Interview with Pat Guerre: on Kneading Hope Organization, Rare Disease Day in DC, Scleroderma, and CRPS
Today we have a special treat as Pat Guerre, co-founder of the Kneading Hope Organization has agreed to an interview. Pat recently returned from Washington DC where he spent Rare Disease Week. We at abodyofhope blog are so grateful that Pat Guerre is opening up about his Rare Disease Day experiences, his art, and non-profit work.
I was introduced to Pat through his incredible wife, Gina Raring-Guerre, who many reading may already know. She was a member of my support group Living with RSD, and she has gone on to become a strong voice in the CRPS, Scleroderma, and Rare disease community, along with her partner and husband, Pat. I can’t wait for you to hear their story!
Hello Pat! Welcome! It’s a pleasure to have you joining us, and filling us in on your work and latest trip to Washington.
1. Firstly, what is Kneading Hope?
Pat: I suppose I should go back a bit. In 2013, my wife Gina, who suffers from both RSD/CRPS and Scleroderma was down to a weight only someone on their death bed should be, and her doctors confirmed exactly that. Being an artist, I began painting 12″ X 12″ hearts to fill her room and share my love with her. They prescribed her medications we couldn’t afford, and her insurance would not cover them. That’s when our fundraising art project was born called “10,000 Hearts for Gina”.
In 2016, I submitted a work to Rare Disease Art and was awarded an Artistic Merit Award. I flew to Washington DC to be part of the reception, and it changed my life.
After my trip, I decided to participate in almost all of the events that the EveryLife Foundation had arranged for the week. I listened and learned about the rare disease community and all of their concerns. I still think about those who may or may not still be with us today. I remember parents so determined, yet afraid, trying to keep a brave face to hide their pain. It touched me completely. When we walked Capital Hill, a patient I was walking with started talking to me about patients like herself, the caregivers, and why we were all there together.
I got home from that trip changed.
I decided that after years of staying home and sharing my artwork with a few, I could do more. So with my wife Gina, and a few friends we started Kneading Hope to try and reach out. We don’t target the advocacy end of things, but the patients, caregivers, and families of people with rare diseases.
We have three main goals. Number one, awareness, and funding of other issues, through the 10,000 Hearts for Gina project, of RSD/CRPS and Scleroderma, as well as other rare diseases. Secondly, using art to raise awareness of all rare diseases through an online presence and art shows. And third, figuring out how to give caregivers some kind of respite.
We are new, we are learning, and we will continue, dedicated in this work. We also send parts of the 10,000 Hearts for Gina project out to patients, caregivers, and medical facilities and their staff to make people aware. Awareness is where it begins.
2. How did you get involved with Kneading Hope and advocacy?
I started Kneading Hope because I went to DC to show my art. There were so many people advocating and I was inspired by their dedication. I decided to go into the community based nonprofit. We didn’t start Kneading Hope as an advocacy group, we do however believe that knowing what’s happening in that realm, can only help educate, and let people know there is hope out there.
We feel that Kneading Hope’s purpose as well as financial commitments are better served in local endeavors and supporting other groups that do the advocacy. We advocate as individuals, and that is often a difficulty financially. But, If everyone focused on advocacy and no one went out into the community, I don’t feel people would be served as they need to be, so we are looking into community-based issues such as art therapies, caregiver support issues and respite for them, as well as art as a way to focus on the diseases and the stories behind it.
3. Why did you go to Washington DC for Rare Disease Week?
As I mentioned above, it is important to be informed, so as we go out into the community, we can let people know there are folks trying to help them. The info shared, not only on the legislative side, but also the medical and research side, is often overwhelming, but also important to understand. I also find that getting together with other organizations and networking with them brings all of us closer together to share ideas and thoughts to further all of our goals.
4. Did you meet with anyone of interest? If so, whom?
I have to say that this is kind of a funny question to me as I grew up in Los Angeles and have met many famous people. Both in film and music, so I have been raised to just realize people are people. It takes a lot for me to consider someone a person of importance, yet this year, as well as last year, I did feel there were people of importance I met.
Last year, it was Representative Brownley of California’s 26th district. It was amazing. As we talked I learned that she had recently lost a colleague to Scleroderma. It was a very close emotional conversation and she has been a close ally to the rare disease community since being on Capital Hill. That was impactful because she understood, at least half of, what Gina and I have been through.
This year was a bit different. There were two guys there who suffer from Freidreich’s Ataxia who were involved with a bike race called The Ataxian, which we watched the documentary of. These 2 guys, Kyle Bryant and Sean Baumstark, accomplished the impossible. They, along with 2 other team mates, did the Race Across America and rode 3,000 miles in less than 9 days.
Their inspiration, motivation, laughter, and caring for everyone, was the biggest interest for me. It is folks like this, that unless you are familiar with their disease, you would never know about. They, and what they are doing, is why I go to DC. There are countless others that are of interest, and inspirational, and so full of ideas, courage and hope, it makes the whole trip worthwhile.
These along with the researchers, people in academia, as well as all others, including the artists at the Rare Artists Reception, are truly the ones I am most interested in and their stories, struggles, and determination to make a change. They far outweigh any person you might think is of interest on Capital Hill.
They are what keeps me going.
5. What was the highlight of your DC trip?
I honestly have to say that I always walk into situations with an open mind, not knowing what to expect. I think one thing will stand out, and yet it’s always something else that gets me. This trip was no exception. There were 2 things that really grabbed me that I can say were highlights.
The first was the Conference and discussion on Genetic research and Gene therapy at the NIH (National Institute of Health). Though Gina’s diseases are considered autoimmune diseases, the topics the panels spoke on were incredible. The speed that the research is advancing in is amazing and I was happy to see that one of Gina’s diseases, RSD/CRPS, is actually being studied at the NIH. They are looking into its genetic markers. It is very upcoming research and it seems the possibilities of early detection, possible treatments, and possibly cures, are on the edge of being discovered.
The second, was after the NIH conference, walking around the mall, in the rain, and happening upon The Disabled Veterans Memorial. Though it is intended for disabled war vets, the words written on that memorial spoke volumes after such an intense week. Two of my favorite quotes I read that night were, “It’s not what you have lost that counts, it’s what you do with what’s left,” and “We start by not thinking so much anymore about what we have lost. You must think about what you have left…and what you can do with it.”
6. What is something you learned in Washington that will likely impact your work this year?
I remember my first conference last year in DC. We sat at a table, and a gentleman named Tony Pena, who was the Vice President of Cure AHC asked if we were new to the conference. He obviously knew we were new there, as I was like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car. He so gently said that everyone would guide us through it and not to worry because they had been doing this for years, and they still didn’t know everything.
That is what makes being there so important. Every year there are new issues. New legislation. New ideas. And most importantly, new people. Yet this year I learned more than anything- we can’t do this alone. We all need to work together, collaborate, support and hold each other up. I truly felt this year, that all of us are not a rare disease community, but rather a rare disease family. We all have our own issues, but together, speaking as one group, we are truly a force to be heard. Our needs are not individual, but are all important and need to be addressed as one voice because it is hard to ignore one disease or the other when we all speak as one.
7. In Your Opinion, what is the greatest challenge the rare disease community or patients with rare diseases face today?
I have to say that the challenges are great and cannot be addressed with one simple answer. There are over 7,000 rare diseases and over 30 million people in the US diagnosed with a rare disease. Some have large groups of people affected, still less than 200,000 (in each condition), and some with only 3 or 4 people per condition. This causes some major hurdles and challenges in the rare disease community.
The 1st thing that comes to mind for me, is diagnosis. With our country being so large, and so few experts in any one field of rare diseases, it is a critical need to get proper diagnosis. This is often the most difficult task as far as the medical end of things go. Doctors may not be aware of a disease and misdiagnose it. Patients that do have doctors who know and admit it is beyond their knowledge may recommend the closest experts, although those experts may have no idea of the disease. This can go on for years with diagnosis after diagnosis and never actually getting to the actual diagnosis.
Early diagnosis and proper treatment, if there is any, is critical for health and quality of life. One must remember that with over 7,000 rare diseases, only 5% have FDA approved drugs or treatment. With that being said, early treatment of the symptoms can help tremendously.
Next is the size of the patient pool of any 1 rare disease. It is not hard to see how breast cancer gets huge publicity and funding and something like Pemphigus or Alpha 1, or even GoodPasture Syndrome is not ever heard of in the main stream. There are hundreds if not thousands of diseases that no one has heard of. Awareness of diseases is of the utmost importance, in my opinion, because the more people that are aware of it, the more they can gain support, and those willing to fund research.
8. If Someone reading would like to get involved in rare disease awareness or chronic illness advocacy, how can they get plugged in?
There are many great organizations that do advocacy. On the rare disease side, NORD (National Organization of Rare Diseases) is an amazing group. There is also Global Genes and The EveryLife Foundation that do great work. Many individual groups specific to a disease are often great resources as well. Many of the issues these groups advocate for can have incredible effects for many diseases, not just rare diseases.
I also would say that getting involved with a support group, whether online or in your community is also beneficial. I actually got involved because someone sent the info for the Rare Disease Artist’s contest which I had never heard of before. Through that interaction, I was exposed to so many amazing groups.
If you are so inclined, form your own group and research state or federal issues. Spread the word to those in your group/s. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to ask other groups that you may not be affiliated with. Most people are more than willing to give you info or advice. I always say that the worst info or advice is that which you are not aware of.
9. What can the average person do to help make a difference in policies effecting health?
From my own interactions with people in congress and their staff, as well as on the state level, it is actually reaching out to them. I used to think writing a letter and never getting a response meant it was forgotten, but after talking with these folks, you learn that they are dealing with hundreds of issues. You need to let them know, or remind them, as they will say, the issues are real and need to be dealt with.
I am a big proponent of the Rare Disease Legislative Caucus and would love to see every senator and congressperson in Washington become a member. Not only will it show how important the issues of the rare disease community are, it will also show how a bipartisan, bicameral committee can get together. Write a letter to your senator and congressperson and either thank them or encourage them to join the caucus. It is growing and is impressive. The link to see if your senator or congressperson is on it can be found here http://rareadvocates.org/rarecaucus/#tab-id-1.
10. What is your next venture?
Since Kneading Hope is a new venture, we are looking to expand our reach and impact. For the first time, we will be showing the 10,000 Hearts for Gina project and raising funds for 2 organizations. We are also trying to start up a couple of small local programs. One will be involving art therapies, and for the other, I have started attending a caregiver support group to find out how we can offer respite to caregivers and meet caregiver’s needs. This is an important part of our work.
We also intend to work with another organization to start an online gallery, and perhaps curate art shows of work from all aspects of the rare disease community to raise awareness through stories and works, as well as raise funds through awareness and research projects.
11. What would you like to tell us about 10,000 Hearts for Gina?
I just want you all to know that this has been an incredible journey. I have been at it for 5 years now and could never have imagined where it has taken me. It is something I share with everyone. I really think that doing something bigger than you ever could imagine is what it is all about. Sharing the works with patients, caregivers, hospitals and doctors has been about the most emotional thing I have ever done and will continue to do through Kneading Hope.
It has been an honor to be able to share some love, light, and hope through the work. Sometimes it is painstakingly difficult as every work brings thoughts of those suffering, those lost, and those who haven’t been diagnosed, but it is all of them, and their strength, that keeps me going. It truly is their project, whether they know it or not.
Would you like to leave us with anything else?
I just want to tell everyone that you matter. Your voice matters, so never be afraid to speak up. Kneading Hope is dedicated to doing what we can for as many people as we can so please reach out to us if you have any requests or ideas. We are building this organization and want your feedback. Also, if you know someone who is down and out and could use a little light, love, and hope, don’t be afraid to ask us to send them a heart. We will try and get out as many as we can under our circumstances. Sometimes it might just change someone’s outlook and let them know they are not alone in their struggles.
Please support Pat and Gina Raring-Guerre by following and liking their pages, and thank you for sharing to help them spread the word!
Just to have a diagnosis, you’d accept even the worst titles. You dream there will some day be a label for the madness eating away at your body and your life.
I began to feel like less of a person and more like a medical chart. The worse I became, the less interested doctors were in treating me. My value as a person was undermined…
If trying to regain your health has become your priority, do not listen to anyone doubting you. You are trying to save your own life. And your life is worth fighting for! You must be aggressive. Giving up is not an option.
You are not the words on a medical chart. You are not a list of symptoms, and your name is not a condition. You are not your medical history, or your pain level from 1-10. You might be in the habit of talking about matters of health, but please don’t forget about the you who has never left. You haven’t diverted from your journey. You’re the person who made you into the fighter that you are today. The unique, beautiful, lovable, sometimes goofball you. You are the only YOU this world has.
YOU are rare.
We do have labels which help us find each other, support one another, and build community. We can fight together as warriors with a united cause. We can be identified by “chronically ill,” “rare disease” and “spoonie.”
Article also published on The Mighty.
Part I of II – By guestwriter Cammie LaValle
Remember that light inside of you that used to shine? We reminisce about it in our heads; to that person we used to be. That silent yet screaming conversation in our minds we have on a daily basis. For some, it’s the majority of the actual conversing we do and sadly, it’s only with ourselves. We are feeling ourselves; our internal light; the fire that once helped us accomplish so many things in life, be reduced to less than a flame; more like a sad, almost non-existent spark which could barely keep a match lit.
Sure, there are flickers of hope and tiny little fires at times; but personally, they are getting few and far between. I have not given up all hope, but I am struggling to keep the grasp.
One of my motto’s is “Let Your Soul Shine” taken from a song. How hypocritical of me to tell others to do just that when I am watching, feeling and experiencing my own go darker and darker every day. I don’t mean dark as in evil, although I will admit I’ve had some pretty evil scenarios which I wish would play out in the lives of some of the doctors I have encountered in the last few years. No, I would not harm anyone; but as you read that, I am certain you can recall one of those thoughts that has played out in your mind so detailed as though you were actually plotting a dismemberment. I for one thought a log-splitter would suffice.
As I am writing this, I have backspaced hundreds of times thinking what I have to say or what I feel is not ready to be heard or will be perceived as seeking pity, over reacting, not being thankful for what I do have or God forbid, the “It could be worse” reaction we often get. Yes, we all comprehend that, but more often than not, it is far from a supportive statement as we perceive it. Minimizing our hell is what most of us feel; even though we know most of you mean well when it’s said. But I realized the words I put down, if were written by someone else and read by me, are exactly the words I would need to hear; and yearn to hear. So without a hesitant mind, and the pain jolting through my body and hands, I shall spill the complete ugly truth that I am not shining by any means. I’ve gone dim. This is not news to some; as they know me too well to believe the crap that spews out of my mouth when I say “I’m fine.”
I ask myself daily, how much more can I handle? Do I even want to for that matter? Yes, those thoughts are there when in my dimmest hours. Will I say it out loud? Probably not. Will I say it here, when I know others just like me are reading this; yes, yes I will. I can’t say I am proud of my thoughts, but I can say I am not about to blow sunshine up anyone’s ass; especially knowing the people reading this are struggling right along with me. That’s not what we need and I may very well do it to others so they don’t have to worry about me, but I will not do it to you. I know that sounds terrible as I have more than likely never met or ever will meet 99.999 % of you. Why be truthful to people I don’t know and hide and lie to my own family and friends? I have no clue the rationale behind this and won’t pretend I do either. What I do know is that there is a greater chance those reading this, understand it to their core and need no explanation of the words, the thoughts, the expressions, the pain, the isolation, the self-doubt, and the meaning behind “Going Dim”. I fully understand all humans go through struggles in life and I am not discounting any of that; anyone or any struggle of any kind. I am addressing our struggle.
I am opening up my broken spirit and soul, my tired mind, and using my pain riddled body, to let YOU know, you are far from alone in this battle. And I may be writing what you can’t dare to say out loud, but feel it as if it has taken over your entire being. I know I have read some stories which after the first sentence I felt the lump in my throat. I certainly am not sharing to cause distress or any tears, but if anyone reading this has that lump, let yourself feel the emotion and release some of that internal pain that is eating you alive and has taken over a portion of your soul.
More than likely you have caught on that I have not begun to describe the pain. If you are reading this, you already know how it will read. However, for those friends or family that are reading this who have a loved one suffering, I will follow this with a brutal truth that the one you know, who is suffering, is too damn scared to tell you. Whether it be pride, or wanting the world to believe we can handle this, or the complete farce we muster up in order to appear stronger than we actually feel. Your loved one has gone dim. And you might have as well; attempting to care for them. Addressing the other side of this is just as important as addressing ourselves.
The ME I once was, is still seen by my husband and some family and friends; however, I don’t see her. I feel as if she’s gone for good. I talk with her in my mind and actually pray she will come back, somehow, some way. She could light up a room (from what I was told). She was vibrant, funny, witty, intelligent, strong, hard-working, worthy, helpful, selfless, and although some deep down pain existed as we all have and hide; she was happy. She helped raise 2 children, who she loves. She was a good wife, a good friend, a reliable sister and had worked since a very young age; worked her ass off. Now, the relentless quest for her to return has come up empty. She was me. I was her. We’ve both gone dim.
Where did she go? CRPS (full body), Fibromyalgia in addition about a dozen other health issues; some quite severe, has held her captive and the ransom demand at this time cannot be met. The hope and flicker of light is diminishing. Sure, I say I am hopeful and staying positive, but who am I kidding? It’s gradually becoming such a farce, I can barely hold back the tears when I say I am still positive. It’s a blatant lie. I feel as if I am getting a very real glimpse of Hell.
Ice pick, razor blade, vice, hammer, pins, needles, knife, match, truck, salt, gasoline, fire, electric shock and flames; all of which I feel has been used during this captivity. A scene from a mysterious attempted murder movie in which we wait in the trunk to be rescued. Someone on the outside may not comprehend that comparison, but I, along with so many others; truly feel this. And the trunk is our lives at times. That dim, cold, dark, isolated place, we don’t willingly go to, but find ourselves there, stuck; more often than not. The tools used is what we compare our pain to; as CRPS/RSD plays out such a brutal attack on our bodies daily. As we wait for the ransom, which in our lives is a doctor, a treatment, a cure, we succumb to this attack and 24/7 try to prepare ourselves for the next dreadful blow. I try to hold it in as to not be a burden; not wanting people to see how bad it is. There are times it just comes out, screaming, howling, paralyzing pain to the point I can barely breathe. Arms, legs, feet, back, hips, face, ears, chest pain where it feels like I am having a heart attack, but I know I am not. Then I think, what if I do have a heart attack? If I feel like that daily, if I have one, will I even know? And my hypertension gets so out of control, my neck feels like I am being stabbed, my vision gets blurry, I lose minutes and have lost recollection of hours of time. I get scared to be alone in my own home. This scares the sh*t out of me! On nights the blood pressure is too high and the chest pain is severe, I am too damn scared to go to sleep as I honestly wonder if I will wake up. Yes, that is how my mind works. I pray I wake up. I won’t go into the thoughts and prayers that go on, when I honestly question if my life, as I know it, is actually ending that evening. This is brutally honest and I know it sounds far-fetched to some. But, many reading this feel the same way or have felt the same way. I am saying it now, to give you some peace of mind that you are far from alone. It is not by any means a healthy way of thinking, but it is where one’s mind tends to go at times. I am not proud of these thoughts, but they are true.
Pain changes people. It’s relentless. The beast wins in those moments and all I can do is wait for it to let go of its ever so tight grip of my body. I think to myself during these times, how the hell am I to live this way? How is my husband to live this way, with his wife being consumed by pain, lost herself and her feeling of self-worth? I am not the woman he married. Far, far from it. He is my biggest advocate and has not left my side, although I wouldn’t blame him. His wife is gone. The anxiety, stress and depression that goes along with this beast leads my mind to wonder “when” he will have had enough; not “if”. For better or worse, sickness and in health, meant something to him, just as it did and does to me. How lucky am I to have such a man who took his vows so serious, that as he watches his wife diminish and change into someone he didn’t marry, he continues to assure me we are in this together and he will never leave my side. He is the only one who can make these demons stop in my head. He is the only one who has seen it all and still has faith I will come out of it; come back as the woman he married; come back from “Going Dim”.
What has brought you to this page, is why many of you will understand what I am about to say next. You are dim yourself from disease and pain or you are caring for someone and are desperately trying to find a way to understand and help that person; your loved one. (For those seeking help to care for another – THANK YOU! Sadly enough, you may be the only one doing so for that lost screaming soul).
Too many are left alone and instead of having support in waiting for that ransom, they remain in the trunk; dim, isolated, begging for relief, kicking and screaming to get out; get help and for someone to actually listen. When there is never a response, those broken souls take it upon themselves to put an end to their private mysterious movie which is their life. They don’t think they can handle the next blow, they have been disregarded by doctors, family, friends and in their mind; the world.
Pain messes with your mind. Even those who truly have support; at times feel like an overwhelming burden to everyone, isolated and alone (even if the room is filled with 20 people) and misunderstood, they would rather not be on this earth for one more second of pain or one more feeling of being dismissed by a friend or loved one. That emotional pain alone when one’s suffering is dismissed; as if we are over-reacting to a common cold; could and has triggered people in pain to start planning their demise, as it is too much for them in their broken mind and body to fight anymore. Death, in their mind, however wrong one deems that thought process; is what they are contemplating. If you think this is reaching; just read through posts in some of your or your loved one’s support groups.
Daily, I see people tell people they never met, that they “can’t handle it anymore”, “I just want to end it”. Keep in mind, if you look at their FB page, or Twitter, or recall a recent phone call, most would have just said or posted on how great their day was. “I am fine.” It’s a farce, which most of us continue to do; as to not upset our family or friends with our true feelings and pain, or to not be honest with people we actually know because we’ve been dismissed too many times and are broken to the point that some knowingly make a decision to NEVER again speak to a loved one, hug a family member; and even their own children; as their mind has told them it’s easier to die than live.
How sad is that? Are they selfish? When people take their lives due to pain, any type of pain; they cannot comprehend the ramifications other than they no longer will have pain. So completely torn down, the thought their child will lose their parent, is not strong enough to stop them. How in the hell is our society missing this? How are family and friends missing this? How are people in pain getting to this point? Whether it be lack of treatment, lack of cure, lack of support or the mind games played out in your head when your pain takes over your life; it must, meaning right now, start being addressed.
Are you thinking your life is not worth it anymore? Well, it is. You don’t see it, but others do. And I beg anyone reading this, to reach out to someone. I can almost guarantee these thoughts have gradually entered the minds of your loved one who experiences 24/7 pain; not remembering a day without it. And if someone asks you, be honest. I have uttered the words I’m fine for the majority of my life; over half of which has been in chronic pain. I hid so many things from even my family; out of pride and factors which stem from my childhood, some of my own family do not believe I am in such a state of despair and pain; broken down with a tired soul and body that feels useless. I hid for too long. Yes, it’s my fault for putting on the mask. I was and at times still very good at it. A habit very hard to break.
It’s natural for me to pretend I am okay; for I’ve done it all my life in one way or another just like most of humanity in some aspect. However, I am removing it now and so should you. This does not give us the right to become an un-consolable hot mess of a person; but it does give us power to deal with what is behind the mask; our true selves. It certainly will not be easy, but how worn out are you right now reading this? My soul is tired and there is no amount of sleep in which can awaken it.
“Live without living?” What does that mean? If you ask that question, you have yet to comprehend how our minds work; how we feel & what this has done to us. Or better said, what it has done with the person we once were. The reason I; we’ve gone dim. We strive to live better and we do anything and everything to get there. Find relief, find a new normal, find peace, find understanding, find faith, find God, find a way; find ourselves. I am trying and I have resorted to begging at times just to get a doctor to listen to me. Most ignore it; but I’ve been lucky to find one that listened; one who upheld his oath. One who has promised to help me find a way, a new normal, and a treatment in which I can maybe, just maybe, have a chance at finding myself again. I don’t trust many, but trusted him and have for over 10 years. Due to this trust and mutual respect between a doctor and a patient, I have a chance; a slight flicker of light in my dim world which I am grasping onto so tight, if I were to let go I feel as if I would crumble; again.
You see, although I’ve gone dim like many of you reading this, I also found HOPE and it was due to raising some hell and advocating for myself and not shutting up when I was told NO. I kept going, I kept calling, I kept writing; I kept fighting. I am still dim, but I have seen the flicker of light; that same light which could let “My Soul Shine”. I don’t know if it will, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try. I deserve it; as do you.
I started writing this 8 months ago. When I started, I was in my darkest times. I thought about deleting those parts; but that would be me lying to you, and again, as life has taught me, continue to pretend I am okay when I am not. So I hope when you started reading, you felt you were no longer alone in the pain, the dark thoughts, the hopelessness, sadness and you knew, in your heart and soul, there are others like you. And as you read on, you found understanding, a bond with someone you probably will never meet. A bond due to pain, no one wants, but one everyone needs so they don’t feel alone and don’t ever think tomorrow is not worth waking up to.
I’m honored to share this project by chronic illness activist, guest writer Cammie LaValle, featured for CRPS/RSD Awareness Month. She’s not only a personal friend I met in the chronic pain community, but she’s a personal inspiration to me as well as so many others. She leads the charge in fighting campaigns for chronic pain and rare disease causes with the tenacity like none I’ve seen before, whilst attacking her disease with the same vigor. I’m proud to be in the same warrior club with a woman like Cammie, as I have learned much from her. Read more RSD/CRPS articles, see art projects, poems, and survival stories here.
Thank you for visiting and sharing -Mary
Even if it’s a terrible diagnosis, you crave even the worst titles, just to have a name. Just to put a label on what your body is experiencing. You dream of a diagnosis for the madness eating away at your body and your life.
You want to scream when test after test comes back normal, appointment after appointment ends with no answers, and you wonder how much longer your body will hold out like this. Each frustrated physician and specialist is at a loss and they know anything more they try could likely only make you worse. So one by one, they set you free into the river of uncertainty to face the un-named beasts in you alone– ALONE.
Instead of one confirmed diagnosis, you have a list of conditions which are more like guesses your doctors have labeled your symptoms with. “Chronic Migraine” for example, or “Vertigo.” You know they are only symptoms of a larger, more pertinent illness no one can pinpoint.
When I was 22, I was lucky enough to be diagnosed correctly and immediately with a terrible chronic pain condition called RSD/CRPS. The early diagnosis didn’t help me find remission, but I know that being diagnosed helped me gain some stability. Instead of blaming my body, instead of staying up nights searching online to figure out what might be wrong with me, instead of searching far and wide to find the answer to the screaming question disabling me, I could turn to knowledgeable doctors or helpful research online. I could reach out to support groups with the name of my condition. I could blame my disease, and so could my family.
At 28, I had a different experience. After spinal cord damage from a procedure, and a terrible reaction to the experimental medication injected, I became more ill than I have ever been… and I’ve been undiagnosable since. Everything was different this time. Tests were normal, doctors gave up quickly and treated me like they were afraid of me. The chronic pain community I leaned on for so many years prior were also at a loss. I felt so alone, and it seemed that my body was trying to kill me.
Even if it’s a terrible diagnosis, having an answer, having a community, having a list of symptoms, expectations, FDA approved treatments- is so validating and valuable while you are suffering so fiercely. You can finally give a name to the monster bullying you, instead of constantly blaming your own body.
When you have a diagnosis, those who love you can advocate on your behalf. They can organize fundraisers and walks, they can hate the illness inside of you. But when there is no name, people doubt you. It doesn’t matter how sick you are, if you can’t identify why you are unable to move or speak or eat, or leave your bed… people wonder about your sanity. They wonder about your will and your strength.
They’ll say you haven’t done enough to get well. They’ll say there is more you could do, and you are just unwilling. On the flip side, the same people will later whisper that you became obsessed with your illness and seeking out treatments- that it consumed you. Yes, you are trying to save your own life. And your life is worth fighting for!!! Giving up is not an option!!! Be proud you are so aggressive. Anyone who isn’t aggressive on your behalf should be ashamed- not you.
I have come to accept that my diagnosis is “Complex” and may in fact forever be “Undiagnosable.” Managing the nameless, and finding doctors who are willing to try and do the same is my path now.
We do have some labels that work to help us find each other, support one another, and build community. We can fight together as warriors with a united cause. We can be identified by “chronically ill”, “rare disease”, and “spoonie.”
We are undiagnosable, for now, our illnesses are unidentifiable, but we are not invisible!
Today is Leap Year Day, and it’s also Rare Disease Day. Since we have an extra day this year, why not raise awareness for infants, children, teens, young adults, and adult-adults with misunderstood, incurable, difficult to treat illnesses around the world? Thanks all.
There are many things you can forgive your body for, but there are moments, relationships, days in life you miss which you will never get back, unforgettable, unforgivable events you are denied in the face of disability. My body is broken, and she continues to break my heart.
This is how those of us with chronic diseases struggle so deeply to have “self love.” Trapped inside bodies that attack us, and hearts which shoulder the guilt of our loved one’s pain from the hurt our illnesses have caused- child, love thyself. Love your abuser. Forgive the one which harms those you love the most. Forgive, forgive, forgive….
Body, you have taken my choices from me all of my adult life. Body, you are the abusive relationship I have never been able to flee. Body, you have stolen my health, my career, fun, freedom… my dreams. No permission was granted to you, yet you take all you touch. You are a jealous, volatile disease, and you only care about your own needs. I have suffered abuse and trauma at the hands of doctors on your account, though, you still batter me without compassion. I’ve been abandoned and made to feel worthless, INVISIBLE because of you body; I’ve had enough of your games!
Body, I break up with you. Sorry, not sorry.
I tear you from my soul and leave you. I will still care for you, because I am obligated. I am bound to you in ways I cannot choose, but I will no longer adore you. I will not call you my own. We are committed to one another, but I turn my back to you, body. From here on out, you will be “Body” and I will go forward being Me.
This is my self love. This is my self compassion. This is my choice.
I rage against your victimization. Your assault on my essence is over. I choose to make my life despite you, in spite of you!
I choose, I choose, I choose.
My flesh and bone surrenders, but my spirit rises up! Your reign, your emotional and psychological torture is over. Call it dissociation, call it compartmentalizing, call it what you will- it IS a detachment, and it is necessary.
I sign the papers and I box up your things. You can live in the basement and I will now and forevermore preside upstairs, in charge of THIS HOUSE.
Sign here X _________________
Please support Rare Disease Day on February 29th. www.rarediseaseday.us
For nearly 11 years I have had a neurological chronic pain condition which is known as mysterious, under-researched, difficult to treat, incurable, lacking in treatment options, and also like Chronic Migraine, many say my chronic pain condition is also “rare” when in fact neither actually should be.
Before I had been diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome in 2004 (known as one of the most painful chronic disorders) I had never even heard of it. Neither had my family, friends, and many doctors and nurses have never heard of CRPS (RSD) either. However, 4 years ago when my journey with Chronic Migraine began, I learned that something as common as a headache could be even more mysterious and surprisingly harder to treat. I have been surviving a host of head difficulties: spinal headaches (Cerebro-spinal fluid imbalance), Cluster Headaches, Trigeminal Neuralgia (facial nerve pain) and Chronic Migraine which equals CONSTANT intense, debilitating head pain for the past 4 years straight.
But everyone knows what a migraine is. I could even buy pills at CVS for migraines and headaches, right? So why are there fewer medical options for my head pain than for a widely unheard of, “mysterious” and complex chronic pain condition like CRPS? It is baffling! This is debilitating chronic pain of the brain and doctors seem to have fewer resources and fewer answers to questions as well. It’s “ONLY a migraine” seems to be the overwhelming attitude of society and physicians, and it is because of a lack of awareness. I was part of that unaware group before 4 years ago…before my life and brain changed.
While chronic pain crippled me and affected my life and body in every way, most days I found some ways to function using walking aids like crutches or a wheel chair. In contrast, this pain in my head shuts down my thoughts, my eyes, memory, speech, my ears, balance, and just moving my arm or inhaling too deeply sends an electric jolt through my brain. My entire being is stunted due to my head pain. I would never ever want to minimize the horrors that chronic pain sufferers endure, but I had many more treatment options as a chronic pain sufferer compared to a headache disorder sufferer. In 11 years, I still have not reached the end of all options as a CRPS patient, but within a few months I had tried everything available for this horrible head pain.
Did you know that the NIH claims that Chronic Migraine and Cluster Headaches are 2 of the MOST DISABLING CONDITIONS in the U.S.? Thirty seven million Americans suffer from migraines; 2-3 million are chronic.
When I was diagnosed with chronic pain, there were so many tests, scans, physical therapy, both medical and alternative resources to exhaust, invasive injections, surgical options, non-invasive therapies, and tons of different kinds of medications. Even though the benefits were minimal, and most things I tried didn’t help at all, there were options available. And options feel a lot like HOPE when you are barely hanging on from the kind of pain CRPS causes. I feel as though it has taken so little time to expend the resources accessible for Migraine Disease, and even all of the headache doctors don’t seem very informed about what to do next, or how to answer what seem like simple questions. As I communicate with others with chronic migraine and other headache disorders, I have found that others feel the same about how their headache doctors treat their serious symptoms.
This is chronic pain of the brain, the part which controls everything in the body! It is WHO I AM. I am basically shut down for operation for most of the past 4 years. Be your own advocate? Try advocating for yourself when you can hardly speak, move, or open your eyes. When the room is spinning every time you move your head, a bird chirping can send you into a “suicide headache,” you dread something as simple as flushing the toilet, swallowing your water, or even blinking your eyes the pain is so unbearable.
Your senses are held prisoner by chronic pain of the brain- the part of you that registers all of the pain signals in your body, and now has become nothing but pain itself. This is not good enough. There are too many of us, and we deserve so much better than a life whispering in the dark.
If you are surviving Chronic Migraine, chronic pain, or other painful debilitating neurological conditions, you are not alone. February 29th is Rare Disease Day. Please share to help spread awareness. Thank you for visiting and for commenting.
In the U.S., more than 37 mill. people suffer from migraines. Studies suggest 13% of U.S. adults have migraines, and 2-3 mill. migraine sufferers are chronic.
Almost 5 million in the U.S. get at least one migraine attack per month, while more than 11 mill. people are moderately to severely disabled due to migraines.
Migraines cost the U.S. more than 31 Billion per year in healthcare
Only $19 million goes into researching migraine disorders
~Find me at @aBodyofHope on Twitter
www.Facebook.com/Living.with.RSD for a positive chronic pain support group welcoming all types of chronic pain conditions
One of my favorite writer/bloggers, Mark from The Gad About Town discusses the importance of the upcoming Rare Disease Day. He shares his experience with his own rare disease, SMA and how it effects his body.
I live with my own “rare” illnesses like POTS, CRPS and IH to name a few. Many would argue that these are not rare given the estimated number of people living with the same illnesses. In the medical world however, these conditions are so rarely known.
My friend and blogger Mark from The Gad About Town so eloquently explains what it means to have a “rare” illness, and why we share information on occasions like Rare Disease Day.
One friend has antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, which causes blood clots to form in any blood vessel in the body and leads to transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), or what she cheerfully refers to as “mini-strokes.” (Most people who have recurring TIAs call them mini-strokes; my friend has the happy quality of coming away from hers with anecdotes about the experience that make them almost sound like something I want to have, too.)
One of my closest friends has fibromyalgia, a disease of chronic pain with a “here today, gone tomorrow, here again and worse” pattern-less pattern of symptom presentation that sometimes renders her almost breathless with the pain. Everyone experiences physical pain, but a full-body stabbing pain with no traceable cause, and thus not many ways to treat it?
Other friends have multiple sclerosis, one whose symptoms are affecting his balance and control of his legs, and one whose hands are…
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