Lessons learned from falling over the edge

Last week was another tough one to get through. I’ve been having difficulty getting my short-term disability claim approved. What set me over the edge was a call from the benefits specialist last Wednesday. He’s the one assigned to my claim. He received the paperwork from the Northside Primary Care office but was surprised by the physician’s statement. All she wrote was I was suffering from anxiety, depression and bipolar. WTF?!

I literally lost it for a few minutes. She mentioned nothing about the chronic pain, chronic fatigue or the number of infections I’ve suffered almost every month for the past six months. I felt betrayed. I felt like I had punched hard in the gut. Why?

I posted in my Facebook cancer support groups of what transpired to get thoughts on it. Many said maybe she was trying to set me up for permanent disability or maybe she wrote the wrong thing and it was meant for another patient. All those comments were disheartening and concerning. I had left messages for the doctor and her nurse via phone and through the portal. No response.

Why would a doctor write this and not notify me first?

Since Monday was a holiday, I let it go. I called first thing on Tuesday and asked to speak to her supervisor. In the end, I spoke directly with the clinical director. He said he would review my case, speak with the doctor and get back to me later that day. I was impressed because he kept his word and called that evening.

He explained that she wrote that diagnosis in her physician’s statement in order to get me approved. I said that all well and good, but she did not reference anything else. He agreed she should’ve notified me what she planning to put in her statement. The issue is nothing she said backed up what Emory Palliative Care and I wrote. How could she leave all the rest out?

The clinical director was impressive. He told me he would call my benefits specialist to clear up any confusion and send whatever additional paperwork that was requested. He told me he would call me Wednesday.

I received the call yesterday evening. The clinical director told me what he said to the benefits specialist, that my claim is being reviewed by the insurance’s doctors and now waiting on a decision. He answered all questions, kept that original doctor’s diagnosis and added the rest of what we discussed.

I told him the issue is the doctor never notified me or returned any of my calls. He agreed. At that point, I felt heard and can let this go. I did tell him to notate in my file that I never want to be treated by that doctor again.

So, now I’m waiting on a decision from the insurance company. I’ve been without income going on four weeks. Thank God for my previous church and my mother. That’s the only reason I can even breathe and finally not stress. Do I feel guilty and ashamed for asking for financial help? A little. I also know when to let pride go and ask for what I need.

My emotions are finally stable again thanks to Lexapro. I realized last week that I needed to get back on an antidepressant. I needed that buffer it gives me to handle the intensity of my emotions. I didn’t want to and fought it at first, but know I made the right decision. The Lexapro in the morning and CBD oil with THC in the evening helps take the edge off.

Putting my health first continues to come at a cost. I was born premature and sick from birth. It’s exhausting and expensive taking care of myself. There have been moments where I’ve felt strong and even invincible. Those days are long gone.

All I can do now is prep for my surgery on Monday, work on understanding this chronic pain and taking care of my mental health. Maybe that is the lesson I needed to learn. I can no longer continue to let these difficult and painful hits to my life completely through me off course and into a tailspin. I need to stop being so reactive so I can focus on being proactive.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

This isn’t a dress rehearsal…

There were many ups and downs this week. The past three weeks away from work have been spent in hours of solitude, writing, doing some fun things, working on my mental health and having honest conversations with myself.

My rage has been turning me into a very negative person. I really heard it this week. There are trigger phrases that multiple people have said which cause me to viscerally react.

The face of chronic pain will be smiling, laughing and joking. That’s why I bristle when someone says, “You look fine.” What is chronic pain supposed to look like? Do people really think I’ll let them see me hobbling and crying? I will always “look fine” because I mask it from you.

  • What you don’t see and will never see is how I barely sleep.
  • What you don’t see is I need a cane to get out of bed most mornings.
  • What you don’t see is the nausea that hits in the morning and afternoon.
  • What you don’t see are the tears as I get in and out of the shower, praying I don’t fall.

I can’t stop being me and enjoying myself. How is that fair? I keep trying to tame myself because being ME takes a lot of energy. It’s strange that I wear myself out just acting natural.

I’ve always been a proponent of therapy. This isn’t new for me. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety since I was in high school. The difficult part is finding the right therapist. The fact is a regular therapist won’t work. I need one specialized in chronic illness, who is trained to handle and recognize those added stressors.

My therapist at Emory Palliative Care told me I am coping well. I guess I feel like I should be doing more. Is that the over-achiever in me?

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • Made the first step in putting my health FIRST.
  • Made a list of things I want to do that feed my soul creatively.
  • Started journaling and writing more frequently.
  • Unplugging from social media and spending time wrapped in silence.
  • Going to some survivorship programs.
  • Having honest conversations with myself and asking what I WANT.
  • Trying to figure out my limitations.

I’ve also had people asking me if I’m “enjoying this rest.” This time away isn’t a vacation. I’m still highly stressed because my short-term disability hasn’t been approved yet. These constant hurdles to try and take care of myself is causing additional stress. It actually exacerbates my pain, which is not good. I will only rest once I know my bills will be paid.

I bring up being single a lot because it affects so much of my care.

I realized last evening that my biggest fear in my adult life already happened – diagnosed with cancer while single and having to work. The pressure to keep a roof over my head, mounting medical bills, regular bills, upcoming surgery, doctor appointments and medication truly wears on me. I really thought by this age I would’ve met “the one” and have a partner to help ease the pressure.

Getting cancer took away precious time that I’ll never get back. That’s a tough pill to swallow. I’ve literally lost three years of my life to intense stress and fighting to stay alive.

I constantly hear how “stress can kill,” yet no one has solutions of how to keep it low when you’re single.

The toughest challenge I have now is coping and living with chemo induced fibromyalgia. None of my doctors prepared me for the possibility of chronic pain. That’s why I’m in a rage. I kept going to different doctors and specialists until one finally heard me and gave me that diagnosis.

I’m devastated. I need more purpose to get me out of bed each day. I need to find a way to turn my advocacy, blogging and speaking into a career.

I’ve heard from many warriors to “not let cancer define you.” Well, it HAS defined me. I am no longer who I was physically. It has taken so much from me. It HAS changed me.

I may laugh a lot on the surface, but if you look closely, you’ll see the pain and grief. I know that’s why I toggle between rage and negativity. I’ve never dealt with this kind of pain and grief on a daily basis.

My soul is so weary. I long for the day when everything works out and I CAN truly rest and rejuvenate. I want to be able to float instead of struggling to keep my head above water. I deserve to feel free and supported.

So, this isn’t a dress rehearsal. This is real life. I’m giving the performance of a lifetime.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

Palliative Care with a bottle of cannabis

This is the farthest down the rabbit hole of utter despair I have ever experienced. I’ve always been prone to depression. I’m an empath; a truly sensitive and creative soul. I’ve battled many tough situations from being bullied in high school and a bit in college to dealing with racism and an abusive relationship to personal tragedy. Those situations pale in comparison to life post-cancer.

I often hear:

“Don’t let cancer define you”

“You can get your life back”

“I want this to be over for you.”

I bristle when I hear this, especially from a fellow cancer survivor/warrior. My cancer experience has not been easy. Yes, I’ve been able to experience some awesome opportunities during active and post cancer that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. My cancer path continues to be difficult and painful on many levels.

I was never informed by my active treatment oncologist of all the possible long-term side effects that could happen after chemo, multiple surgeries and radiation. Each time I would bring up a side effect I would be told, “That rarely happens.” I didn’t feel heard.  

Since October of last year, I’ve battled the following in this order up until today:

Weight began creeping back up

Fibromyalgia diagnosis

Osteoarthritis in knees

Started down the rabbit hole of depression

Pinched nerve in my back = prednisone = weight gain

More nausea = more Zofran

Dermatitis of my eyelids = more prednisone

Received a permanent handicap sign due to severe neuropathy in my feet

Took myself off Ativan after two years

Insomnia

Horrible side effects from Exemestane

Shingles on my left arm thru my hand = excruciating pain

Being told there are NO other medication options to help prevent a recurrence

Higher dosage of Neurontin which turned out to be too much

Swelling of ankles

Weight gain AGAIN

Severe nausea, pounding headache and dizziness

ER trip due to severe dehydration which raised my BP to a dangerous level

Vertigo

Sigh. Seeing this list in writing literally took my breath away. I completely spiraled into utter depression and grief because through all of this I have been working full-time. There has been no time for rest or recovery or even a real vacation. Every penny and any PTO go toward doctor appointments, medication and procedures.

It was my amazing rheumatoid specialist Dr. Tiliakos who heard my cry for help in a portal message a few weeks ago. He asked if I knew about the Palliative Care program at Emory. I freaked out hearing that term ‘palliative.’ I’m not dying yet!  He said it’s not like that at all. It’s another high-level support to take care of patients physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

Oh my God; I have been heard.

My appointment was scheduled for May 14th, but after the ER trip last week, I called in a panic asking to be notified of any cancellations. Lo and behold, I got a call on Wednesday morning asking if I could come in at 2pm. For the first time ever, I dropped everything and just said, YES.

Emory University Hospital is huge. I valeted when I got there. Well, I didn’t know there were multiple valet stations and I was in the wrong building. I started panicking and was crying when I called the office number. The woman who handles all the scheduling actually called me on her cell and went searching for me. She found me and personally walked me all the way to the correct building.

I was floored by her kindness. That was only the beginning.

When the doctor walked into the room, I got very anxious. She immediately put me at ease. This was unlike any appointment with a physician because she typed MY words into her notes. As a writer, I don’t mind someone typing while actively listening. She said, “We treat the whole person, so your words are important and valued to help develop a treatment plan.” Can you guess what happened next? I burst into tears of relief.

She could visibly see the physical and emotional toll battling the chronic pain and all that cancer has taken from me the past three years. Not only did she recommend the marijuana card and cannabis drops but acknowledged that my body is super susceptible to side effects and knows I’m scared of gaining even more weight from the possible munchies. I don’t want that “high.” I just want to be relaxed enough to able to sleep and help deal with the pain.

Next up was meeting the social worker/therapist. She is younger than me but very intelligent with the specialized training I’ve been needing. We were setting up another time to meet for a full session when I said it depends on the cost. When she said, “There is no cost. Once you’re in palliative care, every session is FREE.  You can come as many times during the week that you need. It’s whatever you want to do.” Once again, my tears of utter relief were flowing so hard that I almost couldn’t stop.

For once on this cancer path, I was given a CHOICE. That’s why I’ve been so angry, depressed, anxious and filled with grief because so many choices were made for me. When your medical team says you must have these surgeries and treatments because you will die if you don’t does not bring comfort. It only evoked fear.

I walked out of my appointment with a glimmer of hope. I felt slightly lighter than when I walked into it. To top it off, the scheduler stayed until my appointment was over to personally walk me all the way back to the valet because she didn’t want me to get lost. She didn’t have to do that. She even took time to show me landmarks, so I park or valet in the correct place next time.

The winds of resilience keep pushing me forward…and I’m grateful.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie