Tag Archives: chronic pain

The Disease Everyone Loves to Hate

Content note: this post discusses the topics of suicide and death.


I had a pretty good treatment day recently.

I didn’t even get upset that a new nurse tried and failed to get my infusion started. What’s another blown vein, anyway?

The infusion team was excited because they thought they’d seen a picture of me on a Facebook ad (it wasn’t me) – they’d even saved a screenshot to show me. My conversations with the nurses were light-hearted before I transitioned into catching up on emails.

I hid myself in my favorite corner where I can sometimes pretend I’m the only one in the room and I nearly forgot I was in a building with the word “cancer” all over the front of it.

I love the infusion team. And I better love them – these are treatments that I’ll need for the rest of my life unless this drug stops working or a better treatment shows up. I’m what you call incurable.


But as I was leaving my appointment I almost walked into a vendor table being set up for an event. On the table was a sign reserving it for a lingerie business. And then my eyes caught something else: pink.

Pink was everywhere. Rose petal fabric. Pink shirts. Pink everything. Pink was in the air. It smelled pink.

October. Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I can’t explain how crushing it was to leave my better-than-usual treatment, then turn the corner into an explosion of pink for an event that screamed, “You’re in someone else’s space.”

I have Ankylosing Spondylitis. The infusions I receive for my disease happen in a medical complex named Mercy Cancer Center. Every time I enter the building I see the name in big bold letters above the door and behind the check-in desk. While I wait for my appointment I see poster-sized lists of support groups and special events specifically for people with cancer. Continue reading The Disease Everyone Loves to Hate

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Worth All the Regrets | My Third and Sickest Burn

 

Burning Man saved my life when I desperately needed a reason to keep living with chronic disease and disability. I owe it for reminding me what it means to be a whole human.

I return each year to the event in Black Rock City, a city that rises from the dust and becomes Home to around 80,000 temporary neighbors for 8+ days each summer.

Yet I risk a lot by simply showing up because of my Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS).

My medications severely dehydrate me, I’m at greater risk of sunburn and heat stroke, and symptoms can flare without warning especially if I push too hard. I don’t know what it’s like to not have pain; inflamed lungs make breathing difficult even without inhaling fistfuls of dust; debilitating fatigue can suddenly overwhelm me; and my body is weaker every year, making it difficult to explore without a chaperone lest I become unable to make it back to camp.

In a city where survival is part of living, my decision to be there is radically dangerous and bold.

The reality that every Burn could be my last as my body deteriorates is an unsettling feeling. I don’t want to stop going to Burning Man, but I also fear the inflated odds that I could have a health emergency in the middle of a desert with no access to cell reception or internet.

And during my third Burn, those odds almost won. Three times. Continue reading Worth All the Regrets | My Third and Sickest Burn

Painstipation, Ever Heard of It?

Salix Pharmaceuticals provided me with a stipend and paid for my travel and accommodations related to the event. However, all opinions are my own.

Poop. Number two. Bowel movement. Stool.

If it isn’t hard enough already to talk about living with my invisible, incurable disease and chronic pain, it’s even more difficult to talk about poop — or lack thereof: constipation caused by opioids, a medication I take to manage my chronic pain.

You’re laughing, right? Because I said poop. And I’m sorry not sorry for all the puns in this post.

When I was invited to attend a recent event to discuss Opioid Induced Constipation (OIC), my first reaction was, “Wait, what? Opioids can cause constipation?” I was shocked. I consider myself a well-informed patient and if even I didn’t know, I realized a majority of my audience probably doesn’t know either.

OIC Definition

At this Salix Pharmaceuticals event, I learned of the word Painstipation, which is known as the constipation caused by opioid pain medication in chronic pain patients, also known as OIC. Dr. Joseph Pergolizzi, Senior Partner and Director of Research of Naples Anesthesia and Pain Associates who spoke at the Salix event says, “Some chronic pain patients may not mention opioid induced constipation with their practitioner, so we need to have a ‘do ask, do tell’ policy. It’s important to realize that it starts with conversation. I like to use the phrase ‘Painstipation.’ These are chronic pain patients who are experiencing constipation due to their opioids.” Continue reading Painstipation, Ever Heard of It?

I Talked with Zach, the Try Guy with Ankylosing Spondylitis (Part II)

Since Zach’s vlog announcement of his Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) diagnosis in September 2017, the video has been viewed over 4.9 million times (as of time of this publication).

In part one of this series I talked about Zach’s story’s impact, the validation that came with his diagnosis, and lessons learned living with a disease that is always beneath the surface.

In part two I dive deeper into Zach’s decision to announce his diagnosis on YouTube, his approach to coping with AS, and whether he calls himself an advocate. Finally, I’ll share his exclusive message to the AS community.

Before I continue, I want to clarify that I am neither doctor nor medical professional. None of the following should be taken as diagnostic, medical or treatment advice. Please consult with your physician before starting, stopping, or changing treatment.

Let’s get started.

Why the video? Continue reading I Talked with Zach, the Try Guy with Ankylosing Spondylitis (Part II)

I talked with Zach, the Try Guy with Ankylosing Spondylitis (part I)

When Try Guys member Zach Kornfeld announced he has Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) in September 2017 I was so relieved.

I know what you’re thinking. Relief sounds super self-centered, so let me say right now that I was also really sad for Zach’s diagnosis; I wouldn’t wish Ankylosing Spondylitis on my worst enemy. But when you live with a common-but-unknown disease, awareness is what you live for.

Well, it’s what I live for anyway. And when a celebrity makes an announcement a lot of people pay attention.

Zach’s video marked the second “Ankylosing Spondylitis coming out” by a celebrity figure in two years (Dan Reynolds announced his in 2015) and it made a big splash in the AS community. Spondylitis Twitter was buzzing. Spondylitis Facebook and Instagram were buzzing, etc etc. It was exciting to see someone talking frankly about AS to a really large audience (as of April 27, 2018 the video had nearly 4.9 million views). Zach was telling all our stories by telling his own and we clung to this moment as a chance to be seen and heard.

Here, let me lay this out for you better.

Ankylosing Spondylitis is an immune-mediated inflammatory disease that can progressively damage joints in the body, especially in the spine, and in some cases cause the spine to fuse into a column of rigid bone. Additionally, AS is a systemic, or whole-body, disease; so it can cause fatigue, cognitive impairment, sleep impairment, and damage multiple organs in the body. There is no cure, so the goal for treatment is to reduce inflammation to slow the progression of the disease and manage symptoms.

Many of us who have AS had never even heard of the disease before a doctor sat us down and opened their mouth to a flood of slow motion gibberish, “You have A n k y l o s a u r a s d i n o s a u r S p o o n d a c t y l a u r u s B l i b b i d y B l o p p i d y B o o.”

Then, as if our disease isn’t hard enough to pronounce, our own friends and family struggle to even understand what we’re experiencing and that it’s serious. And a lot of general practitioners have already forgotten the one paragraph about AS they read during medical school. There are even rheumatologists (the specialists who treat AS) who refuse to diagnose women. More about that another time.

And yet AS affects so many people. Ankylosing Spondylitis falls under an umbrella of diseases called Spondyloarthritis, which affects an estimated 2.7 million people in the USA alone. That’s more than Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)/Lou Gherig’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis combined. Estimates vary regarding the number of people specifically with AS in the US, but it is the most prevalent type of Spondyloarthritis. That’s a LOT of people.

I wish nobody had AS, but since a lot of us do and we largely suffer in silence, Zach’s video was cause for celebration – not for his being diagnosed, but for his willingness to talk about it in front of millions of people.

When I saw his video I knew I wanted to help his story reach more people. I knew I wanted to talk to him.

So six months later I reached out to him about a chronic disease documentary I’m in (shameless plug) and it turned into a Skype interview.

Continue reading I talked with Zach, the Try Guy with Ankylosing Spondylitis (part I)

Dear Prescription Opioid Debaters:

Dear debaters,

I am a 30 year old who inherited a lifelong inflammatory disease called ankylosing spondylitis (AS). AS can cause the spine to fuse together from bone spurs and can affect organs and other joints. AS causes significant pain, to put it lightly.

I am also a former college athlete and marathoner. I know what it means to push through pain as an athlete. But I cannot push through the pain caused by my disease. Pushing through it causes the disease to progress and the pain to increase.

My main treatment is a drug made from living cells (the same class of drugs that treats many cancers); it helps slow the progression of my disease. Because this treatment is [finally!] working, it also reduces some of the worst symptoms. But AS is a severe disease with no cure, so even with this specialty drug I still have plenty of pain.

And, like millions of chronic pain patients who fight simply to survive daily, I’ve tried everything to control the pain. Continue reading Dear Prescription Opioid Debaters:

My Running Shoes Are Waiting for a Cure

My running shoes shuffle hesitantly by the door, moving in unplanned rhythm with cat hair and dust bunnies that create a grey veil over their silent, still tongues. How long have they been sitting there? They peer at me hopefully every time I open the front door, but I can see they feel more neglected each day, every time I look at them and shake my head: “No, not today. I don’t know when. I’m sorry. I miss you, too.”

Continue reading My Running Shoes Are Waiting for a Cure