Sjogrens and the Balance of Medication

ImageFriday is Methotrexate Day and even Gordon the cat is nervous for me

Many Sjogrens/Lupus sufferers will testify that getting the balance of medication just right can mean the difference between being able to function – or not as the case may be.

I am 27kgs overweight – courtesy of the steroids and whilst I joke about it, I am not happy about it either and you know what it’s like, friends/family think that they have the right to comment on your weight and whilst I appreciate that faceless strangers may secretly think ‘She is big’, that doesn’t bother me – what they think of me is none of my business but what they say directly to me is.

Let’s face it I have written about various people/characters on the train/bus but that is because I am a ‘people watcher’ and like writing about people/events that I observe – they don’t know what I am thinking or writing and I don’t know what they are thinking (or even writing) about me.  But I would never, ever go up to a person and comment on their weight or personal appearance.

Writing about complete strangers is one thing – because I am keeping my thoughts limited to my writing, I don’t know them, they don’t know me but going up to someones face and directly commenting is another entirely.

At my last specialist appointment I begged the consultant to reduce my 5mg of steroids.  This dose may not sound much but when you have been on them for over a year (initially higher dose) and are highly steroid sensitive, it can not only be exceptionally hard to lose the initial weight that you have put on but every single milligram makes a difference in terms of reduction and symptoms when the balance of medication is altered.

The plan was to reduce to 4mg for 3 months and then go to 3mgs and then remain on that and if need be, increase the Methotrexate.  Now the Methotrexate part filled me with dread because after my injection, I literally lose a day.  I get incredibly tired, nauseous, dizzy and unwell – even just two hours after the injection. The day after I am fit for nothing and normal stuff like the gym or doing my weekly Spring clean in the house is out for me.

In fact, I only have to look at the vials of bright yellow cytotoxic medication and my needles/syringes and I feel nauseous and start yawning (seriously), so you can imagine what the thought of doubling the dose does to me.

Upsetting the balance

The effects from reduction were not immediately noticeable, I reduced to 4mg a day and thought ‘this is easy’.  I expected some rebound effects of steroid reduction but what I didn’t expect was two weeks later for my mouth to become so dry that I would go all night without swallowing and wake up with bleeding and chapped lips, painful lungs, hurting to breathe, sores on my tongue and an ever so slight increase in brain fog.

Although I didn’t have a normal amount of saliva prior to reduction, it was just enough to give my teeth some protection.  Now I have almost none and my back teeth are so porous and ‘hollow’ sounding, I knew that for any extended period of not having saliva, would see my teeth paying the ultimate price by losing enamel and me losing my teeth.

My specialist appointment is not for another three months and to be honest, I don’t think my teeth would have lasted that long without developing cavities – I have to see a dentist every 4 months for x-rays and we (my dentist and I) are fighting somewhat hard for me to keep my teeth.

My sense of smell and taste have gone, I have no appetite for most of the time and can get by on breakfast which is really the only time I feel hungry.  When I do eat, the food sort of ‘sits there’ in my stomach as pretty much everything is dry.

And it is no fun not having an appetite either because you force yourself to have yoghurt and because you are not eating properly, you feel weak and you cannot function properly, a bit like running a marathon on en empty stomach – it simply cannot be done.

That was when I realized I had done something stupid and that was fixate upon my weight, totally pissed off with the comments from people that were meant to care about me that think they had the right to say something about my weight and my steroids.

And because I was so concerned about that, by begging my specialist to reduce my steroids, this has completely upset the fragile balance of my disease versus medication and now I am paying the price – and for what?

Last week I decided to go back up to 5mgs and I also decided to ditch those in my life that are not supportive of me and this illness.

Sadly I don’t know how much difference going back up to 5mgs will do as the damage has been done and I don’t know if a bigger dose is needed to ‘flip the switch back’ so to speak but as it took about two weeks to go downhill, I am hoping that it may take a similar time to crawl back to where I was, only time will tell.

Be grateful for the health you do have

As for my weight, I am going to try and go to the gym at least once a week but obviously not the day after the Methotrexate but anything is better than nothing.

As for my diet, I am going to have to go on to soft foods/soups as food sticks in my throat and it is no fun having a mouth full of food that you cant taste/smell and have no moisture to get it down.

As for my attitude well that is going to change as well.  I do admit to feeling as though I have an unwanted lodger within my body in the form of Sjogrens that I have no choice but to live with.  I may not be able to get rid of this ‘lodger’ but like many things in life, I can learn to live along side it, accept it and make the best of the situation.

As for those that don’t support me and believe me with regards to my illness, well they can be treated with the contempt that they deserve and I shall put them in my ‘too hard basket’.

Have a lovely weekend.

Samantha Rose © Copyright 2013

Letter to a healthy person – from a Sjogrens sufferer with a ‘dry sense of humour’

Dear Healthy Person

This morning I have woken up feeling really quite sick and I am having rather angry and patronising memories of a ‘nurse’ describing Sjogrens syndrome as at worst, a case ‘mild dryness causing inconvenience’.

What is Sjogrens syndrome? – well let me enlighten you all – Sjogrens syndrome is a chronic auto immune illness that attacks the moisture producing glands in the body – it can often ‘bring it’s relatives’ in the form of other auto immune diseases.  It is incurable and a rather unwanted ‘gift’ for life with no option of a refund, it is a nasty lodger that you cannot evict and it is a part of you whether you like it or not.

So what do moisture glands do in the body? – They produce moisture, if it is wet, it needs moisture which involves your organs/tears/saliva, get the picture?

To cry or not to cry…

Crying should come easy shouldn’t it? One would think so but let me tell you that I do not produce tears so have my tear ducts plugged with silicone and have to add my tears every hour – yes I said every single hour.  My eyes have deteriorated hugely, my vision is blurred from dryness and I have to have my eyes dilated twice a year and eyes tested twice a year, I cannot read or see small print at all now without glasses as the ageing affects and my long distance have both been accelerated due to the sjogrens.

Watching me cry is a laugh a minute, I literally look like I am faking it – my eyes look red/watery but that is it and it still freaks me out that such a strong and natural emotion such as crying can be denied of tears.  It is rather like when you go to sneeze but the sneeze doesn’t come out if you know what I mean, you are left feeling ‘incomplete/unsatisfied’  So don’t take me to a weepy movie, it would be pointless and I would look like a big ‘faker’.

I do not produce saliva so I have to use fake saliva spray, rinse with an enzyme mouthwash after each meal, floss and brush within 30 mins of each meal and use flouride wash twice a day.  The enamel on my teeth is eroding and I am getting cavities because I don’t produce enough saliva to neutralise the acid on my teeth, I will have to work exceptionally hard to hang on to my teeth by seeing a dentist every 3-4 months and it promises to be an expensive project.

My bones are sore, dry and not lubricated so they hurt – (like hell) my finger joints hurt, my feet hurt – my ‘everything’ hurts in a nasty rheumatic pain making pain relief not only my best friend but the thing that I count time on till the next dose.  If I do get the slightest bit of sun exposure, my joints swell up – the sun is not my friend, in fact it hates me with a passion and frequently makes its presence known by making me hurt.

My hair has started to fall out – ‘oh but you have plenty’ people say and sometimes laugh as though it is funny.  But finding your hair in the shower is neither funny nor pleasant, your closest friends that know everything about you, notice you have significantly less hair, you notice you have less hair and take to examining the mirror each day to see if ‘baby hairs’ are growing.  What hair I do have is brittle and breaks off to the point I add half a cup of warm olive oil to my hair when I wash it (yes really).

I get rashes on my neck and cheeks if I go out in the sun – they itch, Sjogrens and Lupus patients are often intolerent to UV sunlight and react quite badly to it as in dizziness, palpitations, sickness, pain – this ‘flare/episode’ can last for days/weeks.  Stress is another enemy of this illness, one stressful event can send you into a flare for months.

Lungs – my lungs dry out, especially at night, I can go all night without swallowing because my mouth/throat dries out due to no saliva, I can hardly drink through the night to compensate so when I wake up, my tongue is cracked and bleeding and I cant swallow until I have sprayed my mouth.  Then my lungs hurt as though I have bronchitis when I breath in and this goes on for hours.

Cognitive dysfunction – Sjogrens can affect your brain/memory/thought process and the least said about me locking my husband in the house and taking his keys, throwing away his chef knife, forgetting that I have a dog and leaving him in the laundry room unfed as he silently pleaded with me that yes, he really is my dog and could I feed him now, the better.

Exhaustion – I get so tired, some days not so but it takes me ages to do anything, ages to pluck up the energy to do anything and then ages to recover.  Compare it to having a lead blanket wrapped around you making you want to lie down when you would rather not.

Being a writer, I have two projects on the go – one is a collaboration with my sister Sally in Cyprus and if I say so myself it is a very good project with potential.  I feel as though I am letting her down as my ability to write at the times I want to is severely compromised, so message to Sally – I am so sorry Sally, we WILL get there I promise, just bear with me and I love you for being so patient (and being my sister of course!)  Sally I might add, is fabulous for a sister as she patiently has listened to my various dramas over the months and knows I am sick and always manages to cheer me up.

Muscle weakness – opening bottles or anything that requires strength has suddenly become a sport and one that I don’t win very often.  I went horse riding with my friend Tori and had to be helped down off the horse as my feet went numb and I couldnt dismount.

Sjogrens can also effect the liver and kidneys – touch wood mine are so far not affected but it is like a Pandora’s Box, you do not know what ‘surprise’ you are going to get from one day to the next.  I realise how important appearance is to me, with my hair falling out, and having to be on super alert to stop my teeth crumbling – I often wonder why the hair on my head is falling out and not ‘down below’ – that is a bit crap actually, because it would save me a fortune on Brazilian waxing.

Pins/needles/numb body parts – I frequently get tingling down one side of my face, or sometimes my hands feel ‘full’ or heavy, and weak and I can barely lift them, usually my left arm tends to be the weakest yet it is the right side of my face that gets the sore skin/tingles.

Well meaning people offer suggestions of supplements to ‘boost the immune system’ but I need to do the opposite because my immune system is having a party and I am rarely if ever invited.

‘BUT YOU DON’T LOOK SICK’

This has been said to me so many times, as well as ‘There is always something wrong with you’ – well technically yes, I have in hindsight, been ‘sickly for years’ and I suspect moving to a sunny hot country such as Australia, has really brought the illness that I reckon I have had for years, out into its own spotlight.

Comments about how much medicines I take are not welcome either because although I am on treatment and although the treatment is helping, it comes with huge risks and a worrying trade off.

Plaquenil – it is an anti malarial drug which is used in Sjogrens/Lupus to modify the disease response in the body and helps with inflammation and pain, noone knows exactly how or why to be precise but it helps, it takes from 6 weeks to 6 months to start working and longer to reach full potential.  For me, I noticed I was actually living again after 8 weeks and now I can go out and my ‘brain fog’ has reduced and I can do more than I ever could before.

However, this medicine can cause blindness from retinal problems and I have  to be watched carefully by an eye specialist to monitor this.  I try not to think about the eye issues and focus on the fact that it is helping me.

Steroids – steroids surpress the immune system and are used as an anti inflammatory, I am on them for the rheumatic pain and the unpleasant symptoms of dry mouth, lungs and no saliva.  Steroids also come with loads of side effects – google ‘corticosteroids’ and see what you come up with.

Now when I was younger I was on them for asthma and had the ‘moon face’, mood swings and people would take the piss out of my face and so would I and it was all one big laugh.  Except now it isn’t so funny, because although now I am not on a huge dose of them, I have also become incredibly sensitive to them (steroids) and cannot tolerate doses above 7.5 mgs so should my symptoms worsen,  I am between a rock and a hard place as a higher dose makes me aggressive,  affects my blood sugar levels, my judgement and my ability to react to things – to name but a few of the side effects.

So you will have to forgive me if I now tell you to shut up if you dare to comment to me about steroids because that is akin to laughing at a diabetic for taking insulin.

Methotrexate – This is an old chemotherapy drug and I take a low dose of 10mg per week to add to my immune suppressant drugs.  Methotrexate is a dangerous and toxic drug but also has huge benefits in certain conditions and when I first went on it, I remember thinking that the tiredness and nausea were SO not worth it after all, nothing was happening was it and where the hell are the benefits?

Well 10 weeks down the line and the drug has been a godsend and seems to have made for a formidable ‘Toxic Army’ with the Plaquenil and Prednisolone.  I have cut out my midday painkillers and my sense of taste has come back and the best of all, I have saliva (yes I know, I am easily pleased but take away your saliva and you would understand).

I will not go into the side effects of Methotrexate and I refuse to worry about them – I trust my consultant to do that, which he does by sending me for monthly blood work on my liver/kidneys etc.  It isn’t a ‘nice drug’ but then again, is any drug ‘nice’?  At the end of the day he prescribed it because he felt that I needed it and in turn, I have to trust his expertise and judgement.

I have to take 4 cod liver oil capsules a day to help with dryness and joint pain, I have to take a vitamin B complex to stop my hair from falling out and I have to take prescription dose vitamin D as people with auto immune diseases are often very deficient in this supplement.

All of which costs – I am under two specialists which have to be paid for and you have days where you think to yourself ‘what can I afford today’ or ‘Do I REALLY need to see a specialist?’

There are worse illness that you can be diagnosed with and I remember feeling utter relief when I was diagnosed as in ‘thank god it isn’t and never has been all in my head’ But you also get to a stage where you wake up to each nasty surprise of a symptom and compare it to having a hositle lodger in your body that won’t be evicted and you realise this is as good as it gets with regards to health.

Sjogrens Syndrome – you cannot see it, it is a chameleon of an illness in the guise of many symptoms and complaints, you cannot escape it.

Because for an invisible illness – Sjogrens, Lupus and many other auto immune illnesses like it, they are debilitating, painful, draining, costly and to coin a phrase from the RSPCA are ‘For life and not just for Christmas’

So if you see your mate taking lots of medicines, or notice she cant quite keep up with you – be a real mate and don’t make judgements.

From a Sjogrens Sufferer that has a name, a personality and somewhere inside her body – a zest for life.

Samantha Rose (c) Copyright 2012

Cancer Council/Cancer Research – Not Just ‘Faceless’ Charities

For me personally, November is a testing month with regards to emotions as I keep thinking back to November 11th 2005 when my Mum was given the news that shocked our whole family. I remember at that time thinking I would do anything, pay anything, turn to religion or if I had to, do a bloody deal with the devil to have my Mum cured of a disease that robs, affects and tears the lives of families apart – cancer.

Earlier this year I was offered a two day temp role with Cancer Council WA and it was here where I learned a few things about cancer charities and what they do.

Firstly you may think that you don’t need to donate because a couple of dollars wont make much of a difference. Well actually it makes all the difference. I used to open the mail at the Cancer Council and see just how many $2 donations we would receive every day so trust me, it all makes a difference.

‘Cancer hasn’t affected me – so what?’ I used to think like that until I saw my strong Mum have her life taken away by this disease. Then I heard that one my best friend in the UK got diagnosed but thankfully she kicked its ass and beat it.

So whilst I am ashamed to admit that at one time cancer had not affected me and that giving money to a faceless charity was not on my agenda, I can tell you that now it has affected me and my family big time and you know something? It’s not nice.

I have come to realize that Cancer Council/Research is far from a faceless charity – it carries the faces of everyone that has been taken or affected and its painful legacy lives on and will live on until a cure is found and for me, it carries the face of my Mum and each advertisement I see has my Mum’s face on it, it carries the faces of my family and I repeat, it carries the faces of everyone that has been affected by it.

Where does the money go? – Let me tell you about where your money goes. it goes towards training people to man the phone lines, it goes to provide support in the way of food, medicine, treatment, nurses, psychologists, counselors, the staff that work so hard at the Cancer Council and believe me when I say this, they are fantastic, special people and many of which are ‘survivors’ themselves.

Your money goes on medical research, hospice care, home care, cancer drugs, – all the things that make this charity tick which in turn give patients and their families the support and lifeline that they so desperately need.

Why haven’t they found a cure after all this time? New drugs and modern medicine are being developed all the time. Cancer is a bastard of a disease, it is a clever disease with hundreds of factors to take in to consideration – family history, genetics, exposure to certain chemicals/hazards, risks of taking certain medicines, quite simply it is a minefield.

There are many different kinds of cancers, some so aggressive that it requires equally aggressive medicine to fight it. My Mum had the aggressive form that ‘stole’ her within 6 weeks of diagnosis, it was too late to treat her by the time she was diagnosed.  However, she was lucky enough to be able to spend the last of her life in a hospice with specially trained staff to enable to her pass away pain free with dignity.

Doctors are not just fighting one enemy with cancer – there are many different kinds that make for a ‘harsh army’.

Fifty years ago a persons chances of surviving cancer would be nowhere near what they are now and that is due to the skill and dedication of the doctors/medical staff trained in that area, plus modern medicine and a thirst by this profession to gain the knowledge to fight this disease.

So please do not be disheartened that there is no cure as yet, because behind the scenes of the ‘faceless charity’ are teams of people doing their best to find one because nobody wants this disease and nobody chooses to have it.

If you are lucky enough to never have been affected by cancer then I am jealous, so jealous I could cry because you wouldn’t know the pain that comes with hearing that word as a diagnosis. The shock of hearing the word ‘cancer’ in the same sentence as your loved one.

If you have never been affected by cancer, you would not have experienced the feeling of crying until your arms go numb because no bastard is going to take away your loved one and if you cry loud enough and hard enough, and stamp your feet even, surely it wont happen? Hell, you won’t even know where you got those tears from or that you had so many to cry.

But all I ask is that when you see someone collecting for a cancer charity, give them your spare change – no matter how little it is, it makes a difference, it all makes a difference.

When did I change my mind and why? I will tell you – I changed mind on the 11th November at 11.01am as Big Ben chimed to mark Remembrance Day, when I hugged my Mum on her hospital bed as she had just been given the news that cancer had indeed decided to become ‘part of our family’ and completely uninvited.

Quite simply, I changed my mind when I lost my Mum to cancer.

This status is dedicated to the following:

The cancer charities, the oncologists, doctors, nurses, specialists – everyone that fights so tirelessly to find treatment and a cure for this disease.

To the champions that beat this bastard and keep smiling along the way and prove that modern medicine and cancer research not only works, but is pretty damned awesome as well.

And finally to my Mum, Avice Stocken who lost her 6 week battle to cancer on 26th December 2005, but put up a damn good fight along the way.

Image

Samantha Rose (c) copyright 2012