During the last two semesters of my nursing diploma my weeks were filled with projects, papers, case studies, clinical days and exams. As can be expected in a demanding program, I had a gruelling schedule and with each semester it became increasingly intense. I also worked part-time in group homes to subsidize my student loan and pay for my bills as a twenty-five year old living on her own. And I was in a long-term relationship that brought a fair share of stress to my life. The importance of self-care was something I learned about for my patients, but never found the time or prioritized myself enough to give that gift.
I was creating The Perfect Storm and had absolutely no idea until it was too late.
It started in my feet. First with swollen, sausage-like toes, then plantar fasciitis in the soles of my feet. Quickly the pain was so intense I needed crutches to walk and could barely stand the weight of a bedsheet on my toes. I wore surgical post-op shoes because my feet were so swollen and tender nothing else would fit, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish nursing school. Soon I was avoiding social situations because I felt like I was 85 rather than 25.
I look back now on those days, with the 20/20 vision that reflection gives you, and am shocked it took months to be diagnosed correctly. First I was told I had stress fractures and rest, ice, and anti-inflammatories were prescribed. Next it was caused by Plantar Fasciitis and orthotics were made for my feet. Finally, I was referred to a rheumatologist and Arthritis was diagnosed. I kept hearing how I was “too young” to have Arthritis, from family and friends AND doctors. But when I did my own research it turned out I was the exact age and gender for the autoimmune type of arthritis. My life changed.
I promised myself that, if I could get better and somehow manage the pain, I would never take my health for granted again.
I completed nursing school as planned and managed the disease and my pain with prescribed medication. I have always been very grateful for the pharmaceuticals and medical system available to me, and aside from a brief stint with acupuncture, I relied solely on the pills (and eventually injections) that kept the sleeping lion of a disease in my body asleep.
But at a huge cost. As my disease became more and more aggressive, the medication needed became stronger and more complex. For the last nineteen years I have injected myself weekly with medication that would modify the disease or suppress my immune system. But these medications come with risks and side effects. For several years I injected myself with Gold, yes Gold! Gold injections are made from sodium aurothiomalate which contains Gold. It’s a medication known for its ability to block inflammation. After seven years of weekly injections into my thigh muscle my body developed a severe nitritoid reaction and I had to abruptly discontinue it, or risk having a heart attack or stroke following administration. I quickly deteriorated and we were on the search for something else to work. Gratefully, I was prescribed a Biologic medication called Etenercept which had just been given approval for coverage of my Autoimmune Disease, Psoriatic Arthritis. Thank goodness for that and for my own personal coverage because it costs $1600 per month! It began working very well for me right away, but as an immunosuppressant it put me at risk of Tuberculosis as well as a higher risk of certain types of cancer.
Cancer. That has nagged at me for twelve years now. My family has a relatively high incidence of that dreadful disease and I certainly don’t want to increase the chances by something I’m injecting every week. But, I also believe in quality of life, and this medication gave me that for years. Working, being a Mom, several athletic competitions and events, travelling, all made possible by this medication.
But what if I could have that all without the risk?
At the beginning of this year I had surgery and the surgeon found some questionable cells. Six weeks later I had biopsies of 4 suspicious cells and received the news that one was precancerous.
My body was telling me something. Begging for me to respond.
I started talking with a friend who became a mentor, her background being a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, and I began reading books, blogs, watching videos and decided to do a water-fast.
For ten days I ate nothing, and drank nothing but water. I read my Bible and prayed, and read and read credible sources of what a water-fast can do for my body and made plans for afterward. I had also stopped my injectable medication. I changed my belief system to encompass that my mind and body are powerful and that getting to the root cause of the inflammation in my body, the reason my body is attacking and destroying itself, is the ultimate goal.
And I love goals.
I found tons of information on the relationship between leaky gut and Autoimmune disease and chose to dive into the Autoimmune Protocol diet once I finished my ten day water-fast. Looking back I wonder why diet is not addressed by western medicine? While prescribing medication for the inflammation and pain, why is the exploration of causes such as food sensitivities not addressed? Why are we more content to “take something” than to make adjustments? As a nurse I worked in private practice in rheumatology, but never discussed causes. Never discussed contributing factors that they could control and adjust.
Never talked about the Perfect Storm.
I’m talking now. To anyone who will listen. I have been 25 weeks without any medication for my Autoimmune disease! That’s HUGE for me. That’s 25 injections I have skipped. And although that’s almost half a year, I will feel even more sure when a year has passed. The truth is it’s not easy. It’s WAY harder than injecting myself every week. It’s following the AIP diet as best and as much as I can. It’s saying no to things and asking for help and support to manage my stress. It’s balance.
So when my surgeon called last month with the results of my follow-up biopsy of those precancerous cells and reported that “it’s all clear, it resolved itself and is now negative” ..... I celebrated! It has all been worth it. I’m grateful to my body. Grateful to the AIP diet, my friend and mentor, and to God.