Health Update- Part 3 (The Finale)

Congratulations…..get your cap and gowns as you’ve all graduated from the “Ali’s crash course of health issues”. This will be my last health update post and the aim from now on will be to update weekly/fortnightly on what is happening, how I’m feeling and run alongside that some hot topics I am itching to write about. Grab yourself a celebratory tipple for the final instalment. 

Gastro-

My gastro system was one of the first issues I had going back 10 plus years and we went round a merry go round of IBS, Crohns disease and many more illnesses over the course of that time having more investigations than I care to think about. You can read more about this in one of my earlier blogs “A gut feeling”.  Once I was referred to a neuro-gastroenterologist I started to have the right investigations and gradually the pieces of the puzzle started to fit together. Many people with EDS have gastric dysmotility this can be in the form of too fast or too slow transit or it can swing between the two. Both conditions share some similar symptoms but there are marked differences between them. One thing they both have in common is how debilitating they can be for the patient. 

A few years back I had exploratory surgery for a mystery “lump” during the surgery adhesions were found which are bands of tissue that were wrapped around my lower bowel. I remember the relief thinking we had finally found the cause, this tissue was cut and removed however I was told the possibility of this tissue growing back was high and in fact the more times you go in and cut the more scar tissue forms and the worse the problem becomes, great stuff!! Shortly ensued a colonoscopy and barium studies.

 My most recent “bowel” related test was something called a tracer study under nuclear medicine. I had to take a set of pills over the course of a few days, each pill dissolved releasing various shapes into my digestive tract which are highlighted on an x-ray. On day 7 I was scanned with the aim of the game being 80% of the markers to have packed up and gone down south, I’m clearly a Northern lass through and through as you will see!! The follow up with my gastro came who said the good news was the markers weren’t stopping at a particular junction which meant there was no need to remove a particular section of my bowel that had nerve death. I thought I was home and dry I turned to my mum relieved about this however I soon noticed the expression on his face and he explained that the entire bowel seemed to not be as it should even parts of my small intestine and it was a worry that this related to the nerves and muscles ability to propel contents along. He said if this was a case of ‘simple constipation’ the transit time is usually normal and most markers would have left with only a few residual in the sigmoid colon.  Below are x-rays of my small and large intestine, the images were clearer on my consultants computer whereby he could fade some of the white out for clarity particularly at the bottom of picture 1.  Off memory 59 remained from 72.

As you can see there is quite the shape game going on here and unfortunately they are dotted throughout which signifies an issue with the nerves and muscles throughout the large bowel and a portion of the small bowel. This is called colonic Inertia. The pain this causes at times is unmanageable, all of our systems propel food in what should be a nice rhythmic manner however mine is out of sync, completely un-coordinated and poor functioning which leads to such extreme cramping at times I have passed out not long after eating. The pain can fluctuate throughout the day but never leaves.  My diet is extremely limited and standard laxatives just sit in my bowel causing further cramping instead of doing the job they are aimed to do.  To try and relieve the pain of the cramping I am unable to take opiates as they feed into the problem further as they slow the bowel down and they don’t stay down long due to inflammation of my stomach lining. I was assigned a bowel function nurse and currently experimenting as and when with a medication called linaclotide, enemas, self bowel massage (funnily enough I can’t find a beauty establishment that lists this in there treatments) and some home remedies. There have been a fair few trips to hospital over the years with suspected bowel blockages.

A radioactive egg and jam sandwich came next, yes you hear me correct!! It was certainly not gourmet. This test was to study the motility of my upper stomach.  I explained to my consultant some days I feel my food is sat in my stomach for hours and I can only manage a few bites through nausea and feeling full and other days it feels its tipping out of my stomach too quickly and I get shaky, nauseas, low blood sugar and some other symptoms I will kindly leave out. Once I managed to get the sandwich down which is no mean feat I can assure you I was scanned at regular intervals. The radioactive substance within the sandwich is highlighted so they can trace its location in your system. On this day the result showed rapid gastric emptying, essentially my food is tipping out of my upper stomach quicker than it should leading to nausea, sweating, cramping, low blood sugar and not really feeling you have eaten shortly after a meal. I know there are times when my stomach is extremely slow and this would be slow gastric emptying of which I feel sick and I can’t actually get any food down at all of which I have nutritional drinks as a back up. It basically swings between the two but on this day it showed rapid.  As you can imagine its quite hard to treat a stomach thats tipping too quickly and a bowel and small intestine that are on a permanent vacation as the two contradict each other.

Since surgery I have had problems with my swallow, my food is sticking and I can either get it down with fluids or its back up we go. I had a barium swallow which showed some pooling of barium but we have not yet bottomed why this is happening daily. Thankfully I am not aspirating my food which is the real danger however none the less its extremely unpleasant and can be frightening. Due to NHS cutbacks my consultant has had one of his two clinics taken off him so he now has to cram two clinics in one so I don’t get to see him until October (insert frustrated face).

Iron Deficiencies-

I have difficulties with malabsorption of nutrients combined with a very limited diet I often don’t get enough of what I require. I had visited my GP some time ago reporting I felt much more tired than usual, breathless and pale. She ran some bloods which came back as my ferritin (iron stores) were extremely low. I have been here before and recognised the feelings. I have tried many iron supplements over the years and they do not raise my levels, they cause a lot of side effects and are now a contraindication due to my bowel difficulties. My ferritin has dropped further since the initial blood test and an iron infusion (cosmofer) has been arranged for late next week which will take around 6 hours if all goes well, ill get some movies downloaded for that one!!  Ive had one before many years ago and I do tend to feel quite unwell during and a few days after them but when this lifts I feel I have much more energy. Essentially I’m running on fumes at the moment so hopefully topping the tank up will make a positive difference.

Years ago I was placed on B12 injections after reporting the same symptoms as above in addition pins and needles and numbness. My B12 was tested and was rock bottom, I got quite unwell at the time as it was not reported properly by the hospital initially so it went untreated. I was commenced on B12 injections and have them 3 monthly.  As part of a new initiative my GPs practice are training patients or partner/family to do the injections. My partner and I went down for the training with the lovely nurse.  I didn’t think I would have a problem doing this injection myself and drew the fluid up, changed the needles and when it came to putting it in at a 90 degree angle (all the way in I might add) I just couldn’t push it in. I was surprised as I am not in the slightest fearful of needles.  My lovely partner stepped in and was shown how to give it in my arm. The injection is uncomfortable as it has to penetrate the muscle and not hit the tissue so it is a very deep injection and the substance itself stings but it is more than manageable and usually only lasts for a few minutes. My partner did a sterling Job and said he could not have done it to himself either but I have to be nice all the time now as he has the needles 🙂 The lovely nurse said we are welcome to come back anytime for a refresher which we probably will do, I will give it another go myself as I don’t like to be defeated!! Below is the sharps bin, B12 and needles, to be fair you can see why I struggled pushing that needle all the way in myself. My arms are so thin I’m surprised it didn’t come out the other side!!

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ENT-

I see my ENT consultant in a month to discuss setting  a date for my deviated septum surgery. I was on the fence whether to have this surgery or not, to be honest it would be nice to get my right nostril out of retirement and to alleviate the chronic sinusitis it causes as its no fun really. Ive recently been having problems with my ears which will be added to the list to discuss during the appointment.

Eyes-

I have Posterior vitreous detachment of both eyes meaning the membrane has separated from the retina. Its quite a common condition but usually in those over 65 not 33.  On my left eye the membrane has fully come away and on the right its hanging on for dear life and half pulled away causing floaters, flashes of light and sometimes it feels like I am looking through a cobweb, its extremely annoying however not painful.  I have to be careful for any sudden changes and have to be checked out by the eye hospital due to the possibility of retinal detachment which is a serious condition.

My vision is at times blurred, double but more so a loss of focus and clarity.  I am under vision therapy at present trying to get the brain and eye to communicate better however we are not sure if this is related to my head/brain and CSF problems which can cause similar symptoms so it feels a bit of a guessing game at the moment as to what is actually going on.  It is like this with many aspects of my health right now and many conditions mimic each other symptom wise so to pin down the origin is proving a challenge, a frustrating and tedious change at that.

I have dry eyes which are extremely annoying!!  They itch, burn, sting and feel like the gritters have been doing a day shift pretty much 24/7. I use eye drops recommended from my eye doctor about x8 a day and use warm heated pads on my eyes to add moisture to them.

There are MANY other things going on with my health, only yesterday I was told I had yet another issue which I will talk about in my next post. I just wanted to get the bulk of my current situations up to date for fluidity and now I am good to go.  As you can see there is an awful lot going with my body but just how does it feel physically, mentally and emotionally, just what goes on at the appointments, how much advocating has to take place, what mistakes are made, is there joined up care, how much support is available for those living with a chronic illness, what judgments are made about those living with invisible illness….these are just some of the topics I will be writing about over the coming weeks. 

*I receive many e-mails from my blog from patients and families which is lovely, if there are any particular topics you would like me to write about or hear more about please get in touch either via the comments section or you can e-mail me through the contact link via the menu*

 

Turners tours…….

Firstly I must apologise for not updating my blog sooner, since being back home we’ve been on tour…..of local hospitals *sighs*.

So……how am I feeling post fusion wise??? Well in terms of the surgery recovery I am doing very well, I think. I seem to have healed beautifully, the scar is very tidy and my undercut is starting to grow out to a more disheveled/shabby kind of look. I am in the process of weaning myself out of the brace and really just listening to my body during this process. The fact I can now carry the weight of my own head is simply amazing, I will never take that for granted. I’d say I manage about an hour before the real spasms kick in of which I either put the brace back on for a rest or lay flat and alternate heat and ice. Today I actually had my first physiotherapy appointment since surgery, it was nice to see my physiotherapist again, she is lovely. We are taking things very slowly and starting off with some light isometric exercises which strengthen the neck muscles, I will also be doing some extremely light core strength exercises. My body has become very deconditioned over the last few years and my muscle tone and control is poor but with EDS its always a case of starting right from the beginning and working our way up at a slow pace so for the next month it will be light isometric exercises and some stomach in/bottom squeezes lay flat. And on top of that some light daily massage (sadly the NHS don’t provide a masseuse) to loosen up the trigger points as my neck and shoulders are very tight since fusion partly due to the magnitude of the surgery and partly because of the limited movement I have now.

In ten days I will be having my post op three month x-ray to ensure nothing has worked loose and to see if the bone has started to grow. I’m quite nervous for this actually as the aim is for my own bone to grow over time for the surgery to be a success.

So many people have been asking what improvements I have noticed since surgery, this can be quite a tricky question to answer one being as it’s still relatively early days and also I have multiple chronic conditions that all feed into each other and give off an array of symptoms and fluctuate in nature daily. So far the very fact I can hold my head up independently again without a brace or holding it myself with my hands is AMAZING. I have noticed an improvement with my vertigo, tinnitus, neck pain and bladder issues which is very positive. I’d say the biggest blow so far is that the debilitating headaches I’ve had for 2.5 years daily still remain as well as talking aggravating the headaches further and for anyone that knows me personally knows how much I LOVE to talk!!! This has been one of the hardest elements for me, being muted 80% of the day just to try and keep my headaches at a medium/low level. I also struggle with sounds around me it’s like sensory overload (very bizarre). Myself and Nick are off to London in the New year to see a leading professor who specialises in headache disorders particularly in EDS so I am very much looking forward to meeting this expert. Headaches and EDS are very complex as there can be so many different causes from migraine, blood vessel problems all the way through to high/low brain pressure and anything in-between. I shall keep you all updated how that appointment goes. Before I banged my head 2.5 years ago and this cascade of symptoms came about I had never suffered from headaches in my life and they are so very hard to articulate as they are not like your average headache, or hangover headache (I wish) the pain moves all around my head and face, changing in intensity going from severe pulsating pain to knife like pain to pressure. Very odd. Very unpleasant. Very debilitating. This is the symptom that has stopped me in my tracks the past few years.

Now…..the rest of my body!! I have completed a diagram labelling a body of the various organs/joints affected for a clinician and thought I would share it on my blog. Labelling the body doesn’t really give insight into what it’s like living with each and every symptom but I thought it was useful none the less. *Get your magnifying glass out or use our zoom*

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Since being back my parents and I have toured the hospitals catching up with all my consultants. My parents…. literally the best humans on earth.

Turner’s Tour-

Tour 1

Myself and Nick went to see the pain team. We spoke with a nice lady and discussed my conditions and the impact they have on my life. As well as controlling my pain one of my big issues is coming to terms with my conditions and how my life isn’t what I expected. There are many aspects of this for me personally that I struggle with and I’ve decided I’m going to open up more in my next blog post about this topic I’ve quietly struggled with the last few years.

Tour 2-

I have seen my GP a few times to catch up with her post surgery and to discuss my worsening POTS symptoms as I’m not due to see my cardiologist until next year. It’s quite common for POTs to go crazy after major surgery and inactivity so I’m not surprised. My heart rate is spiking quite high but at present it’s coming back down on its own within a reasonable time frame of which I am thankful as there have been times when it’s landed me in A&E when it refuses to go below 150. My other issues are the inability to stand for longer than 10 minutes without intense blood pooling in my legs and low blood pressure. I am soon to start a medication to increase my blood pressure and widen the blood vessels, this tablet doesn’t come without side effects and possible complications so I will need to check in with my GP regularly for my blood pressure to be taken as it can cause hypertension and effect my heart rate. I also had some bloods taken and my 3 monthly b12 jab. I’m so fortunate to have a lovely practice with lovely doctors, nurses and staff.

Tour 3– Ear, nose and throat appointment. We discussed the surgery I require for a severely deviated septum which I’ve had for a long time however it has got progressively worse to the point my right nostril is now out of order. Given I will need to be intubated and require a bit of extension of my neck we agreed to catch up again in January to book a date for surgery hopefully middle of next year as I need a break but it maybe sooner.

Tour 4- The dietician came to my house, so I call this half a tour. She was extremely pleased with the weight I have gained but understands how it can fluctuate with my gastro symptoms. Although my diet only consists of around 10 foods she was happy I’m getting what I need to sustain myself and recommend i take some vitamins also. We have a plan of nutritional drinks that are easier to digest for when my weight dips. I have put back on the stone I lost after surgery which is fantastic news.

Tour 5– I saw my gastro as I am struggling immensely as always with my stomach/bowel. My gastro system has plagued me for around 10 years and I suffer so much because of it. Firstly we addressed how my food has been sticking since surgery and he was a little
Concerned if it was nerve related. He booked me in for a barium swallow. I have also had intractable heartburn/reflux/chest/back pain the last 6 weeks which isn’t responding to potent acid reducing drugs. My gastro wanted to do an endoscopy however I am unable to tolerate them without being put totally to sleep which he felt so soon after surgery wasn’t advisable but we are going to discuss this further as the symptoms are debilitating. Way back I had a study called a sitzmark study which involved swallowing various pills over a few days, each pill contained different shapes and then being x-rayed to see where the shapes were. The majority of the shapes are meant to have left the body however with me 90% remained, I’ll never forget when he turned the screen round to show mum and I and my little intestine and colon was just swimming with little triangles, circles and rectangles, I didn’t know if it was the shape game perfection from the 80’s I was looking at!!!! This shows a condition called colonic inertia, basically the nerves and muscles in my bowel don’t fire off like they should it’s a step up from good old constipation and the worst thing for it is high fibre foods as they cause unbearable cramping, broccoli is the devil!! We discussed how I seem to fluctuate between dumping syndrome (classic name) whereby I eat and within 30 minutes I am sweating, pass out and find myself on the thrown (too much information?) and within an hour or so have low blood sugar like I haven’t eaten in days or extremely slow stomach transit whereby my food sits in my stomach for hours and hours causing indigestion/ nausea and bloating, couple that with my snail like colon and it’s HELL. The nerves in my stomach just misfire and the muscles are uncoordinated so I often pass out with the level of cramping and pain. I am being sent for a gastric emptying study in the new year to chow on a radioactive egg and jam butty to see the speed food is leaving my stomach.

Tour 6- Barium swallow day. I went and swallowed some chalky paint which tasted of refreshers and stood on some kind of contraption whilst x-rays were taken to assess my swallow. Sadly due to fusion I couldn’t complete the final part to look for reflux and hernias as it involves getting my head into some rather funky positions I couldn’t do. The final part of the test with me being gluten free involved me eating a mince pie top I brought with me coated in barium (how to kill a good mince pie right there) !! I chewed it to death to get it down, more than I would normally as I wasn’t allowed water to send it on it’s way and didn’t want to choke.

Tour 7- caught up with my lovely physio who has put me on a very light post fusion programme.

We have speech and language, pain clinic x2 and x-rays before Turners tours finally finishes 28th December for the year before resuming in January which is booking up fast, magical mystery tour has nothing on us.

 
In other news-

During all of the appointments and symptoms I have tried to get back to making the odd item. It’s very important for me to achieve something with my day for my pride, my mind and my self worth. Although now everything has to be adapted and done in stages (gone are the days of spending 10 hours behind a sewing machine) everything, due to pain has to be undertaken in 20 minute stints. I’m still trying to learn this pacing business. However I am super proud of the few little things I’ve made and achieved, it really is the little things at the moment that keep you going.

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I thought I would finish off with a quote that I read daily at present through the trials of recovery and EDS.  I think its ideal for anyone who might be feeling overwhelmed right now, for whatever reason.

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My escape before surgery 

It was essential in the days leading upto surgery that I kept myself occupied. I could not do too much however we managed to get out for an hour here and there in the wheelchair which was heaven. 
A place we soon discovered was ‘ the waterfront’ which on first visiting instantly became my “go to” place. I found myself gravitating to the steps which led into the water where the ducks would gather. Just to be able to be outside, hear the relaxing sound of the water and ducks splashing was truly heavenly, it often brought a tear to my eye as I really took my surroundings in. It became my all time favourite place and I found myself very relaxed when there. I would sit and just watch the water whilst listening to music. It was so peaceful it gave me the time needed to think about the surgery, the journey ahead and reflect on the journey so far. 
My head felt cluttered regarding the surgery. Most people go into surgery and ultimately come out cured or significantly better. The main aim of this surgery was to save my life, stop my neck from dislocating, stop the artery and brainstem from being compressed. Ultimately saving my life and enabling me to move again without risk of falling over and causing paralysis. Stop the symptoms in there tracks before they became even more disabling and serious. Having the neck brace as a tool when needed instead of it being a necessity. Any symptom improvement was always going to be a bonus from the long term damage already done and the recovery was going to be mammoth over the course of 12 months plus. There were fears of getting through the surgery safely especially with it being in such a crucial part of the body to developing further instability in my spine over the course of my life to the day I’ll be weaned off the brace and have to learn to do quite basic things again with little head/neck movement. We all in life want a quick fix, myself included and sadly this wasn’t going to be that. I had so many day dreams of waking up ‘cured’ and symptom free, I dreamt of doing everything I had missed out on over the course of many years but I also had to bring myself back down to earth and remember I had EDS, dysautonomia and other health issues that sadly weren’t going away. On the other hand I also wanted the opportunity to live and be able to fight those illnesses as best I could. I wanted a chance at a life again. 
Two days before surgery I sat by the water reflecting on the past two years from the loss of my job, becoming virtually housebound and thinking how much I had lost. I do find it too painful to talk in great detail about this as it’s all very raw. I then as always counteracted those thoughts with the hundreds upon hundreds of people who came together and supported my campaign, the amazing fundraisers, hard work of friends, colleagues and people I had never even met before. Receiving the warmest messages of love and encouragement that pulled me through some very dark days. Human kindness at its finest. 
I started to become mentally focused, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry, panic and have 101 fears running through my mind but strangely at the same time they were accompanied by an air of peace and rationale. I was ready for this surgery and the chance to move forward with a secure head and neck!!! 
It’s very important to me to have an escape, often over the course of the last few years it’s been my music I’ve fallen into or imagining going to various places in my mind and almost getting lost there. I was so fortunate to find this beautiful place that at times made me feel like Ali again, it gave me such comfort and peace to enable me think. It’s a place that will be etched in my memory forever. 

Turbulence

As I reflect on the last two months, i do so with mixed emotions. Each day has been very turbulent, almost like a pick n mix bag of emotions, thoughts and feelings. I think the phrase used for Marathon runners when they have hit the 20 mile mark is most fitting “hitting the wall”. I have most definitely over the course of the last two months ‘hit the wall’, repeatedly.

The last eight weeks have seen my family and I having to seek opinions from numerous Neurosurgeons overseas and here in the UK in relation to the rest of my neck. I received a call at the beginning of May informing me I would require a full cervical fusion from the surgeon I was due to have my surgery with at the end of May. My initial reaction was panic, floods of tears and fear, I could not imagine my life with a fully fused neck, not being able to move my head and all the limitations that would bring. This isn’t what we had prepared for. Can people live fulfilled lives with a fully fused neck? Yes, I am fortunate through this illness to have met some wonderful people some of which are fully fused through the neck and some of which beyond that. It isn’t easy both on a pain level and having to adapt but it can be done. Once the initial shock dissipated a little, questions started to flood my mind. The first being, why? This had never been mentioned before in my consultation nor had it in subsequent dialogue over a seven month period. I felt uneasy, I discussed it with family and friends and we came to a unanimous decision to seek further opinions as I could not roll with something I did not 100% believe in. This would be the biggest surgery of my life. We sent my images over to numerous neurosurgeons in America, all independant of each other and the waiting game began for the opinions to come in.

In the midst of this unease and uncertainty saw me having to attend over seventeen appointments. Now, my life of late is a sort of one large hospital appointment, there is rarely a week that goes by where i don’t have at least 2-3 appointments however this time things were a little different.

My first appointment during this time was with Ear, nose and throat as I am unable to breath through my right nostril, a problem I have had for some years but ignored. The appointment was to discuss the results of a CT scan I had of the temporal bones looking for a particular condition, the results came back clear, YES i thought to myself there isn’t yet another problem. The consultant then proceeded to get an endoscope out of the draw and placed some jelly on the end and began feeding it up both nostrils, I was not expecting this and nor was it a pleasant experience. I had just about had enough of these mini hose pipe tests over recent weeks!! He informed me I had a severe sinus collapse and deviated septum which would require a surgery. “You have to be kidding me” off memory were the words of choice. He explained what it meant and what the surgery would entail, we agreed my neck needed to be fused first as no anaesthetist would put me to sleep with an unstable neck so we agreed we would follow up to discuss a time frame in August with the view of the surgery in the new year. The surgeries were just piling up from fusion surgery, impending shoulder surgery for tears and now a sinus surgery. 2018 is going to be great !!

Next came urodynamics testing. What a fun morning that was !! I have been experiencing bladder symptoms for around two years however in the grand scheme of symptoms it was lower down the priority list, yes i have a list!! In recent months it had stepped up a notch and my urologist referred me for urodynamics testing and referred me on to the head urology consultant for review. The urodynamics test was not a pleasant one for me at all, now I was not expecting to breeze through the test but I was also not expecting the pain it caused. I am going to spare you of all the ins and outs (literally) so… in a nut shell the test involved a tube being placed up the urethra and into the bladder and if one hole wasn’t enough they kindly placed one up the bottom too. After a few wails during placement I remember thinking the tube resembled a strawberry shoe lace, remember the ones you got when you were a child from the sweet shop? Theres that fond childhood memory banished!! Next i had to stand up with said tubes placed whilst the nurse tugged to ensure they were in, nice. My bladder was then filled with water and i had to state when i felt i could not take anymore and i felt full. This was testing how much fluid capacity my bladder can take. After this I had to cough numerous times to see if i peed myself on a lovely strategically placed nappy pad on the floor, i remember looking at the ceiling at this stage thinking “ When did it all get to this” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Now came the emptying of the bladder, this was to see if my bladder empties fully and what the pressures are when doing so, i had to sit on a ‘fake’ toilet and pee, simple i thought. well….. it hurt, it stung and as always took me forever to pee in dribs and drabs. Once finished the tubes were removed and I was told the results would be sent quickly to my new consultant with a follow up. I greeted my dad in the waiting room like a rabbit in head lights and burst into tears. Looking back I think I had just had enough of being poked and prodded the last few years.

The next week saw me at Wythenshawe hospital for allergy testing. An MRI of my spine at Salford to review the cyst I have happily resting in my spinal canal and an appointment with a kidney specialist after traces of blood and protein were coming out in my urine and a decreasing kidney function. The specialist was lovely and showed so much interest in my conditions, she also new a lot about EDS which is always a bonus that a doctor isn’t taking to google or wikipedia !! She felt the blood loss was due to a thin kidney membrane due to the EDS and advised to have regular monitoring of kidney function.

The following week I saw my wonderful specialist bowel nurse, she’s such a lovely lady. As my bowel isn’t playing ball at all it is causing a lot of pain daily. We discussed a relatively new drug on the market which acts on the nerves to basically try and get them going a bit, we agreed I would have a trial of this. I then went to see the swallowing team later that week as i have been choking intermittently on fluids and often my throat closes numerous times during eating but thankfully it happens very quickly. My swallow was assessed and it was identified that I have an uncoordinated swallow and spasms, i was given thickener to put in my drinks. JOYS.

Genetics at St Mary’s hospital was the next port of call, this was a long appointment to discuss the possibility of other types of EDS and connective tissue diseases. My DNA was taken (Jeremy kyle style) for testing which will take a few months to come back however the geneticist was quite confident I had hyper-mobility type EDS with some classical cross overs. We saw my wonderful GP the next day to update her on my appointments and to discuss the torrid time I had been having with stroke like symptoms, irregular heart rate, dizziness and low blood pressure. My blood pressure was low that day and she decided she wanted to do some blood tests.

The day arrived for my follow up with the head of urology to discuss my urodynamics. The urologist delivered the news that my bladder was not voiding correctly, the pressure was over double for what it should be for a female with slow flow and residual water left in the bladder. He informed me I would need to start self-catheterising to ensure my bladder was being sufficiently emptied daily. He went onto say due to the fact i found the urodynamics testing so painful I would need a rigid cystoscopy to dilate the urethra as he suspects a stricture and to have a look inside the bladder however with my neck being unstable I could not be put to sleep for this which would be the normal course of action, it could be done under heavy sedation, although i would still feel a lot of pain. He explained to me the correct name for my bladder issues is neurogenic bladder where the nerves are not working correctly, this could be due to EDS or a condition called tethered cord of which i am yet to rule out. He explained I would need to attend a specialist nurse led clinic on 27th June to be tought how to self catheterise and that we would have to see if able due to the narrowed urethra and if its too painful i may need the rigid cystoscopy to widen the urethra under sedation as we may not be able to move forward without it. That day I had another scan of my bladder after emptying it which showed fluid still remained. I left the clinic feeling like i had been hit by a truck. My dad gave me a big cuddle and reassured me we will together get through this next set back. He is my absolute king.

Set backs….. that is exactly what I felt my life had become. There isn’t really a week that goes by when a new problem doesn’t arise, something new to take on, another challenge and I had just had enough. How much can one person take? I remember thinking, this just isn’t fair anymore. There was not one organ or joint that wasn’t affected. I cried a lot that day, i felt angry, sad, frustrated and full of fear. When hit repeatedly with problem after problem it becomes even harder to digest new problems, I often feel too overwhelmed to even allow them to register in my mind. I think that is why I find doing my blog so therapeutic as often instead of talking about my feelings with people i will go quiet, shut off and withdraw and blogging gives me the arena to indirectly face what is happening.

Having no control over my body is a constant worry of whats going to go next, its important to me to keep control over the one thing I do still have a hold over, my mind. I inevitably will pick myself back up time and time again because there is no other option. Keeping the mind strong isn’t easy as the capabilities dwindle, you can’t occupy yourself, you can’t do the things that once filled your time so you have to constantly find new ways of doing things to maintain some level of independence and dignity. At present I am trying to teach myself sign language, it is something I am able to do without causing too much pain, it keeps my mind occupied and i hold onto the thought that maybe one day i could use it in a capacity of helping others. It is currently giving me a purpose.

The following week i received a call from my Gps practice regarding my recent bloods and have been called in as some abnormalities have been picked up on my renal and liver function tests, hopefully nothing too serious. We travelled to Salford to meet my UK neurosurgeon to discuss the recent scan of my cyst, some good news at last, a little win. The cyst has not changed in size in 12 months, he informed me he could not fully rule out a csf leak within the cyst and the only sure fire way to do so would be a CT mylegram which in itself can cause a leak especially with EDS patients as you are piercing the dura so we agreed a watch and wait for another year for now.

There were many more appointments throughout the course of the last 2 months and with many more to come over the coming weeks and months, I am trying to look at each appointment as one step closer to a better quality of life although I am not quite there in my mindset yet with the recent knocks.

Where am I right now? On Monday we received the fourth and final opinion from the neurosurgeons. The opinions had come in dribs and drabs over the course of two months with dialogue between myself and them. Its been very difficult managing the communication, the uncertainty coupled with the above appointments and set backs but i live to tell the tale, granted a little wind swept and battered. The general consensus from all surgeons is that I do not need at present a full cervical fusion however i am in desperate need of being fused skull-C2 due to the compression of my brainstem and rotational instability which most definitely reflects in the pain levels of late. I am dislocating very mildly at C3-4 and a bit more at C4-5 however it is not impinging my spinal cord and does not meet a surgical threshold based on my imaging a year ago. Will this be my last neck surgery? Probably not, no. However that is a bridge to cross hopefully a long time into the future. My family and I thought long and hard about all the opinions presented to us and how they all correlated, we liked the consistency. Together we made the decision for me to undergo the surgery in Washington with a surgeon who has performed this operation countless times on EDS patients. This is a major surgery and does not come without major risk and we feel this is the right direction for me and my condition. The thought of getting to Washington fills me with dread but it can be done and will be done. The change of course has resulted in us having to open the fundraising again as the costs are significantly higher in America however I remain positive as this has been achieved by many patients in the UK and Ireland. I am very fortunate to have the most amazing support network of people who quite literally keep me going through there encouragement each day.

Over the next few months I hope to write about my feelings as we embark on this life changing journey and head towards the surgery in September.  Although i feel of late i am hanging on by a thread i am determined more than ever to face this head on and get a better quality of life for myself.  The surgery will not only save my life, it is life changing and will enable me to take some control back of the rest of my body.

“Do not be afraid to travel a new path, it maybe a way to find what you’ve been looking for all along”

The Invisibility War

“You look really well” those four words again, the cynicism builds within me.
‘Do they think I’m making this up or something? I may look okay but I certainly don’t feel it or maybe they are just being nice”.

 
In society, there is a mainstream idea of what illness should look like, how long it should last for and expectations of recovery, when you will suddenly become ‘well’ again. Unfortunately, for those living with chronic illnesses we will never meet those expectations, we may fluctuate within them, learn new ways of managing our conditions, go into ‘remission’, our symptoms may wax and wane but we will not get ‘well’.

 
Many chronic illnesses whether it be EDS, depression, anxiety, lupus or Crohns disease, to name but a few can be invisible either on the most part, on days, weeks or even months. This invisibility can make it extremely difficult for even those close to us to be able to relate, acknowledge, understand and empathise with our individual daily battles with illness. It can be hard for people to relate when something isn’t always apparent or visual. However just because you are unable to see it does not mean it is not there, it’s very real.

 
It is estimated that 69% of those with invisible illnesses were told their symptoms were down to anxiety or not even believed, before eventual diagnosis. Many people with invisible illnesses have spent years being disbelieved, poor treatment and care so you can see how the words of others can have such a significant impact on their wellbeing.

 
Over the years, I became somewhat a master of hiding behind my pain. I did not have a name for all the symptoms I was enduring, I could tell at times certain people doubted the validity of my symptoms and suffering. It was somewhat easier to hide behind a smile than attempt to explain just how unwell I was feeling when overall physically, I looked fine. I even took this stance often with certain doctors or consultants as I felt their willingness to help was not there, they could not find the cause of my problems therefore to them they did not exist or exist in the capacity I presented to them.

 
Since my diagnosis’s my attitude has changed to a certain extent, I am much more open about how I feel both physically and emotionally, I no longer actively hide my symptoms behind a smile, I choose too at times. Validation of a diagnosis can help enormously in the ‘believing’ stakes but not necessarily in the ‘understanding’ stakes. Living with a chronic illness is unpredictable, literally not knowing what is coming hour by hour, even minute by minute. It is a hard task constantly adjusting to this unpredictability. What we can do one day we may not be able to do the next day or even again that same day which those without illness can, not always, but can find hard to comprehend. If we have one activity that day (usually hospital) everything pivots around that. We could be seen out ‘looking well’ but it’s not seen that to enable us to make that outing we had to stay in bed until it was time to leave, we couldn’t possibly wash our hair too and afterwards when we get to our homes we crumble with pain and symptoms, all behind closed doors. When you’re seen out, it’s just a snippet, a snap shot, a moment, not your actual reality.

 

In life, we only see what we want to see and only let people see what you want them to see. We often live our lives through many different faces and smiles that may not necessarily reflect how we are feeling. That good old British stiff upper lip!!!

I am ‘a smiler’ it’s my way of coping, almost like my default mode. I don’t want the conditions to define me, I want to hold onto as much of ‘Ali’ as I can. I will often feel terrible but put my make-up on and some nice clothes just to sit in my house for a feeling of normality and to break up the horrendous ‘my heads falling off hobo look’ of late!! I may take a ‘selfie’, I may post on social media, you may see me smiling however don’t be fooled by the smile, it does not mean I am healthy and miraculously cured. It means I am happy in that moment or I am trying my best.

 
It’s strange that we all, myself included on the most part relate more to the visuals in life. Some days my condition can be very visual, will I let you see that? On the most part, no. I’m not ashamed of my illnesses but I still feel uncomfortable allowing people to see me look so sick, on these days, moments, weeks, I will stay in. I could be in numerous braces to steady my joints after dislocating, my neck brace on, using my walking stick or wheel chair, underneath the make-up looking like I’ve done 12 rounds with Mike Tyson with black eyes from brainstem compression, black and blue with bruises, resembling a real-life mummy wrapped in KT tape and on those days, I find I don’t actively talk about my symptoms as much because they are VISIBLE, often speaking for themselves. Does this mean the days I am not in a wrist brace, means I am pain free? If only, the pains in my wrist are constant it just means on the day I’ve worn the brace the bones have disconnected and its dislocated so I need to rest to it.

 
I would say for anyone living with chronic illness, whether invisible or not to go easy on yourselves. Do not feel you need to justify your pain or your symptoms. What you are experiencing is real. People will never fully understand, even people with the same conditions as you, as we all experience pain differently, we all have different symptoms and coping mechanisms. Our lives are already filled with challenges, we may also be in pain from a life un-lived or lived how we had not imagined so be kind to yourselves always.

 

It may at times be invisible but that does not mean it’s not there. See into the invisibility and help make our invisible, visible.

 

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Where have I gone?

Cushions strategically placed; under my knees, two behind my back, one around my neck, one either side of my shoulders and one under each arm, finally after looking like something from a Bensons for beds advert I’m ready to start blogging from my bed. Five minutes in I must stop, my shoulder feels like its hanging by a thread, wrist throbbing, head pounding and eyes stinging. Frustrated I reluctantly place my laptop to one side, resigning myself to the fact my body will not play ball. I quietly tell myself those 4 words that have become somewhat regular in my vocabulary “I’ll try again later”.

 
Imagine starting each day with a certain number of spoons, sound strange? The spoons are a metaphor, they are a measurement used to track how much energy you have throughout the day. Each activity requires a certain number of spoons which can only be replaced when you recharge until the next spoon becomes available, this could be minutes, hours, even days. Bear in mind you don’t have an unlimited supply of spoons like a healthy person, you’re very much rationed on the said spoons. You don’t have an unlimited amount of possibilities or energy, you are unable to do activities without effects and consequences. You have constant choices to make and consciously have to think about things the majority don’t. Spoons are used for the most mundane of activities such as taking a shower, drying your hair, getting down the stairs and even being upright. You can see how rapidly your spoons are consumed within the first hour of the day. Frustration builds as you have run out of spoons, you’re stuck in bed, waiting for the next spoon to arrive so you can load the dishwasher. Suddenly every aspect of your life is a challenge. Everything that was once simple, not even entering on your radar becomes a task, difficult, hard work……. a spoon taken. Every tiny aspect of your life must be thought out and planned, for every action no matter how small there is a consequence. Living your life with a limited and unpredictable amount of spoons each day isn’t easy. There is always a block you have to navigate whether it be adapting an activity as simple as taking a shower, allowing someone to help you or simply having to wait until the block decreases in size and you can just about clamber over it. You can imagine with the number of spoons used up on what were once, easy everyday tasks that there isn’t too many left for doing the things you love, the things that make you, you.

 
Over the years my ability to live a ‘normal’ life was fading yet I didn’t know why. The same flakey response “I’ll have to see how I am” when asked to do something. I found myself constantly having to justify my symptoms and just why I had to see how I was. I didn’t have a name for my symptoms but I knew the ability to commit to anything had gone. I had no control over my body from one day to another. I felt sitting on the fence with the above flakey answer was far better than 100% committing only to let people down or outright say no as on the contrary, I didn’t want to miss out. If I managed to make said plan, military planning would ensue “I can’t come for the meal but I’ll meet you after, I can’t drink either but I’ll have a brew”, “I won’t come for the meal but I’ll meet you at the cinema”, everything had to be altered in some way to enable me to make it. Boy did I then suffer for days after, I knew it wasn’t normal to be so sick, exhausted, pain so high from sitting in the cinema or going to bed at 12pm , nothing majorly taxing for someone in their late 20’s\early 30’s. Weddings and Christenings would be hard as they were long days, I often sat at the table as people were tucking into the wedding breakfast whilst I handed my food over to Nick (he loved it) filled with paranoia that people were watching me and wondering why I wasn’t eating. Fearful people thought I was being rude and shunning the gorgeous food before me, feeling awkward as to where to put my face whilst everyone was tucking into their food like normal people. I would then slip off to the car or hotel room if we were staying over and tuck into a light gluten free snack and having to wait a while for the pain to die down. Everything was hard work, I was so scared people thought I was being fussy and awkward that when an invitation came in a sort of dread and anxiety came over me. I found it difficult because before I got ‘really’ unwell 7 plus years ago I would eat anything, attend the opening of an envelope as I didn’t want to miss out, loved a glass of red, would do anything for anyone and would well and truly go with the flow. I had experienced that life, that fun, those happy times and now they were becoming few and far between. I missed so many outings, weekends away, holidays, gigs, meals out, everything social that brought people together was passing me by, my only connection through looking at the pictures on social media. I would often cry, get angry and bitter that I had missed yet another event. I began to feel like a spectator of life, it was lonely.

 
In recent years as my capabilities have diminished further It feels like I am watching myself go further into the distance, out of reach. Each day my world gets smaller, I don’t recognise myself. Im a million miles away from who I once was. I feel lost.

 
What makes us who we are? Apart from the obvious genetics and without getting too deep into psychology. What are some of the building blocks and fundamentals that help form our individual personalities? Hobbies- the things we like to do in our spare time often to relax, break a tough week at work up and the things we take enjoyment from. This might be going for a few pints with friends, painting, photography, running, swimming, going to Old Trafford (of course) to watch the footy, spa weekends…. the list is endless. Our network of friends- chatting with them, socialising with them or discussing the latest episode of line of duty, our ability to function and communicate. Our jobs/careers- how they make us feel, a sense of purpose they may give us not to mention the wage to ensure you are independent and can take care of your needs. Our families, children, our individual looks, hair colour, fashion- whether you’re a jeans and t-shirt girl or a glam chick, it’s part of you. We all hold these various blocks in different regard, some are more important to us than others but essentially, they are a variety of blocks that make us who we are. Imagine those fundamental blocks being taken away from you one by one like a game of Jenga. Eventually and inevitably the tower you’ve spent your whole life working hard to build falls, the structures lost, this is no different to what it’s like for people living with a plethora of chronic illnesses, people like me.

 
I held my job in high regard, I worked hard and I was good at what I did. I felt very lucky that early on in life I knew what I wanted to do and that was to help vulnerable children and families. I had 14 glorious and at times trying years doing this in various capacities. It gave me great pride and a sense of achievement every single day, this was what I was meant to do. Being too unwell and losing my job was devastating. A devastation I kept very much to myself, there was so much going on with my health there wasn’t room or time for even more emotions then. At this point my world felt like it had crashed at speed, I’d lost everything I had worked for. I had grappled onto my job and worked through the most awful symptoms and tests the best I could for such a long time but I could no longer manage. For those that know me well, I do not give in or give up easily so when my hands are held up it really does mean the white flag is out, I surrendour. I cried for days, I felt I now had no purpose and no position in society. I loved my job and it was another thing robbed, at times I felt angry and bitter. The ‘why me’ and ‘it’s not fair’ came out a lot. I worried what people would think, I had never been without a job in my life, sometimes having three on the go, would people think I was lazy? A scrounger? Always being financially independent, being able to purchase what I wanted, within reason obviously (council wages aren’t huge) I suddenly found myself without money coming in, no monthly wage hitting my account. Although only money, when you’re used to having your own and taking care of yourself the truth is I felt degraded, I was indepenant and now suddenly my partner was having to take on full responsibility of our home, mortgage, bills and other outgoings, it felt rotten and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

 
Before the illness really took hold 7 plus years ago, I enjoyed going out for meals, drinking, partying, random weekends away on the spur of the moment, running and horse-riding. When I was at college my dad used to say ‘You’re burning the candle at both ends’ I’d race home from a 12-hour shift on a Saturday at Tesco to be greeted by a big pizza and a bath run curtesy of my fabulous Mum. It was like challenge Anika, I Would have a 45-minute turnaround to get said pizza consumed, bath, hair done and makeup on before I met the girls at the Hare and Hounds or ‘the dogs’ as it was nicknamed, It wasn’t a normal week without going there at least three times!! As the years passed and these activities became harder to undertake I sort of ‘trouble shooted’ what I could do from home to keep myself occupied. I began crafting and I loved It, it was relaxing, it took me into a little world away from my symptoms. I made items for people and people were very complementary. As time went on I found I had to change the craft projects, they evolved along with my symptoms. My head and neck became so painful that knitting and button pictures were out, next to be struck off was my sewing machine, painting and drawing. The final craft I tried was candle making until my shoulder continued to buckle and tremors too great to carry and pour hot wax. I valued my nice kitchen and my skin!!! All the crafts I did through pain from the start, but there are levels of pain and when the pain was too great I knew it was time to hang up my needle and thread. I had tried to create a positive from being unable to go out and now I was unable to even do this. “I may as well just sit in bed and not move, I can’t do anything”. Angry, upset and defeated. Everything had been taken away, everything.

 
Socialising with friends out of the house was out, my days taken up with hospital appointments and pain that demanded to be heard my only option was to have friends round. Even now I have to cancel as the symptoms are all too great, flakey Ali again. Letting my friends see me behind closed doors was hard at first, I felt embarrassed, they never made me feel this way, this was my problem. I could no longer go the hairdressers, Nick became the new Nicky Clarke, often too poorly to wash my hair and put my nice clothes on I resembled Worzel Gummidge!! I’d lie flat and talk with friends, catching up on their life and them on mine. My voice echoes in my head when I talk so it’s not easy having a conversation and because at present my hearing is disturbed from the compression I can either shout or whisper unbeknown to me!!!

 
Just from the limited examples above I hope they can give you an insight into just how it feels when those building blocks are taken, the fundamentals of you gone. You feel a great sense of loss. I look over old photographs with mixed emotions, I cry at the thought of not being able to do that, dress like that ,look like that and at the same time look on them with happiness that I did actually get those chances, as many don’t. It’s a sort of grief, have I come to terms with this? Absolutely not. I would be lying if I said otherwise. I always wanted this blog to be a true reflection of my journey and that includes the good, the bad and the ugly. I still feel angry, frustrated, sad, an actual empty pain in my heart and even jealous at times, I don’t think I’d be normal if I didn’t think and feel those things but at the same time I have hope. I have to believe I will get a better quality of life back, I have to hold on tight to that hope everyday as without it I may as well give up now. Do I feel like giving up? Of course, “I can’t carry on like this”, “I can’t do this anymore its cruel” however I have not been brought up to give up. No matter how hard this journey, I will continue to pick myself back up and get back on the path. I always refer to one of my favourite quotes “I don’t know how my story will end, but nowhere ever in my text will it say ‘I gave up’” I have too much I want to do with my life, too many hopes and dreams.

 
Although my body is unable to keep up with my minds desires, I still have hopes and dreams like anyone else. I’d say they have changed over the course of two years and become what you’d class as a bit ‘none grande’ instead of my lifelong dream of going to the Seychelles and staying in one of those beach huts on stilts, I now dream of the day I can get out far enough to Saint Anne’s Beach and feel the sand under my feet, granted I may step on a shard of glass from a bottle of Becks!! but that is the hope right now. My current dreams are more realistic in order not to set myself up to fail, for further disappointment. I have a little bucket list going and each week something else is added. I take myself off there in my mind and imagine what it will be like and hopefully one day that image will become reality.

 
When faced with so many challenges your priorities change, as cliché as this sounds you realise just what’s important in life. It’s not possessions, houses or holidays it’s the people who truly stick by your side in your time of need. I am very fortunate to have the best family, my parents, brother, sister in law, my partner Nick, his parents and sisters would do anything for me. They understand the conditions, my limitations and constantly support me, as do a very close network of friends. When you take away the shell its who’s inside and who stays that really matters.

 
This isn’t how I planned my life to go, this definitely wasn’t a destination I placed a pin on my map to visit but it’s where I am. None of us in life know what’s around the corner, life isn’t fair at times and life can be cruel. I’d say it’s how you take on what’s placed upon you, how you tackle it, fight through it and more than anything have hope and believe a better day will come.

The POWER of people

I sat in disbelief, faced with the daunting prospect of fundraising, I could not fathom what was happening both with my body and the fact the surgery was not undertaken in the UK. We had at the least £55k to raise to make this possible, whilst my condition continued to decline. The mountain that I was already trying to clamber, suddenly became much steeper.
On the evening of 27thOctober 2016 myself and Nick opened the crowd funding page. Sat at home we thought of the name ‘Ali’s fight for fusion’, we worked together on writing the information for the page. We initially found this quite a challenge, there was such a long history regarding my health and what brought us to having to fundraise that condensing it seemed impossible. Emotions were high as we went through everything, many hours later we had finished. We read it repeatedly, it was imperative the seriousness of the situation came across along with a brief history of what brought us to this point. I had such a sense of unease, very weepy knowing in the next few minutes this page would go live and be out in the public domain. On the whole I am quite a private person, this wasn’t just going out to my friends list on social media this was a public page, open to all. I suddenly felt very vulnerable, unsure of how the page would be received, worried what people would think of me and the true extent of my health issues out there forever. At the same I was determined to fight for my life, a better life and to raise as much awareness as possible of these rare conditions.
Enter…the page went live. I remember walking to the kitchen with my cup of tea, sitting at the table staring into space. It felt surreal, never did I imagine I would be in this situation. This is something you read about and donate too, not something that happens to you. All the charity runs I had participated in over the years, raising money for causes close to my heart and now the tables were turned. Nick called me into the room, gave me a cuddle and told me to look as he turned the computer screen towards me. Within minutes the page had been shared countless times, donations and messages of support came flooding in. Tears rolled down my face as I began to read the heartfelt words from people.
So many people came forward with the most amazing fundraising ideas, messages of support and continually shared the page on social media thus spreading the word further afield. I was taken aback by the response from friends, old school friends, past work colleagues to people I had never even crossed paths with in my life.
Within the week media were contacting Nick asking if they could cover the story. I didn’t like the thought of being in the paper but knew it was essential to spread the word and raise awareness. Nick had to give me many’ little talks’ of encouragement along the way, amazing chappy. Nick spoke with a journalist from our local newspaper which was the first article to go to print followed by journalists from other papers. Within a matter of 10 days the story had made 3 local newspapers and national news online. It felt very strange seeing my face in the newspaper and reading each article, again like I was reading about someone else. No matter how hard I tried I just could not get it to sink in.
The week we returned home from the consultation in Barcelona a reporter and cameraman from Granada came to the house to interview myself and Nick. I was exhausted from the trip; my symptoms were out of control. I had to dig deep as to get some coverage on regional news could really help the fundraising and awareness. I was grateful for the opportunity. Both the reporter and cameraman were lovely, they instantly made me feel more at ease by saying they were just going to informally chat with us about the condition and fundraising. The cameraman had set up, I remember him struggling with the glare coming off my glasses, he had asked if I could take them off for the interview “I can but I’ll be talking to the wall, I can’t even see the reporter sitting right next me” I said, we all had a giggle and decided the specs were to stay firmly on!! We chatted for well over two hours as the reporter made notes and asked questions, sometimes he asked the question a few times as I was nervous and my voice a bit wobbly. I went through everything that had led us up to having to fundraise, knowing full well 95% of the content would not be included as this was going to be a very short segment. Throughout the time, I thought the reporter was gathering information and getting me used to talking with less nerves however to my amazement when I thought the ‘practice’ was over and we would do the interview I was told we were finished. They explained they will cut/edit and piece an item together when back at the studio in the hope it would be aired that evening. Sure enough it was aired that night and cut short due to the football, absolutely fine by me I thought as I could not bring myself to watch it. I sat with Nick on the sofa whilst he watched it and I covered my eyes, not many people like to see themselves on TV. Within minutes the segment had been shared on social media by many people, still having not watched it I found myself in tears again. It felt very surreal, I took myself off for a little cry and had ‘words’ with myself. I told myself to toughen up a bit that the story was out and people were helping and wanting to help, this was positive. On reflection, I think my issues were more with the fact I am such a proud person and having spent years hiding so many symptoms that suddenly I was in the public domain with an unmissable neck brace on, looking quite thin and the true extent of my health issues finally out there, it made me feel quite exposed and now I couldn’t run away from what was happening.
Over the weeks and months countless people came forward organising fabulous events. Never did we envisage the level of support that we received. Friends, family and people I had never even met generously gave their time, effort and love to host various successful fundraisers. Everyone was mucking in and helping in any way they could. It was very emotional for us to see first-hand the lengths people were going too to help and I can assure you many a tear was shed over the fundraising period, I was so overwhelmed and taken a back. Although I could not attend the majority of events due to my health I took great joy looking at the pictures when they came in of people having fun, giggling, munching on cake, having a drink and a good chat, zombie walks, teachers being pied by students, people cycling, swimming, playing football, walking in gale force winds on Blackpool front, auctions, collecting in the community, beard shaves…the list is endless. More than anything, I loved the fact it was bringing people together.
I will never forget the day I was on route to the hospital, stopping for some water at the shop when a dear lady came over to me and placed £20 in my hand saying she had seen the story on the news but didn’t know how to donate online. I told her I could not accept the money but thanked her so much. The £20 note was passed between us for a few minutes to the point we both started laughing and the shop assistant said he would settle it by taking it himself. I gratefully took the kind donation and gave the lady a big hug thanking her from the bottom of my heart for being so kind and thoughtful. We had a little chat together before I had to make my way to the hospital.
Over the month’s cards would arrive through the post, sent from my local newspaper office where people had gone in with a donation as they did not have access to a computer. I was so touched that people had taken those lengths of making their way over to the office and handing in what were the loveliest cards with very moving words inside.
Donations continued to come in and I made sure I looked at each and every name and in my head gave a little thank you each time. So many names were unfamiliar, donations from total strangers that had read the story and taken the time to donate. It meant so very much.
In November, a shock anonymous donation of £10k came in, we could not believe our eyes. Initially we thought they must have entered too many zeros on entering the amount and were awaiting contact from the crowd funding site we had used to tell us it had been a mistake, no such call occurred. We sat in astonishment, again tears from many, this gave the fundraising such a boost. Around this time we thought we could actually make this target, we could do this. The newspapers took the anonymous donation story on and again it was shared around social media keeping up the momentum.
My family, Nicks family and friends went out into the community handing out collection boxes, posters and events posters. So many local businesses kindly agreed to have them in their shop, the staff were lovely often asking how I was doing and what else they could do to help. This was amazing, not only increasing donations but also raising much needed awareness.
Awareness….one of my main aims. As the fundraising went on I found myself receiving more and more messages on social media from either people with EDS wanting to connect and chat which was fantastic to quite a few parents contacting me with concerns about their children’s EDS or suspected EDS. I would respond with advice to the best of my knowledge and sign post them to EDS savvy consultants around the country to try and save them some time on the merry go round. More and more people were talking about EDS and sharing articles on social media. This meant an awful lot to me as EDS can be a very invisible condition, yet extremely wide spread and cruel, the fact people were coming across articles and recognising those three letters meant awareness was actively taking place.
Having to fundraise is such a daunting prospect, you worry you won’t make the target, you worry what people will think of you, you feel exposed and vulnerable, stressed you can’t help more and get involved, sometimes even feeling guilty. However, as time went on it became apparent that nothing but positivity came from our fundraising experience. As I got used to the fact my health conditions were now out for all to see and read about, I realised I have nothing to be ashamed of, I have not asked for these cards to be dealt and I’m trying to play them to the best of my ability. A weight felt lifted from my shoulders, all those years of hiding symptoms and pretending to be normal it was a fulltime job in itself, that could now stop. The real driving force behind the change in my thinking came from the way people came forward with heartfelt messages of love, fundraising ideas and donations. I don’t think I will ever be able to articulate just what that has and does mean to me. It has been the driving force in keeping me looking and moving forward, never underestimate the power of human kindness because for me it has been a magical medicine on those days I feel I can’t do another minute with the pain.

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As I write this post we have reached £65k and far exceeded our initial target. We are so grateful for this as a few months back we were told our crowd funding site take 8% from each donation and with insurance to purchase and after care the extra money raised will go towards that.
We have been very fortunate along the fundraising journey that an abundance of people came forward to donate, fundraise and offer there unconditional love and support, it is something we will never forget. I am quite a sentimental girl at heart and have started to make a scrapbook documenting the fundraising journey to be able to look back on all the amazing people who supported us.
Nick has put together a short montage of some of the fundraising events that took place over the 6 months, we hope you enjoy watching as much as us. A lovely reminder of the generosity of many.