as of yet. The whole process was completely fine for me because I took two of my anti-anxiety medications which knocked me out for the entire process. There was one period where they woke me up and said I was jerking too much in my sleep and had to reshoot for 10 minutes. They added contrast in, which I vaguely remember. The process took about an hour and thirty minutes. The machine was loud and their is something that goes over my face, which made me even more glad to have taken my anti anxiety meds as I am a bit claustrophobic. I am hoping that I should get the results by today or tomorrow.

Last night during and after my night class I had severe back and neck pain and muscle pain in my thighs and arms. The pain was an 8/10 and brought me to tears. I contemplating going to the emergency room, but I remembered that I had my MRI already and that there is really nothing they can do except give me pain medications and perhaps a spinal tap, if that. I took some pain medication to help ease the pain and laid on the flat ground trying to relax. This morning when I woke up the same pain continued to linger in my lower back. I called to make an appointment with a Physician’s assistant, as that is all my provider had available and am hoping for some pain medication (I finished my very last dose of pain meds from my surgery back in 2013) and hopefully a rush on the MRI results. My lower back is so painful. I am trying to stay still and relax on the couch until my 1 o’clock appointment. I am beginning to wonder if I’ll ever get relief.

Neurologist.

I finally saw the neurologist today. It was a relief to finally be seen by a doctor who specializes in the field of neurology, which I so desperately needed to see. Dr. P was great. I explained all my symptoms to her and she assured me we would get to the bottom of this. She ordered and MRI to be preformed next week on my head, neck, and spine. I also had blood work to make sure that I don’t have any vitamin deficiencies. I am anxious to have this test done as soon as possible because it is so entirely hard to wait for answers. Until then I have three tests and a lot of busy work. Everything is out of my hands so I just must keep going until I know anything.

Rigidity

This morning I woke up feeling physically drained, despite having slept eight hours, and my head feeling as it were in a fog. Both of my feet, legs, and arms ached with stiffness. My feet in particular were numb on the bottom and tingling around the edges. I tried to massage them to relieve the pain as an older arthritic person would. I flexed and relaxed my knees trying to “wake them up.” I attempted to walk across the room to draw a hot tub in hopes of regaining sensation in my feet and stop the tingling, but it felt like I couldn’t move them. I dragged my legs as best I could until I made it to the bathroom. I got a glass of water and food to see if maybe I was just dehydrated or hungry, but to no avail. I sat in the bathtub as my boyfriend began rubbing my neck and back jolting with electric-like pains. As much as I wanted to cry, I had no tears left as I’ve cried myself to sleep practically every night.

Over the past months I have been experiencing an array of symptoms that have left me downright puzzled and hopeless. I know something is wrong; my intuition tells me so. I have an upcoming appointment with a neurologist on the 21st of September, where hopefully I might gain some insight as to what is going on with my health.I have had chronic pain in my back, neck, and legs especially. In addition to the constant pain, I have had issues with my balance and muscle weakness. I fell last night (shocked by the loss of coordination) and have been jolted off balance daily. I know I am clumsy, but not to the point where every time I stand up, the room is spinning and I start to loose my coordination. I only felt improvement when I began to start moving; forcing myself to drag my feet around.

My most noticeable symptoms, to others at least, is my uncontrollable hand tremors. I have tried testing my blood sugar, thinking I just need to eat. I have gone without caffeine wondering if I just was sensitive. I cannot hold my hands still anymore and it’s beyond frustrating, especially when I am majoring in the field of Biology. I have to keep my hands as still as possible to collect samples through pipetters and sterilely transfer them or make a four quadrant bacterial isolation agar. I have had fellow student make comments that I look like I have Parkinson’s and mimic my motions, not intending to be hurtful, but it did as I have the sensitivity of a hormonal teenager going through puberty.

My cognition problem are even more frustrating as I am constantly saying the wrong word for what I’m thinking. This is not just an occasional slip up… I can’t put my thoughts together when answering and speaking, yet I can perfectly comprehend what others are saying and write/type with ease exactly what I am communicating. I have been having migraines and headaches behind my eyes and the back of my head. My words are beginning to slur together at times and I am putting excessive pauses between my phrases. My emotions have been completely out of control as well, worse than usual. I cry at the drop of the pen and am anxious and depressed most days.

I wanted to start blogging in attempts to jot down my worries, Perhaps my mind will become unclouded and I will be able sleep more soundly. Whatever is ahead for me, I want to document it: a record journal in order to process my pain.

I have theories as to what is going on, but I know that it is not good to worry, so I have put my faith in God that whatever happens, happens and it is out of my control