Motherhood & Chronic Illness

I once saw a t-shirt that read “Motherhood: It’s more than a job, it’s an adventure!” And I had to buy that shirt. If you’re a mother, you understand why. Sometimes, I think we don’t fully appreciate our mothers until we become one. There is nothing easy about the detail. Motherhood is fascinating and scary … fun and frustrating … rewarding and overwhelming. Yet, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for the world. Some of my most treasured memories in life involve my child. When I look at him, today, I beam with pride. I did a good job, despite my Chronic illness. Though, back in those early years, I often wondered if I was measuring-up. Or if, heaven forbid, he was getting short-changed. 

 

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Let’s be honest; shall we? Motherhood is demanding. Chronic illnesses are, too. And, sometimes, what we want to do conflicts with what our bodies will let us do. Try explaining that to a toddler.

As mothers, we take care of our children. That’s the job. And it’s a 24/7 duty. When we are sick, our responsibility as a mother doesn’t magically go away. It’s still there — packing a lot of guilt. You learn quickly to have a “Plan B”, because that beats doing nothing at all. Think of it as a negotiation, between your condition and motherhood. For example, it’s a snow day. The flakes are falling. And your little one is just dying to play in it. A part of you wants to go, too. Unfortunately, you are aching … stiff … or worse. Reserve such times, for snuggling under a warm blanket … reading a stack of books … or watching a favorite DVD. Maybe, you can even pop some popcorn or make some s’mores (fireplaces do come in handy)? This too is quality time. Sledding can be done with Dad, or cousins. In a day or two, you might even feel like joining in the frosty fun. Until then, be patient. Make the best of the situation. Enjoy every moment — even if it isn’t your “Plan A”.

If you manage your Chronic illness, it will provide you with the best results for living life to the fullest — including motherhood. So, please, keep your appointments with your doctor. Take your medications. Eat healthy. Exercise. Yes, changes in your routine and/or your child’s will take some getting used to. That’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. As strange as it may sound, our children learn from us even when we are sick. If we neglect our health, we send a negative message that tells them it’s okay to neglect theirs. When we take care of ourselves, we send a positive message. That’s a good thing.

Kids understand what “feeling bad” means. They understand terms like “hurt” and “tired”. And they will ask questions. When your child becomes inquisitive about your Chronic illness, be honest with them. Brief answers are usually best, for younger children. So, keep it simple. Teens are capable of understanding more. Then, of course, there is the internet where your child may read anything about your illness (factual or not). Prepare yourself for that, too. Help them find reputable resources online that can provide the best information. Talk openly. It’s good for them and you.

Last, but not least, stay positive. Optimism is key to managing any Chronic illness. It’s good for your health as well as your child’s. Kids aren’t as naive as we’d like to think they are. Our children pick-up on our emotions. If we show fear, they become afraid. If we are depressed, they too can show signs of depression. So, live fearlessly. Live strongly. Live fully. Chronic illness isn’t who we are. It’s just part of the package. We are women. We are mothers. And we are blessed. Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2017/03/03/how-to-talk-to-your-child-about-your-serious-illness/?utm_term=.f8f4df873208

https://www.fmcpaware.org/why-does-mommy-hurt.html

http://www.igliving.com/magazine/articles/IGL_2013-08_AR_Chronically-Ill-Parents-Helping-Children-Cope.pdf

http://www.copmi.net.au/parents/helping-my-child-and-family/talking-about-mental-illness

https://www.nccn.org/patients/resources/life_with_cancer/talk_to_children.aspx

https://www.accu-chek.com/life/explaining-diabetes-to-your-children

http://talkaboutit.org/how-talk-your-kids-about-your-epilepsy-roger-cross-wendy-miller-phd-rn

https://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/features/ra-explaining-pain#1

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23510498

*Photo of the author & her son at an airshow, Myrtle Beach AFB, 1992.

 

 

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Stay Hydrated

As the days grow warmer, we venture outside … enjoying outdoor sports, gardening, working, etc. Granted, the sun feels wonderful after a cold winter. But the higher temperatures also demand that we pay closer attention to our hydration level. If our bodies lose more fluid than they take in, we can develop a condition called dehydration. Severe dehydration can even be life-threatening. While dehydration can happen to anyone, it is especially dangerous for children, seniors and those living with Chronic conditions. In fact, there is increasing medical evidence that mild forms of dehydration can lead to a myriad of illnesses. Likewise, maintaining good hydration has a positive effect on many!

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Some medications can cause hydration issues, i.e. diuretics, laxatives and chemotherapy. Dehydration is often seen in cancer patients who are taking the latter. But, note, chemotherapy is used to treat other illnesses too, i.e. Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, etc. So, talk to your doctor and be vigilant. 

If you are taking any of these medications (many of us do), or suspect that you may be suffering from dehydration. Here are some of the symptoms to watch-out for:

  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Dark urine
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Dry skin
  • Low blood-pressure
  • Extreme thirst
  • Rapid heat-beat
  • Inability to sweat

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical assistance.

We lose fluids every day, through our body’s functions. Still we can maintain hydration. Water is the best source. Most nutritionists recommend about six 8-ounce glasses per day. Your doctor can help you determine how much is best for you. But there are other options, too. Fruits like watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches and oranges have naturally high water content. Vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, cauliflower, cabbage and lettuce are also abundant. Soups are another source. An 8-ounce serving of plain yogurt is made up of more than 75% water. Cottage cheese has wonderful hydrating properties, too. So does Jello. Popsicles and frozen-fruit bars are also helpful. Even meats like hamburger and chicken breasts can help us to stay hydrated. And it’s pretty easy to incorporate these foods into our daily diet intake.

Spring is in full-swing and summer is just around the corner. Enjoy the weather. Have fun. Exercise. But, remember, to stay safe. Prevention is worth the effort. Whether you drink from a glass jar or not (it’s a bit of a Southern thing) … stay hydrated!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/symptoms-causes/syc-20354086

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17921462

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16028566

https://www.webmd.com/drug-medication/medicines-can-cause-dehydration

https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/physical-emotional-and-social-effects-cancer/managing-physical-side-effects/dehydration

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/19-hydrating-foods#section19

https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/top-10-ways-to-stay-hydrated

*Photo by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash

This Little Light Of Mine …

When I think back to my early childhood, I remember learning this song in Vacation Bible School. I was all of three or four years old. I still remember singing it in front of the congregation. Our teacher had instructed us to hold up our “pretend candles” aka one finger, as we sang. And at 59, I still find this simple little tune to be incredibly uplifting. I think most Christians can relate, which is why I chose it to discuss living with Chronic illness. Sometimes, we allow our diseases to distract us … hold us back … even consume us. If you live with one, you know what I mean. It happens all too often. But, for a moment, let’s focus on making the most of every day … every week … every year. Let’s consider living our lives to the fullest and letting our light really shine!

 

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  “In the same way, let your light shine before others …” — Matthew 5:16 (NIV)

First, accept that change is inevitable. It isn’t your fault that you’re sick. You didn’t ask for it to happen, or want it. But here you are. Your willingness to help yourself is your choice. Making changes to your lifestyle is also your choice. No one can do it for you. And, I know — it’s hard enough just living with your disease. The beauty here is that making changes allows you to feel a measure of control, in what often feels like an uncontrollable situation. And no matter what it specifically entails, change isn’t a bad thing. It’s just different. Healthier even. So, consider what you need to change in order to manage your disease. You might even want to make a list, or keep a journal. Then, take action. Perhaps, you are adding a form of therapy? Maybe, exercise? Or a diet? Your schedule may need some adjustments. You may need to ask for help. By all means, do so. That’s what support systems are for. Talk to your doctor. Stay realistic. Change won’t happen overnight. And patience is a necessity with any Chronic illness. But, slowly, make those changes at a pace that is comfortable for you. Think of it as laying the foundation for your future.

Second, don’t be afraid to set goals or dream. Yes, you have a Chronic illness. But you also have a life. It isn’t over. It’s changing; remember? Despite your diagnosis, you still have interests … pursuits of happiness. We all do. There are things that are gratifying like our careers. And others that we have longed to experience. Perhaps, you’d like to learn a new hobby? Enter a golf tournament? Get more involved in your community or an organization? Maybe, there’s a promotion that you’d like to accept? Or a destination calling your name? While the sky may not be the limit, there are a lot of options available. So, talk to your doctor. A well-managed Chronic illness will allow you to live life to the fullest. You’ll be happier, healthier, more productive, etc. Now, you’re building on that foundation.

Third, stay optimistic. I know it isn’t always easy. Some are naturally pessimistic. Thankfully, optimism can be learned. And, to be honest, it should be. This is one habit that we all can benefit from. Studies have proven, time and again, that optimism plays a positive role on our physical and mental health. Here are a few easy ways to be more optimistic:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others in a competitive way. We’re all unique.
  • Think positive thoughts.
  • Look for the good, even in difficult situations. Silver linings do exist.
  • Focus on positive outcomes. Don’t face a challenge expecting defeat.
  • Consider your own beliefs. What is your definition of purpose? Of life?
  • Strive to improve your health. When you feel better, you are more optimistic.
  • Challenge your mind every day, by learning something new. It helps to provide personal satisfaction.

Last but not least … I can attest that every change that I’ve made, either to my lifestyle or surroundings, has yielded positive results. This includes a couple of things that I was initially very skeptical about. While there are no guarantees in life, not mine or yours, there are options. Live fully and let your light shine!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/turning-straw-gold/201509/20-tips-living-well-chronic-pain-and-illness

Intensive lifestyle change: It works, and it’s more than diet and exercise

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ServicesAndSupport/managing-long-term-illness-and-chronic-conditions

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/21st-century-aging/201212/keeping-positive-outlook-when-dealing-chronic-illness

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=4511

*Photo by Frank McKenna on Unsplash

It’s That Time Of Year, Again …

It’s Spring aka Hay Fever season. And sufferers surely know it. But they also know it can strike in Summer as well as Fall. Despite its name, Hay Fever doesn’t require hay or cause a fever. It can be rather inclusive that way. Its symptoms are usually caused by allergic sensitivity to airborne mold spores and numerous pollens. Allergic rhinitis, as it is medically known, is a significant Chronic disease that often effects the healthier population. In fact, in the past century, its prevalence has increased 10-fold. Some patients even experience symptoms the year-round, i.e. Perennial Allergic rhinitis.

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While Hay Fever symptoms vary, from patient to patient, the most common are:

  • Runny nose and nasal congestion
  • Watery, itchy, red eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Earaches
  • Fatigue
  • Postnasal drip
  • Swollen, blue-colored skin under the eyes
  • Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat
  • Headaches  

If you or a loved one is suffering from one or more of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. It might even be time to see an Allergist. Once you are properly diagnosed, you can work toward managing your Hay Fever. This is especially important, if you are already living with an illness that can be worsened by the symptoms of Hay Fever, i.e. Stress, Asthma, Lung Diseases and Heart Diseases.

Life does not stop, because you have Hay Fever. That’s a no-brainer. You have things to do, work to finish, plans to keep and dreams to chase. To get you started, here are a few simple tips for managing your illness:

  • Start medications before peak pollen times (1-2 weeks if possible).
  • Wear a hat and wrap around sunglasses to protect your eyes from pollen.
  • Use a nasal allergen barrier to protect your nose from pollen, i.e. Vaseline.
  • Monitor your local pollen count and stay indoors when levels are high.
  • Keep windows and doors closed.
  • Consider purchasing a humidifier for your home.   
  • Keep your appointments with your doctor, even when you are doing good.

There is no cure for Hay Fever, but there are ways to keep it from controlling your life. So, talk to your doctor. Take your medications as directed. Implement these easy tips. Make smart decisions. It’s Spring. Enjoy it! You don’t have to be in misery!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/allergy-sinus-headaches

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hay-fever/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20373045

https://acaai.org/allergies/types/hay-fever-rhinitis

https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/is-stress-making-your-allergy-symptoms-worse

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-ways-you-can-fight-hay-fever/

https://www.allergyuk.org/about/latest-news/648-top-tips-for-managing-your-hay-fever

https://medicinetoday.com.au/2015/october/feature-article/hay-fever-%E2%80%93-underappreciated-and-chronic-disease

*Photo by Jason Long on Unsplash

Holistic Approaches To Chronic Illness

Holistic Medicine is a different approach to healing … one that considers all facets of human nature – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Doctors, who embrace this approach, believe that the whole person is made up of interdependent parts and if one part is not working properly, the others will be negatively affected. In other words, the imbalance/s (physical, emotional, or spiritual) will impact their overall health. They believe the key to achieving one’s best health depends upon attaining a proper balance in life — not just focusing on symptoms and writing prescriptions. But can this approach work when treating Chronic illnesses?

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The simple answer is “Yes, it can!” Many Chronic illnesses can be effectively treated and managed with a Holistic approach. A few examples are:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Chronic Pain
  • Kidney Disease
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Auto-Immune
  • Parkinson’s Disease

According to the American Holistic Health Association (AHHA), there are 4 major factors that impact our health: Heredity, Environment, Medical Care and Lifestyle. Of these four, Lifestyle has the most influence — approximately 50%! And lifestyle can be changed! The success stories are endless!

If you or a loved one is interested in learning more about Holistic Medicine, you can visit the American Holistic Health Association’s website at https://ahha.org for additional information, referrals, etc. There is life with a Chronic illness. As a person who lives with more than one of them, I can assure you that the answer isn’t always in a prescription bottle. Sometimes, it comes from where you would least suspect. And optimism is always key to finding the right balance that works for you!

 

Reference Links: 

https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/what-is-holistic-medicine#1

https://ahha.org/selfhelp-articles/principles-of-holistic-medicine/

http://icpa4kids.org/HPA-Articles/holistic-approach-to-chronic-illness.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5847356/

https://www.cnn.com/2014/01/10/health/secrets-pain-free-life/index.html

https://ahha.org/

*Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

Consider The Caterpillar …

If you’ve been recently diagnosed with a Chronic illness, you probably aren’t thinking about gardens … or flowers … or caterpillars. You may be too overwhelmed to focus on much of anything, except your disease. And that’s understandable.

Often times, the diagnosis falls on a patient like a ton of bricks. You may be angry. Perhaps, you feel inadequate? Scared? Changes to your body, your lifestyle, your abilities, even your mobility, hit with little warning. Pain can be a battle all its own. You weren’t prepared for it. You may even be angry.  And you aren’t alone. 

Approximately, 157M people will be living with a Chronic illness in America by 2020. Millions more, globally. In fact, these illnesses are projected to account for 75% of all deaths worldwide. Chronic illness, or non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are now the biggest health issue that we face. So, proper diagnosis … treatment … and management are vital. And your mindset is equally important. 

 

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“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” — Chuang Tzu

 

Many patients develop additional health issues, i.e. anxiety, depression, etc., as their lives become more complicated. Some may even feel as if their life is over — defeated by a condition that they neither wanted or asked for.  If this describes you, please, try to keep your perspective.

Build a Support System that includes your doctor/s, family and friends. Discuss your concerns, openly. Make the necessary changes. Be patient with yourself and your illness. Maintain an optimistic outlook. It does make a difference. And on the tough days … even weeks … remember the fate of the caterpillar. You too can fly, again — even soar — despite your Chronic illness. Change isn’t always a bad thing thing. Often times, it can bring out the very best in each of us!

 

Reference Links:

http://www.nationalhealthcouncil.org/sites/default/files/NHC_Files/Pdf_Files/AboutChronicDisease.pdf

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/12/healthcare-future-multiple-chronic-disease-ncd/

https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/2_background/en/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/optimism-and-your-health

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23510498

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/groups/chronic-illness

*Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

 

 

 

The Greatest Of These Is Love …

We usually talk about Chronic illnesses and treatment, management, awareness, etc. But, for a moment, let’s talk about others effected by the disease — family and especially caregivers. 

No matter the patient’s age, or the specific illness involved, a Chronic condition effects more than one. Family members must also cope. Some may worry about genetic factors. Others may feel guilty, if they live far away. A few may have difficulty accepting the diagnosis at all. Caregivers, God bless them, are juggling everything — the needs of the patient, the family, doctor visits, medications, work, etc.

It isn’t unusual for a caregiver’s life to be drastically changed, by their new role. Some will put their careers on hold — hoping for a return to normalcy in a short time. Others literally see their professional careers end, as the role of caregiver consumes every minute of their day. Many allow their own health and well-being to go on the back-burner. This often creates additional health issues (for the caregiver). Weeks turn into months … then into years. It takes a toll. The caregiver finds himself or herself doing things they had never imagined doing, i.e. administering shots, buying diapers for a parent, protecting the patient’s rights, or watching a child suffer with pain. There is nothing easy about being a caregiver. It is a very mentally, physically and emotionally challenging role. And previous experience in no way means that you are adequately prepared for being a caregiver, again. Each patient, each illness, is different. 

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“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” —             1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV

Twice, in my life, I have had the privilege of being a caregiver. I use the word “privilege”, because in some ways it was rewarding, i.e. close-knit talks, deepened relationships, special moments, etc. It was also highly stressful and at times downright scary. My first experience as a caregiver was for my father, 1989-1990, as he battled cancer. The second for my mother, in 2008, when she battled cancer.

Despite the common denominator, they were two vastly different experiences. My father was terminally ill, upon diagnosis, with lung cancer. He ate anything that he wanted and pretty much did anything he wanted, until his death. No medications to administer (seriously). No use of oxygen (seriously). His radiation treatments also went well. He truly lived every moment of life to the fullest. We should all be so lucky. I realize that, now. But at the time, I lived in high anxiety of what might happen. My mother was just the opposite. With Mom, everything that could go wrong … did go wrong. I charted over 20 medications, daily. She had every unusual side-effect to chemotherapy that a patient could have. No nausea or hair-loss (seriously). In the end, she was beating the cancer but succumbed to the worst of these side-effects (a pulmonary embolism or blood-clot). It was frustrating and heart-wrenching. The last thing that she asked of me was to sing. So, I sang … and sang … as she drifted into an unconscious state … gasping for every breath. I would rest for a couple of hours and start singing again … tears streaming down my cheeks.  Then, I’d pause … pray hard … and sing some more. This went on for 10 days. And by the grace of God, I managed. I was with her, voice and all, till the end.

If you know a caregiver, then you know the love that he or she so unselfishly gives. You may know a few of the burdens that they are carrying, i.e. responsibilities to the patient, their family, their job, etc. You may even know some of their fears. So, please, let them know that you care. Offer to sit with the patient, for a couple of hours. Ask if there is an errand that you can do for them, i.e. pharmacy, supermarket, etc. Drop by with a warm casserole for dinner. It may sound silly, but you’ve just taken a task off of their “to-do” list. You have lightened their load and offered support. Many caregivers will never ask for any help. They have their reasons. And, often times, they will neglect themselves before they do. But you can give them the little boost that keeps them going. Because without that caregiver, rest assured, things would be much worse.  So, give them a break … a hug … show your appreciation … share some love. They need it, as much as the patient does!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784

https://caregiveraction.org/resources/10-tips-family-caregivers

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/taking-care-yourself-tips-caregivers

https://www.stoptheclot.org/about-clots/faqs/faq-blood-clots-cancer/