Listening to my body – part 2

It’s hard to tell whether I will lose some followers on this one, just because of how complicated this journey is getting. So I left off on part 1 telling you that my 1) entyvio infusions were being moved from 8 weeks to every 4 weeks 2) Im due to meet my Endo specialist and 3) I’ve taken the liberty of switching off of progestin-only Visanne (oral birth control) to a estrogen-progestin oral birth control called Minovral which seems to be keeping me on my cycle and has reduced my endo-belly.

Let’s start off with my endo visit exactly a week ago. For the sake of public scrutiny I will avoid mentioning names of my doctors. Let’s call my Endo specialist ‘Dr. E’ for now. Skipping ahead past the routine questions, Dr. E had a resident doctor come assess me first. To be fair, I took a cancelation endoscopy for an hour after this appointment so the doctors were rushing on my accord. The resident was interested in my birth control path, and agreed that putting myself on some form of birth control was the right idea, and certainly if Minovral had helped me in the past it was a good option. She also reiterated that I would use it to skip my periods as I had been, to reduce the ‘cycle’, and eliminate the bleeding which in turn should reduce new endometrial growth. This is key to the understanding of how the disease works. However, where we disagreed is her plan to attack the pain. She was comfortable assessing whether the birth control itself would reduce the pain and then we could address next steps in two weeks. My thinking was that birth control hadn’t worked in the past, Visanne certainly didn’t work, so going back to birth control as the line of defence was practically moving backwards. She called in Dr. E to help with the issue. I wasn’t being irate, I was being rational and she appreciated this. Meeting Dr. E was like meeting a celebrity. He has a fantastic reputation in the community and has overcome tremendous feats for women suffering from endometriosis that I was admittedly somewhat star struck when he walked into the room. Mom helped me gain my composure to address the pain question and this prompted him to get me to lie on the table and see where the pain is located.

Upon inspection I was able to show him that my lower left side, right around where my stitch for the ovarian suspension was, always hurts. Always. Every examination Ive had since my excision in March has resulted in me wincing in pain every time a doctor pokes in that general area. This was a red flag for Dr. E. He then asked me where my upper pain resided so I showed him the right side under my rib (which one could say is my right side of my diaphragm). Practically, this would align with the diaphragmatic endometrial lesions that were cauterize during my excision. Scientifically however, lesions on the diaphragm (so I learned) do not express pain on the diaphragm but refer pain to the right shoulder. This is where we paused for scientific clarity.

In Dr. E’s opinion, one should be pain free 6 months to a year after a thorough excision like the one I had. While the cauterizing did not effectively remove the endo on my diaphragm it should have – along with skipping my periods – significantly halted any growth or spreading of those implants. Dr. E also mentioned that doing surgery on a patient is usually refrained from IF the patient has NOT had this time frame (at minimum) of no pain, as it may point to other explanations of pain rather than it being a direct cause of the implants. Yikes. We agreed that we would order some scans to physically examine the state of the implants (for preparation of any future surgery) but that our primary goal (kind of what I was gunning for in the first place) was to address the pain.

Here is where my life turned upside down. Dr. E told me that there is a Neuroscientist who believes the body can learn to address pain in a constant fashion, even when the body doesn’t meet protection. For more information on this concept, Dr. Lorimer Moseley has created this fabulous video called “Tame the Beast”. (This link will open the video in a new window). Under this concept, Dr. E has administered a pain blocker to many women like myself who are feeling pain in an area that is perfectly healed and not in danger. With my eagerness, Dr. E’s Resident administered two long needles into my nerves associated with this over-firing of pain. It was such a weird feeling. Ugh! I was told that if it is the problem, I should get a rise in pain initially and then the pain should go away within 24 hours, for 4-6 weeks! Note that the pain did go up after the injections but only if I really pressed on the nerves. The pain went away 100% after the first 24 hours and I can happily report there has been no pain for ONE WHOLE WEEK!!!! With regards to the upper pain, the theory is this could also stem from the same problem but given its complex location I would need to be given a neuromodulator (similar overall function of the pain blocker). BUT we decided to hold off as this area is still under scrutiny by my GI.

Perfect Segway…

After this appointment to which I was numb from emotion, I quickly drove over to the hospital down the street for my endoscope. So, this was ordered by my GI (Lets call him Dr. G) to reexamine my pancreas and get to the bottom of this recurring acute pancreatitis. In some ways this would also help to rule out the theory of endometriosis on my pancreas but the rest was up in the air.

When I was about to be sedated the GI (Call him Dr C), asked me if the episodes of pancreatitis ever happened before I started on entyvio. The answer was no. He then told me that a recent publication (2018) showed 4 cases – two adult and two paediatric – of pancreatitis linked to Entyvio (Vedolizumab) and he suspects this may be the case with me. The endoscope was quick and dirty. When I started to come out of the fog, Dr, C waited behind to explain to me that the endoscope looked fine: no inflammation on my pancreas, no scarring, no signs of damage. This substantiated his theory that it could be from my medication and that if my infusion frequency has been moved to every 4 weeks this could exacerbate the pancreatitis. On this front, I have left it to Dr. C to let Dr. G know, and contact me for next steps. The challenge there will be having to take me off a medication that is working for my Colitis and figuring out which other medication will work.

Stay tuned for part 3.

Listening to my body – Part 1

With so many things happening to my body at once, I spend a great deal of time discerning between endometriosis pain, ulcerative colitis pain, anxiety, stress and just an off day. I run out of spoons a lot, and I am starting to look at my body with disdain – something I don’t even want to admit to myself. To put this all together Im starting to become unfamiliar with the body Im living in. Truth be told the last year has been one of the toughest emotional roller coasters of my life (even worse than that time my first husband cheated on me). But everything is coming to a head now…

Ulcerative Colitis

I have met with my GI. He has sat with me and taken all of my specifics down. He was wonderful. He listened to me talk about how my body feels over the course of 8 weeks between infusions and agrees with me that they should be moved to every 4 weeks. This should mitigate the symptoms that creep up around week 5. With the looming possible Primary Sclerosing Colingits (PSC) he wants to ensure we do a colonoscopy every year, with intermittent Calprotectin testing and blood work to stay on top of the whole system.

Pancreatitis

He also wants to get to the bottom of my pancreatitis. We talked about the possibility that this could be endometriosis infiltrating the pancreas. His explanation, which I agree is sound, hypothesizes that the endometrial lesions would have to infiltrate deep enough into the pancreas to cause a blockage or some physical inflammatory response for this to be the cause of my elevated (spike in) pancreatic enzymes. That being said he is willing to look into it, have me looked at by a pancreatic specialist and communicate with my endo specialist to have my body examined from different angles/groups of thought.

Endometriosis

Well, see the rest of my body wants to cooperate but my endometriosis is still a stubborn bitch. On Jan 10th I finally meet my endometriosis specialist and will hopefully get clarity on the chronic pain I have down below, the periods that are still happening despite the Visanne, and the diaphragmatic pain that’s a thorn in my side (figuratively and literally).

Leading up to the holidays my endo belly was killing me! I was almost at 3 weeks of the most uncomfortable endo belly. I mean, I went online and had to buy new pants that would allow for the extra circumference I just developed. And with no sight of this going away, I was getting super depressed. Nothing I tried helped. I thought at first it might be soy milk but I took that out of my diet. I am on gluten free, dairy free, sugar free meals so what the heck was causing this? I wasn’t doing anything out of the norm, and I could tell it wasn’t colon inflammation.

On Christmas Day my uterus decided it wanted to give me a full on period – the first one I’ve had in over 8 months. FML! I knew the Visanne wasn’t working as I was still having a ‘cycle’ without the bleeding. Now… this?? Screw Visanne, Im done. I decided to stop the visanne altogether as it wasn’t providing me any help whatsoever. Three days into the bleeding my period pain was way too debilitating and I had to put my thinking cap on. I wasn’t going to be seeing the specialist for another 2 weeks so think fast. I decided that since birth control is usually the first line of defence against period pain, I decided to pop one of my Minovral oral birth control pills. This way I was getting some sort of hormone into my body, despite it also having estrogen there.

My other line of thinking was that maybe visanne – or rather the lack of estrogen – was somehow behind this outrageous endo belly. This theory was based on nothing at all, other than listening to my body and knowing how it might be reacting to certain changes over time. In case my specialist thought this theory was crazy, I catalogued my belly over the course of a few weeks leading up to my appointment.

 

One day off Visanne
Two days off Visanne – no difference yet ūüė¶
One week off Visanne – things are looking up!
Two weeks off Visanne. I feel human again!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So now I wait…

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The Reuleaux of my health

The meaning behind the logo

For the last 20 years I have been trying to better understand and ‘treat’ my endometriosis with surgeries, birth control pills and pain medications. In the latter years I started to get wiser about the effects of nutrition and thus started to explore dietary solutions to mitigate the symptoms associated with endometriosis, namely the inflammatory diet. 20 years later, I found out that I also have ulcerative colitis, a form of IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) that was present for years without rearing its ugly head. The triggers expressed themselves as common symptoms associated with endometriosis (bloating, diarrhea, pain/discomfort) that lead most endo women to be (mis)diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).¬†All it took this time was one trigger – perhaps a glass of red wine – that flared the colitis so badly that it was enough to show up in stool workups and a colonoscopy. To understand how they diagnosed me for UC see my article here: Part 1 and Part 2

While endometriosis is not an autoimmune disease, there are a number of co-morbities,¬†suggesting women with endometriosis may be more prone or susceptible to developing autoimmune diseases. Likewise, 25% of people with one autoimmune disease are likely to develop a second autoimmune disease. Part of that equation is genetics, some of it may be due to epigenetics (the lingering genetic effect from your ancestors), some of it of course may be environmental including the things we eat. Yet while there are billions of dollars going into understanding the mechanisms behind autoimmune diseases, there are not enough doctors who specialize in understanding the underlying causes of inflammation,… as a whole.

Up until recently my life was regaining momentum; with another endometrial excision surgery behind me in March of 2018 and rapid improvements through biologic treatment for my Ulcerative colitis. But then on July 1st 2018, I woke up knowing something was wrong. I had not eaten or drank anything funny the day before, I didnt overly exert myself, but my hormones were off, my spoons were run up, and I started to feel achy in my upper abdomen. Needless to say this pain went from a 1 to a 9 throughout the course of only a few hours and I ended up back at the hospital for what was the beginning of the journey into the investigation of my idiopathic pancreatitis. Note that I have not been definitively diagnosed with anything yet, but the doctors are puzzled as to whether they are seeing true pancreatitis, autoimmune pancreatitis, an abnormality somewhere along the upper digestive tract or if this is endometriosis on the pancreas (spreading from the known implants on my diaphragm). You can read about this journey in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

What my life now comes down to is a¬†Reuleaux triangle¬† – the middle part of a Venn diagram¬†(the fatter, black outlined ‘triangle’) – where I can reduce my three diseases down to its commonalities and start to treat them together. For the first time in my life I can start thinking about the big picture and stop trying to interpret all the different nuances of each of the diseases. While each of them have their particulars (for example NSAIDS are great for endometriosis but increase ulcer bleeding in colitis patients) that need to be well understood, perhaps looking at whats causing inflammation for one disease could assist with reducing the inflammation associated with the others (aka a holistic view).

IMG_0605
My Reuleaux Triangle

The best (hidden) meaning for the logo though, is the perfect triangle in the middle of the reuleaux triangle – the Greek symbol for ‘change’. Honey, if there is one thing I am determined to do from this day forward, it is to change. Not my core being (I like who I am) but …

Change my mindset of how to look at these diseases.

Change my approach on how to combat these diseases.

Change the way I feel after a doctor tells me I’m insane or that I dont have any options.

Change the way I look at, and feel about, my body – the one I believed was flawed.

Change the way I carry myself.

Those are hereby here in writing so that if I forget my way, I can come back to remind myself.

Needless to say, through my journey of targeting my reuleaux triangle I hope I can continue to bring knowledge and experience to others who are diagnosed or looking for answers for undiagnosed autoimmune diseases and chronic illnesses.

Dont tell me what to do

Working on you, when you are ready

I refuse to be called a millennial and in the grand scheme of things I dont think Im that stubborn. But I have noticed a trend in my life: that I can only do things when I am ready. For instance, when I was 12 years old my father brought home a copy of The Wealthy Barber. To this day this book continues to be recognized for its illustrated wisdom of teaching thousands of people how to save and invest their money. Dad had just started to learn about this at a greater scale and thought it would be fun to teach me how to grow my money at a young age. Surely if I had listened and followed back then I would be fairly wealthy. But it was the LAST thing on earth I wanted to be learning or practicing. We continue to laugh about this today as Dad makes every attempt to teach my younger cousins and now my nephew Рany last ditched effort to get the young ones to invest. At the age of 35 I would commend myself for how money smart I am, but only because NOW I have an interest.

Over the last month I have been in a dark place. My diaphragmatic endo took over my life, putting me into the hospital three times in one month. I have been nothing shy of spoiled with love by my social media family as well as my real family and friends. Each one has taken a vested interest in finding me comfort but up til now, I wasnt really ready to think about how to reset my life. I was more focused on being angry. I have slept more in the last month than I did in my teenage years. My boyfriend and my mother have taken turns flying across the country to take care of me. And while little victories (healthy blood work, no diagnosis of something fatal, etc) make them exceedingly happy all I can think about is the pain and how angry it is making me. One afternoon mom suggested – after reading some rather basic endometriosis blog articles – that I should incorporate deep breathing exercises into my daily routine. What did I do? I tore her a new one. “I dont need you to read blogs I already read 20 years ago, telling me to do things I already know. I need you to find me a specialist”. She knew I was angry. She rested my head in her lap and let me cry and cry and cry. I knew yelling at her wasnt fair. And while everything she said was correct, I wasnt ready.

The remedy for my sanity was to fly back home for a while. I live in Vancouver but Ottawa is where my soul is. I had a flight booked already, so nothing in the world was going to stop me from getting on that plane. For two weeks, while I was at home I took some much needed time to listen to my body, listen to my surroundings, and start to take in cues. The first thing I did was breathe. Yes, exactly what mom had told me to do, but this time I was ready. Lets be honest, breathing doesnt really help when you have diaphragmatic endo because it hurts like hell. So instead, I do breathing exercises  1) to understand my limitations and 2) to build the muscles around my diaphragm SO THAT if and when I get a collapsed lung I will be in the best shape that I can be. Its not much, and again, it doesnt create miracles, but its something. On the daily I try to do 5 long, deep breathes, roughly twice a day.

In addition to my deep breathing, I am also finally ready to make some other positive changes.

  1. Eating greener РNote that with my Ulcerative Colitis I started out on a low residue diet for nearly 4 months and then started to bring in root veggies which are healthy and low in fiber. I maintained this diet for another 4 months which has brought me to a very stable state (ie no sign of inflammation or irritation in my colon alongside Entyvio infusions). My body is finally ready to take the next step. On the advice of a social media friend I am slowly starting to bring healthier food back into my diet. She provided me with a suggestion to start with a handful of leafy greens per day, and wait a full 24 hours to see if it sits well. Mission accomplished! Now I am incorporating a handful of leafy greens into every meal. Once I am confident that this will not cause I flare, I am going to start replacing some rice with Bulgar, and then start to slowing bring in new veggies; keeping a diary along the way.
  2. Being liable (Myfitnesspal) – Ok so I am horrible for apps. I utterly detest the apps that require me to input my meals simply because they need the data, and I get nothing in return other than some simple graphs. But I also admit I have never understood calories except for the brief year in highschool when I was gaining weight from the pill and decided to starve myself. That was a good lesson on how not to obtain calories. But in all seriousness while I am trying to reduce pain, stay healthy and be whoever it is I am supposed to be, I am basing it on no metrics whatsoever. I decided to download myfitness pal. Yup, I definitely have to input my meals but it tells me when I am eating something good or bad, it gives me goals to achieve and shows me how much impact a little walk can make. If nothing else, it is making me very aware.
  3. Forgiving –¬† I am learning to forgive people for telling me how they think I should live my life. I am forgiving people for not taking me seriously before. I am forgiving the world for giving me two autoimmune diseases. I am forgiving my body for being flawed. I am forgiving my soul for taking times to cry. I am forgiving my dog for passing away when I needed her the most. I am forgiving my colon for being sensitive. I am forgiving my body for being too strong; and at times for being too weak. I am forgiving people who love me the wrong way. I am forgiving the medical industry for not pouring more money into endometriosis research. I am forgiving healthier people for thinking there is a diet that will cure ulcerative colitis. I am forgiving.

My body is attacking itself

Having multiple autoimmune diseases

I was born a fantastically healthy baby, with no jaundice, asthma, or abnormalities that would see me through to adulthood. Until I was 14 and the much raved about menstrual periods started.  I was overjoyed by the fact that I was part of the club that I didnt bother mentioning to anyone else the pain and flow that accompanied mine. At the age of 14, I was sent to the hospital with period pain and was pre-diagnosed by a brilliant doctor, a disease called Endometriosis. At the time we didnt know much about it but several years later the industry learned that it was an autoimmune disease. Up until recently it was believed that endometriosis was endometrial tissue that escaped back inside the body Рoutside the uterus Рonto organs. But now, we have learned that endometriosis is endometrial- LIKE tissue that forms on organs out of bloody nowhere, and acts like your endometrium Рblood, pain and all. WTF!

Starting around my 25th birthday I started having very rare, intense pain in my upper abdomen. It would strike out of nowhere, often accompanied with alcohol, and would send me to the hospital. The pain was followed by throwing up, blacking out, and waking up with a doctor telling me I drank to much and sent me home. This happened about once a year for 4 years. Doctors came up with everything from alcoholism to anxiety to phantom pains. Nah…. didnt add up.

Just shy of 2018 I was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis. Ok this one threw me. I mean I had no idea and apparently I have had it for years. I just assumed the diarrhea and wrenching pain was from my endo. Ive since been treated with Entyvio and so far so good. Well,… until last week.

Right after Canada day – no alcohol in site – my upper abdominal pain kicked back in. I had remnants of it when they tried to give me a 5-asa back in November. And it kind of feels like my diaphragmatic endo. But its not. I assure you. This pain has lasted 9 days and counting.

At first they thought it was pancreatitis but they ruled that out with a CT Scan. They are still exploring PSC which they think they found back in November. That should be ruled out on Thursday with an MRcp. And its not my gallbladder which was taken out back in 2007 which later was hypothesized was due to endo and not gallstones.

Which organ is next? Why is my body attacking itself? What is the cause and are they all linked? IS there one cure to fix it all?

Where did my Entyvio go?

What happens when your biologic starts wearing off

Those of us with autoimmune diseases know our bodies so well, and while we often cannot explain what we are feeling, we know something is up. Starting in February I had my three loading doses of Entyvio, and then experienced my first 8 week interval without the medication. So in theory I have had 4 doses of entyvio. I can honestly say I started feeling results after the first or second infusion, and was excited that things were moving in the right direction.

But this last 8 week period has been a doozy. After 5 weeks I could start to feel some symptoms (or maybe they were side effects) of the drug. At first my GI was concerned that the extreme bloating around week 5 (see my post about my belly!) was a side effect of the medication. She had me do a calprotectin test (ugh, thats a blog post in itself), then another, and I still havent heard back from her so, thats a thing. Meanwhile, I reached out to the lovely folks on my facebook group and they guided me towards activated charcoal pills. Folks, I kid you not this stuff is amazing! It is designed to work with the bacteria that converts certain foods into gases such as methane, and it absorbs the gases. While it doesnt act on any cytokines or inflammatory factors it definitely reduces the bloating by way of the gases.

Unfortunately around week 7 the charcoal was no longer doing the trick; there was more happening than just bloating. First it was upper colon pain, which I was scared it may have been liver pain as they havent ruled out PSC yet and this pain was very prevalent back in November during my diagnosis. So I went to the hospital, and my blood work was all normal (CRP levels to come, and no Calprotectin obviously). They discharged me, and that night I started developing radiating leg pain, and joint pain. I became so tired, I didnt know what to do.

One day before my next infusion (yesterday) I was scheduled to hop on a plane and get back to Vancouver from Ottawa (thats across the continent for those of you not familiar with Canadian Geography) and that didnt happen. Just as I was approaching the airport my nausea became so bad, and I wasnt sure I could make it through the airport without either hurling or fainting. My first instinct was to call the Innomar clinic that administers my Entyvio infusions and asked them if they could fit me in that night or the next morning. They were so kind! They squeezed me in for this morning, and contacted the Vancouver site to let them know I would be having my infusion in Ottawa.  I also had to call the Vancouver General Hospital to let them know I wouldnt be back in time for my MRI (for my PSC) and they too were very lovely. They rebooked me somehow for next week.

Today I received my infusion, met the nurses that will be administering my infusions come September when I move back to Ottawa, and have done literally nothing but sleep all day!!! I mean, all day! Pretty sure I have been delirious for days, and may have even attempted to write some emails that I cannot remember (lol). The pain has not gone away, but the leg pain has, and the joint pain is lessening. Hopefully this is a lesson learned, and something tangible I can take back to my GI to optimise my treatment frequency.