The Scleroderma Chronicles: Invisible (Star) Wars

I’m a big fan of the movie Star Wars. Seriously. I remember the first time that I saw this movie; we stood in line for hours, laughed at the droids, were amazed by the special effects, wished we had the Force, held our breath as the tension at the end of the movie mounted, and cheered wildly when the Death Star blew up. Over the next year we watched the movie 13 times in the theater, memorized the sound tract, and to this day I hear snippets of dialogue echoing in my mind…

Star WarsLike this line said by the droid C-3PO to his buddy R2-D2 as they escaped from their badly damaged and captured ship to carry out a secret mission as directed by Princess Leia:  “That’s funny, the damage doesn’t look that bad from out here.”

Author
Bundled up in wool and staying warm. You can’t see my stage 3 kidney disease, interstitial lung disease, struggling gastric and intestinal organs, burning muscles, painful joints, brain fog, and my truly astonishing fatigue.

That’s me. Badly damaged on the inside, not that bad on the outside.  The curse of all people who have an invisible illness. People often say, when they learn about my illness, something along the lines of… “Well, you look great!” It’s nice to hear, but it also suggests that I’m not really that sick.  I can’t help but feel that they think that I am an attention-seeking hypochondriac. Sigh.

Raynaud's
You have to admit, the visible symptoms are really subtle. It can be as little as lost circulation in a finger: Raynaud’s phenomenon. What can’t be seen is that I’m also experiencing circulation loss in my lungs, kidneys, brain and other organs.
Edema on arm.
A poor dietary decision can hit me hard: dizziness, muscle pain and edema in my arms. I ate cheese enchiladas at my favorite restaurant this time.

It is amazing, really. How can the damage not look that bad from out here? I struggle for air. I often lack the energy to get through basic tasks. Pain stalks me waiting for a poor decision on my part that will give it an opening.  An incoming weather front pushes me over a cliff. Holidays can be the worst as I struggle to manage my energy resources, diet and exposure to cold. I can get through the Christmas dinner okay, but the next two days are spent in bed sleeping myself back to functionality.

And yet, I’m starting the New Year feeling pretty darn chipper, well… as chipper as you can after a 12 hour nap and a strong latte to launch myself into motion. See, I can get back to functionality. I’m on great drugs and I have wonderful doctors. My latest round of medical testing shows that I am tolerating my drugs well, and my disease progression has virtually ground to a halt. I am making some gains. I spend a lot of time managing my symptoms and hoarding energy resources, but I am not getting worse. Some really scary words on my chart have gone away over the last year: chronic respiratory failure, pulmonary arterial hypertension, and severe kidney disease are no longer there. I have wonderful friends and supportive family members. I am still independent and can get out to social events.

MacKenzie the cat.
I have the world’s bossiest cat to tend to me…
Rose.
and my indoor roses are blooming.

The rose bush is also struggling and covered with mildew. Sigh. It’s like a metaphor for my life. Bloom where you can, and pretend that all this other damage isn’t happening over there… Jedi mind tricks can be useful when dealing with implacable enemies like scleroderma and mildew.

Use the Force! I hear in my mind. If you know the movie Star Wars and the other movies in the series, it is a tale of heroic underdogs battling against great and evil foes, desperate times, hope and change.

I don’t have a light saber, but I have knitting needles.

I don’t have the Force (an invisible energy field created by all living things), but I have an online and real network of people and other living things that connect to me and support me. I have science and time on my side: new drugs are on the way and some of them are in new rounds of clinical trials. Remember the movie poster? A New Hope. Yep. Every year brings me a new edition of hope.

My illness is mostly invisible. The battle is real. Bring it on, 2019, I am ready for you!

Cat

Footnote: Perhaps you are wondering… whatever does she have? I was diagnosed with Limited Systemic Sclerosis and Sjogren’s Syndrome in 2014, and those two conditions carry with them a host of complicating conditions such as Raynaud’s, colitis, gastroparesis, interstitial lung disease, kidney disease, heart disease, oh my lord, and a partridge in a pear tree. In 2016 I was referred to palliative care and told to make final plans; Myfortic (CellCept) saved the day and I was discharged from palliative care a few months later. In 2018 my rheumatologist added fibromyalgia to the list and there is an ongoing discussion about dermatomyositis. Why do these autoimmune diseases throw parties and invite all of their friends?  It’s like the bar at Mos Eisley Spaceport with all the strange aliens.  As Obi-Wan tells Luke, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” I don’t have a blaster, but I think that in this case the drug Myfortic will do the job!