April Updates: Sjogren’s Syndrome and ANOTHER Fade

Hi. If you’ve been following my blog for very long you already know that I am an out-of-control knitter owned by a self-absorbed and bossy cat named MacKenzie. You have probably detected that I am a science-oriented geek, an obsessive reader, and a casual gardener who loves her roses. You may have also realized that I have some serious and chronic health problems that I am trying to keep from taking over my life. I’ve been pretty up-front about the more serious of my autoimmune duo, systemic sclerosis (scleroderma), but I hardly ever mention the lesser of the two, Sjogren’s Syndrome. After all, since the diagnosis came in, all of my doctors (I have a six-pack of docs…) tend to focus on the scleroderma, so I almost forget that I also have Sjogren’s.

Except for this: of the two autoimmune conditions, it is the Sjogren’s that has pretty much taken over my life in spite of my efforts to keep control. Since April is Sjogren’s Awareness Month, I decided that I would share with all of you some information about this disease and how it has impacted me.

But first, the Fade!! I’m cranking out another Find Your Fade shawl that I hope to get done before the end of the month. Look at these colors! Look at how great this shawl is going to be! Color me happy! My Ravelry project notes are here.

Shawl
I’ve just started the 4th color and I can’t stop knitting because of the happy turquoise color. Must keep knitting. The 5th color will be even more wild!
Yarns for a shawl
See what I’m talking about? The color sequence for the shawl moves from right to left in the picture, and the next color will be that Hedgehog Fibres yarn. Then there will be that electric violet. Woohoo!

The weather has been nice this week so the cats have moved outside to bug hunt and I have moved into major knitting and house cleaning mode. OK, there has been more knitting. It’s important to have priorities…

Back to the Sjogren’s Syndrome. I know that you are just dying to know more about this little know and hard to spell disease. Sjogren’s isn’t as rare a disease as my bad-boy scleroderma (about 4 million Americans have it), and it isn’t usually life-threatening, but it is still serious and exceptionally life altering. Check out this symptom chart. This is one crazy-ass autoimmune disease; basically my immune system is attacking all of my moisture producing cells. That doesn’t sound all that bad, does it? As it turns out, the impact of this damage affects an awful lot of my body’s ability to function properly, and for this reason Sjogren’s is considered to be a systemic condition. Its most obvious feature is extreme dryness. Let’s take a little walk around my house as I explain this to you.

Lotions
Even I was shocked to realize how many types of lotion I have on my bedside table. There are 11 types of lotion here, and another couple of lotion bars in the drawer. I also have lubricant eye drops that I put in at least twice a day. I absolutely have to stay up on the eye drops every day or I develop cloudy vision. See, dryness. Dry skin, dry eyes. 
Bathroom
Dry mouth too. I never knew this before, but your saliva is necessary to fight bacteria in the mouth; without it things get out of control quickly.  I was producing no saliva when first diagnosed and I did have lots of dental issues. Things are better now, but I have to be very careful to keep my teeth as clean as possible, and I use the rinse nightly to help protect my teeth.
Sunglasses
The struggle to protect my eyes and skin continues every time I leave the house. I need lip balm and sunscreen before I go out, and sunglasses are a must since my eyes are really sensitive to sunlight. Because my mouth is so dry I don’t move anywhere without some type of fluid to drink. It’s such an issue for me I usually keep a case of ice tea in the car so I won’t ever run out. See the cute fingerless mitts? Sjogren’s causes Raynaud’s  (which I have) so I need to keep my hands and fingers warm at all times. If you think I’m crazy about managing fluids you should see how many pairs of fingerless mitts and gloves are riding around with me in the car with that case of ice tea…
Steamer with hot pack
Combating dryness makes sense, but there are lots of other annoying symptoms that I’m dealing with too. My joints and muscles hurt all of the time. I start every morning with chemical hot packs on my knees and leg muscles. I recharge them in this steamer each evening so that I’ll be ready to use them as soon as I wake up. This is my routine: make a morning latte, and then go back to bed with the hot packs and coffee.  Usually there is a cat added. Cats love hot packs!
Inhaler
My Sjogren’s antibodies also cause small airway disease (asthma). I notice blue lips quite often these days, and I have to monitor my blood oxygen levels and use the inhaler if my levels get too low; I’m trying hard to stay off oxygen. Darn. Just another couple of items I need to fit into my knitting bag.
Blender
and then there are my gastrointestinal issues. I developed gastroparesis this fall and now I am rocking a low fiber diet of easily digested foods. Check out my lunch. 

Now for the things that I couldn’t take picture of: fatigue, neuropathy, and concentration/memory problems. The fatigue that comes with Sjogren’s is not the usual “feeling tired” stuff. This is true crushing fatigue that makes me feel buzzy, numb and like I’m walking through concrete. The neuropathy means that I have feet/hands that are always falling asleep; more trouble walking. Then there is the memory stuff. When I’m in a flare all kind of crazy things can happen. I got lost on the freeway once; now I always use the GPS to give me driving directions. I have gone out to run an errand and then couldn’t remember where I was going. I have big problems with vocabulary recall, and I forget things like my phone number at the most embarrassing moments. I lose my ability to read because I can’t concentrate…

Good grief, I pretty much have my life arranged around my Sjogren’s needs. I thought that MacKenzie was running the show around here, but it looks like he needs to take a back seat to Sjogren’s.

Cat
MacKenzie: Not happening. I am the man!!

Which brings me to the good things for which I am grateful. Most people with scleroderma/Sjogren’s struggle with anxiety and/or depression. I do not. I think that I am so very lucky in my wonderful, supportive friends and my son. I am lucky to have good neighbors, health insurance, and a pension that meets all my needs. I am lucky to have cats that pile on and purr through all the sad times. I am lucky to have the immensely meditative and calming art of knitting to carry me through each and every flare of my disease.

Knit on, my friends. Knit on.

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