Interview October – Frank

Today on our very last Interview October, we’re meeting Frank Rivera. Here is his story:

Frank’s Bio…  

Frank Rivera founded Sarcoidosis of Long Island in 2012. In 2011 Frank was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis after being misdiagnosed with lung cancer for 7 years prior. Since opening Sarcoidosis of Long Island he has been a local, state and federal advocate for Sarcoidosis. Frank strives to raise awareness for Sarcoidosis nationally, but specifically in the government sector. He has represented the Rare and Sarcoidosis community as a speaker at two Congressional briefings for Sarcoidosis. Frank is a National Ambassador for Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research, was a Global Genes RARE Foundation Alliance Member and was an Advocate, an ambassador for The EveryLife Foundation and a Working Group Member. Named RUGD Ambassador for Illumina October 2017 Frank organized RareNY in 2016, to raise awareness for Rare Diseases in the state of New York. He organized “A Day for Rare Diseases” on October 15th, 2016 in Long Island NY, in partnership with Global Genes, to raise awareness for all 7000+ rare diseases. In recognition of Frank’s efforts, Suffolk County and the town of Brookhaven officially declared October 15th “A Day for Rare Diseases”. In 2017 Frank was named Brookhaven advocate of the year. Frank also is an advocate for “Right to Try” even being interviewed by NBC Nightly News this year.

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

Sarcoidosis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, and Parkinson’s and IBS

My symptoms/condition began… 

I was misdiagnosed in 2004, with Lung Cancer. I went through 4 years of chemotherapy and radiation while living in Florida. After the 4 years, I was told I was in remission. In 2011 after moving back to New York, I had problems with my IBS. While in the ER room they took a CT scan of my stomach and part of my lungs were shown in the CT Scan. They found more masses in my lungs. They took a biopsy and said I had Sarcoidosis. I ended going to Mt. Sinai Hospital to their Sarcoidosis clinic in Manhattan. They got my past tests from the hospital in Florida and found out that I had Sarcoidosis the whole time.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is… 

The pain and that they all are invisible illnesses. People look at me and they say well you look fine. But they don’t know what my insides feel and look like. Sarcoidosis has taken over 90% of my body. The only place I don’t have it is in my liver and kidneys.

A typical day for me involves… 

Everyday I never know how I am going to feel. So there is no real routine. I am on permanent disability. The only thing I do every day I wake up unless I can’t get out of bed is make sure both my wife and daughter have what they need for work and school respectively. I make them their lunch as well as breakfast. After that, I am too tired so I take a nap. Then since I run a non-profit organization I check my emails to see if anyone needs help. If not most of the days I rest. This disease has taken the energy out of me. In April I was downgraded from chronically ill to terminally ill. I used to travel to raise awareness for Sarcoidosis and Rare Diseases. I no longer travel far due to my body not being able to handle the travel and the long days in meetings

The one thing I cannot live without is… 

It may sound funny, but the one thing I need every day is my one cup of coffee every morning.

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

To value life. It has told me to not sweat the small stuff. I have learned that living each day as the best you can. I also have learned you can’t please everyone so you need to please yourself first or you won’t be able to please others.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

Be your own best advocate! Be involved. Learn about the disease

My support system is…

I would not be anywhere without my wife Diana and my daughter Savannah who is 15 going on 30. They have been there for me physically, emotionally and most important mentally. 3 years ago I thought about committing suicide due to the pain. I would have done it if it wasn’t for my wife and daughter. I ended up putting myself in a 72-hour hospital watch for suicide prevention.

If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would… 

I would go away with my family to the beach. That is my favourite place but now since I have Sarcoidosis I haven’t been able to go that much at all.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

There are actually two positive things that have come from having these diseases. The first is the friends I have met that have the same diseases as I do. They understand what I am going through and I can talk to them about it. The most important positive for me is I knew I was strong, but I never knew how strong I was until I have been with this disease. I have fought through things I never would have thought I could. My motto is ” I have Sarcoidosis and Parkinson’s but THEY don’t have me!”

My links are:

www.sarcoidosisofli.org

https://wordpress.com/view/lifeasararepatient.blog

 

Interview October – Maya

Today on Interview October, we’re meeting Maya Northen Augelli . Let’s get to know her better:

MayaNorthenAugelli

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…  

My name is Maya and I’m from Philadelphia, where I live with my husband and our dog. I run a travel planning company, and also work with a local consulting company. I became a mental health and chronic illness advocate in 2009, after being diagnosed with a relatively rare mood cycling disorder. When I’m not working or advocating, you can often find me traveling, hiking or otherwise enjoying nature, reading, writing, or doing yoga – in fact, I’m just starting Yoga Teacher Training this fall!

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

I have Rapid Cycling Cyclothymia, a rare mood cycling disorder that’s similar to, but technically “less mild” (in quotes because it definitely doesn’t feel mild at times) to Bipolar Disorder. I also struggle with anxiety as part of this disorder, though not technically diagnosed with a separate anxiety disorder. In addition to my mental health condition, I  battle IBS and Migraines

My symptoms/condition began… 

I am told I was most likely born with cyclothymia. I started exhibiting symptoms of hypomania as early as two years old, though of course they didn’t know what it was at the time. Symptoms progressively increased in frequency and intensity through my teen and early adult years. I was finally diagnosed just shy of my 30th birthday. The migraines I have been getting since I was a teenager – tough to really say when they started, but I can definitively say I can’t really recall a time when I wasn’t prone to migraines. They’re not continual, but I have consistently gotten them at least a few times a month since I was a teen. The IBS symptoms began around the age of 23, and I was diagnosed shortly thereafter.

My diagnosis process was… 

I’ll speak mainly about my cyclothymia diagnosis process here, as they others were pretty straight forward – went to the Dr, was referred to a specialist, had a couple of tests (colonoscopy/upper & lower GI tests for the IBS) and was diagnosed.

The cyclothymia diagnosis was trickier. I’d been seeing therapists on and off since college. I had only found one I’d really trusted, but long story short, at the time my symptoms weren’t as prominent, and I was more seeing her post-divorce than for my specific mental health symptoms. In the summer of 2009, my GP put me on a low dose of antidepressants, which at first helped, but soon made me feel worse. In August 2009, I was hospitalized for two days with what I thought were non-stop anxiety attacks. The hospital increased my depression medication, and I felt worse. When I got out of the hospital, I went to the one therapist I’d trusted from past years, and we began working through things – including the fact that the medication was making me worse. I even brought my mom to a session, in which she described the symptoms I’d exhibited as a very young child (since I couldn’t quite as accurately describe them, having been a toddler when they started). It was during these visits that I was finally diagnosed with rapid cycling cyclothymia. My therapist explained that the antidepressants made me worse because I cycle so rapidly that basically, by the time the medication that’s supposed to “lift” my mood (for lack of a better phrase) hits my system, I’ve already cycled up, and the effect is compounded. So in essence, the antidepressants were putting me in almost continual hypomania (what I had thought were anxiety attacks). She subsequently brought me down off the antidepressants and we began mood stabilizers.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is… 

It’s two fold for me. One is the feeling of lack of control over my brain. I feel like I often can’t trust my own mind – because I cycle so quickly, literally every day is a complete surprise. I never know how I’ll wake up feeling (depressed, hypomanic, anxious, none of the above), and how often it’ll change each day. Not being able to trust my own brain, or feeling like I can’t, massively affects my self-esteem and often makes me feel hopeless and worthless.

The second is the stigma. The fact that people think you can just smile, change your attitude, be more grateful, look on the bright side, or choose to not feel this way is awful. When this happens, not only do I feel hopeless and worthless, I’m being told it’s my own fault, and shamed for how I’m feeling.

A typical day for me involves… 

I have a full time job, so on weekdays, my day of course involves that. But in terms of illness and coping strategies, I get up early to exercise most weekdays before work – it helps my mood, and it helps me to keep a consistent schedule. I spend time writing each morning – mostly journaling. This helps me brain dump, more or less, so that I can try to sort through the mish-mosh of feelings, emotions, thoughts all going through my brain. Without this outlet, it feels like non-stop stimulation inside of my brain, before even getting much input from the “outside” world, and it makes concentration and focus extremely difficult. Most evenings after dinner, I try to meditate, and/or do some yoga. It’s a wind down for my day, and helps settle my brain, so that I can hopefully get some sleep. If it’s not a work day, I try to spend as much time in the sunshine and fresh air as I can – especially in nature. I’ve been slacking in that lately, and really need to get back into it.

The one thing I cannot live without is… 

My loved ones. They’re my rocks. But if I had to choose an actual thing… I’d be tempted to say my medication, but I’ve had to go temporarily off of it for personal reasons, so technically, I’m living without it for the moment.  So, I’d probably have to say my journal. Writing is my solace. My journal will “listen” to my thoughts and emotions and feelings with no judgement, and it lets me get it “out of my head” without having to actually direct it at anyone, which is huge in helping my relationships with loved ones and friends (note: I’m far from perfect in this regard, but it helps). I work through so much in the pages of my journal, and I can’t imagine not having that outlet on a daily basis.

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

That I am not alone, and that so many people struggle with their mental health. You hear the statistics, that one in five Americans have a mental health condition, but when you begin talking about your illness and advocating, and you have people you would never have thought coming to you and saying, “Thank you so much for speaking out, I struggle too,” it really hits home. That “one in five” goes from being a statistic to something tangible that you can feel in daily life.  My illness has also given me a purpose. In my adult life, I feel I’ve floundered a bit in really finding where I feel I belong. But utilizing my illness to help others has, from the very start, always felt 100 percent like it’s my purpose and a path that I have to follow. It feels such a natural part of my life, almost an extension of myself, when so little else does sometimes.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

I have so much to say here, but I’ll try to condense it!  First, I would tell them to learn everything they can about their illness (from credible sources of course), and that when they’re ready, finding support with others who have the same/similar illness  – whether they find this in an official group or among friends or on social media/online – can make a world of difference. I’d also remind them how often depression and anxiety lie, and that there may be days that their illness wants them to believe every terrible thing about themselves, but that these aren’t true, no matter how convincing the lies sound.  I’d want them to know that there’s hope, there are others who “get it” and are here to help, and that they are not alone. Finally, I’d tell them to make sure that they have a healthcare team that they trust, and just as importantly, that trusts them. We know our bodies and our brains better than anyone else because we have lived with them our entire lives, and it’s important that our health professionals understand this – we deserve that respect as patients, to have our voices heard and not to be discounted.

My support system is…

My husband, my family, my friends, my therapist, my social media/online spoonie family.

If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would… 

Live as fully as I could – do activities I love to do, with people I care about, and try my hardest not to, as so often happens, let the anxiety of “Ok, I feel good now, but when is the proverbial other shoe going to drop”  creep in. Afterall, if I let it creep in, I’d cease to be symptom free!

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

For myself, I’d say that it’s helped me to be more understanding and empathetic. Because I know I’m often struggling with a lot that others can’t see, I try to also remember this when the situation is reversed, and I try to put myself in their shoes before passing judgement. For instance, if someone’s speaking to me badly, I try to ask myself “what might they be going through that I can’t see that’s causing them to act this way?”.

In addition, as mentioned above, it’s given me a purpose and direction. Without my illnesses, I wouldn’t be an advocate, I wouldn’t be involved in so many various organizations and causes, and I wouldn’t have met so many amazing people through these.

My links are:

https://spreadhopeproject.com
www.liliesandelephants.blogspot.com
Twitter: @mayanorthen
Instagram: @myohmy23

Interview October – Jenni

Our Interview October series continues with our next guest, Jenni Lock. Let’s meet her now:

JenniLock

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…  

My name is Jenni Lock.  I’m 43 years old and hail from Ohio. I created Jenni’s Guts blog in 2008 and write about my journey with intestinal nonsense and other health issues.  My sense of humor and sarcasm are all part of my charm. I have a deep love for animals, learning about everything, socializing from a far, and my beautiful daughter.

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Bile Acid Malabsorption, chronic nausea and diarrhea mainly. However, I also suffer from Fibromyalgia, Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia and struggle with a touch of PTSD.

My symptoms/condition began… 

I started having health problems in roughly 1990, though I wasn’t officially diagnosed with Crohn’s until 1995.  Everything else wrong with me just snowballed over the years after that.

My diagnosis process was… 

Difficult. I suffered from a lot of stomach pain, back pain, joint pain and lost about 15 pounds due to running to the restroom about 15-20 times a day. My family doctor told me I was depressed and needed Prozac. That didn’t help so I went to a specialist. The specialist told me I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome and needed to eat more fiber and scheduled me for a sigmoidoscopy, but everything came back normal so I was, again, told to eat more fiber and decrease my stress. I quickly found out fiber made things worse and I continued to get sicker and sicker. I went to a different specialist who did many more tests but everything came back normal except for one blood test. It showed an inflammation/infection rate of seven times the normal rate. I exhausted all the testing options so I was scheduled for surgery to figure out what was happening inside me.  During surgery they found I had about 3 1/2 feet of severely inflamed small intestine and the final diagnosis was Crohn’s disease.  The whole diagnosis process took about 2 years.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is… 

My inability to do things with my family and friends because of being tied to a restroom and not feeling well enough.  Especially not being able to travel and go to fun events.  I’m not able to do a lot of things with my daughter because of this and it is really hard for me to continually have to say, “No, I’m sorry but I’m too sick” or “I can’t because of the bathroom situation.”

A typical day for me involves… 

After an exhausting night of not sleeping well, or even at all, the mornings are usually met with many trips to the restroom which continues throughout the day but most of the time tapers off at least a little throughout the day.  I watch a lot of movies and television, read and research, or put on music and draw.  I’m unable to work so I mainly just try to keep myself from going stir crazy.

The one thing I cannot live without is… 

Laughter.

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

I can be a person with a disability (or many actually) but it doesn’t define who I am.  I’m so much more than just someone with medical problems.  And it has taken struggling with so many things wrong with me to actually figure that out.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

This diagnosis isn’t the end of you. Study and learn as much as you can about your illness from every source you can get your hands on (except WebMD!!).  You have an inner strength that you never knew you had so use it to fight for proper health care and proper treatments and don’t ever, EVER settle for less – not from your doctors, healthcare professionals, or anyone else.  You’re worth it!

My support system is…

My family and friends.  And a furry little friend or two always make things better!  (Shoutout to all the pets I have had along the way – I miss you guys!)

If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would… 

Grab my daughter, get in the car and just drive.  We would go to all the places she always wanted to go and do all the things she wanted to do that I couldn’t because traveling, for me, is so difficult.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

All the communities out there that have allowed me the opportunity to meet people and learn about their stories.  I’m so fortunate that my blog has reached so many people and we all get to help each other cope.  I think it is so important to have a community of people who understand, even if they are hundreds of miles away from you and you never physically meet each other.

My link is:

JennisGuts.blogspot.com