The Thrum Adventure

I started this year with a commitment to reduce the size of my stash and a fuzzy notion of attacking some knitting projects that I had never done before. I thought that I would like to learn how to do double knitting. Maybe some herringbone stitch. Definitely, thrummed mitts.

Mitts and cat.
It was cold this weekend so I worked steadily all day Sunday on the thrummed mitts and got them done. This is my son’s cat Daxter checking them out.

I was really motivated to knit some warmer mittens, and I’ve heard that thrummed mittens provide serious warmth. They just look so cool, they can felt and mold themselves to fit hands well, and then there is the insulation factor. My Raynaud’s has gotten worse over the last year and I have some concerns about digital ulcers. Nope. I don’t want one of those!! I need to be able to function in the cold without taking risks with my fingers.

Cat and roving.
My BKB Deb gave me this merino roving from Malibrigo. Perfect for thrummed mitts!

I found a promising pattern online, Warm Paws by Carol Ullmann, dug out some worsted weight yarn from the stash, and watched videos on YouTube to learn about knitting in thrums. Pretty straightforward, and the pattern gave excellent instructions too.

Loop of fiber.
The staple length of the merino in the roving was pretty long: 3″-4″. It was also pretty darn soft and lofty. I pulled off little strips about 6″ long and then folded them into loops.
Making a thrum.
Each loop was pinched in the middle to make a bow, and then twisted to hold it together. I quickly discovered that my thrums needed more handling to keep them from shedding on the mitten, so I added a little water to the center of the loop (where my fingers are gripping it) and then rubbed it briskly with a finger on the back of my hand or wrist to make the wool felt in the middle. Hey, I have scleroderma, and I can’t twist the loop between my fingers, but that would probably work for another person. 🙂
Thrums
The prepared thrums were pretty hardy once the middles were felted and I could make several ahead of time. In this shot you can see the felted middle in each thrum.
Inside of the mitt.
Once knitted into the mitt the loopy thrums stayed in place and behaved themselves.

The finished mitts are just fantastic and fit like a dream. I wore them as I drove home from my son’s last night in the cold and snow; my hands stayed warm and for the first time in a long while I didn’t have a Raynaud’s attack during the drive. I’m still researching battery operated warm mittens, but in the meantime these thrummed mitts are going to be a game changer for me. The way that merino felted so quickly I figure that I can just stuff more loops in to increase the insulation as needed. Here are my project notes.

So, how am I doing on my New Year’s resolutions? I can check thrummed knitting off my list, and with this project I have now removed 14 skeins of yarn from the stash. I’m pretty sure I will make the goal of reducing the stash by 50 skeins this year. Of course, not every project is quick to complete. Check out how I’m doing on the fabulous, colorful mitts (that would make a unicorn cry with envy…) that I’m making for my knitworthy niece…

Mitts
Those bobbles and braids are slowing me down, but look at how cool they are going to be!! Here are these project notes.

Happy knitting everyone, and I do hope that the weather is behaving for you.

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!

The Scleroderma Chronicles: The Fourth Year Report

Wow. It is hard to believe it, but it has been more than 4 years since my diagnosis: Limited systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) and Sjogren’s disease. Time just flies when you are having fun, right? Seriously, I have been reflecting for a few weeks about what to write to mark the end of the fourth year. Should I write about how strange a dichotomy scleroderma is: people tell me that I look good, but what they can’t see is how my entire life is organized around accommodating my illnesses. Maybe I should write about how I have developed a Zen-like patience as I hit each roadblock; why worry about things you can’t change when in the course of time all will become more clear? Maybe I should talk about growth. Personal growth in the face of a heartless disease as I came to terms with my own ability to become an active member of my treatment team and to assert myself in the face of medical experts.

Done! Personal growth it is!

Author wearing an hand knit shawl.
Even in the worst of times it is possible to create items of beauty that provide comfort and are therapeutic. I knit this shawl last spring while my doctors were determining if I had developed potentially fatal complications of systemic sclerosis: pulmonary hypertension or heart failure were the candidates. There was nothing to do but to knit on as I waited for test results.

When I was first diagnosed I really did go through a time of sadness and grief.  It just came in waves for me as I began to figure out that systemic sclerosis and Sjogren’s are both incurable and difficult to manage. Then I realized that they might be disabling. Then it finally dawned on me that they might be fatal.  To my horror I discovered that the 10-year survival rate was 60%. There would never, ever, be a “better”, I thought. The best I can hope for is becoming stable and maybe getting some softening of my skin.

The great unknowns of scleroderma really wore me down. Doctors kind of dodged my questions or referred me to another doctor on the team. I was afraid, and I didn’t want to make too much of a fuss because I was dependent on the medical specialists and I didn’t want to alienate them. I was struggling, weak, and truly a victim of my disease.

Flash forward 4 years. Things have changed. I began to keep a food log and journal and I worked out dietary changes that helped me. I participated in a self-management study, and I attended a couple of conferences. I remembered that I was trained to be a scientist, and I employed logic and reason in my scleroderma life. I spent a lot of time with Doctor Google and reading research papers at PubMed. I fired a rheumatologist, found another one, and convinced my primary care physician to meet with me regularly and to filter all the test results and doctors notes into a cohesive action plan. My care improved as I communicated better with my doctors and they developed a good sense of me and the other doctors on the team. My power over scleroderma grew as I faced down crisis after crisis. I may not conquer this disease, but by golly I will be brave and give it a good whacking!

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I have to get routine blood testing to make sure that I am tolerating the drugs that I’m on well. I went for the blood draw two weeks ago, and a couple of days later I got a phone call. There was a problem: a liver enzyme was suddenly elevated above normal ranges. I was told to head on over to urgent care to get checked out. I’m a compliant patient, so that is what I did. This is what happened when I met with the doctor in urgent care.

Doc: You’re fine. It’s just a bad test result.

Me: I have been experiencing worse (crushing) fatigue for the last two weeks as I’ve been fighting a cold and my muscle pain is pretty bad. I have been staying in bed two days recovering for every day up.

Doc: I think that we should put you on prednisone.

Me: I am very nervous about that. I’m already pretty immunosuppressed, and my pulmonologist has specifically told me to refuse steroids if I hit the ER.

Doc: Then we should start you on Cymbalta for the fibromyalgia pain.

Me: That is a drug that I’ve seen advertised that seems to have a lot of side effects. I just came through a rough patch because I was overmedicated this spring, and I’m nervous about adding another drug due to possible kidney or liver complications.

Doc: Can I at least offer you some antidepressants since you say you have trouble getting out of bed?

Me: I have fatigue not depression. It’s part of my illness.

Doc: Most chronically ill people have depression…

Me: Yep. I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression in the past. This isn’t depression.

Doc: But you will feel better.

Me: Hey, I’m not here seeking help with my illness this afternoon. I got sent here by rheumatology because of a high liver enzyme result, which you feel we should ignore, and I have chronic kidney disease. You want to prescribe a drug that will be cleared by one of those two organs? I’m not comfortable with any more medications without talking to my other doctors first. (I start edging towards the door to escape this frustrated pill pusher… maybe he just is excited to have a patient with a rare disease and wants to contribute, but I am out of here!)

Seriously, I do feel like I am living in a soap opera half the time that is being directed by my bossy cat. A soap opera staring yarn, of course!

Cat being petted.
But he is also a great source of comfort. Here he is hanging out while I was knitting the shawl that I’m wearing in my picture.

That little episode put me back into bed for another day, but I was strong, I felt informed about my illnesses, and I didn’t allow a strange doctor who was dismissive of test results to prescribe me new medications. I have grown. My thinking about what is acceptable medical care has crystalized, and I feel empowered. I will talk about these drugs with my current team, and there will be a consensus decision before I start anything new.

Over the weekend I decided to double my dose of krill oil and to eat a banana every single day. 10 days later I am over the cold, I feel much better, my muscle pain is almost gone, and it seems I am through the flare. Yippee!

So, four years into this ugly disease where am I at? I am stable! The drugs that I am on have greatly increased survival rates for systemic sclerosis patients. My skin has softened some and I have pretty good function. My Raynaud’s is well controlled. My lungs, heart and kidneys have improved and my hypertension has vanished. My GI tract continues to rule my life, but I have gotten better control with a careful diet. Fatigue and pain stalk me continually, but I was thrilled to hear this week that my eyes have also improved since my ophthalmologist started me on krill oil. Hug a krill, everyone!

I have grown, and I am stronger for it. There will be many more adventures and bumps along the scleroderma road, but I am good. My priorities have shifted, and my values have clarified. I value the small things,  have lost interest in making money, and budget my time ruthlessly. Scleroderma as a personal growth plan. Who knew?

Tomorrow I go in for the repeat blood tests to see if that enzyme is now back into normal ranges.

Whatever happens, I am good.

Science and the Scleroderma Girl: Supplements and Me

Let’s be honest: everyone with scleroderma wants to feel better. We trade info constantly, and almost everyone has a supplement that they have found is really helpful. It’s tempting to load up on everything at Vitamin Cottage that might be helpful, but you should know me (geeky science girl here!) by now… if it doesn’t have promising research studies to back up the claims, I’m going to pass it up.

Supplements
The big three! These are the ones that I have found are most helpful for me. Yellow Boy is a terrible model… he kept head butting the bottles and this is the only shot I got.

Tumeric (and Curcumin)

So many people have advised me to try turmeric. Cruising the internet I found lots of information from sites that are devoted to nutrition, health, or supplements, but I wanted to see hard data. Yep. Pretty darn easy to find. This controlled experiment found curcumin worked better than a traditional pain med following a dental procedure. Another study looked at migraine pain and the levels of two inflammatory markers (IL-6 and C-reactive protein); the result was that curcumin and omega-3 fatty acids did reduce inflammation. Wow. That sounds pretty promising. Finally, since one article I read suggested that curcumin could help with renal disease I hunted for that…this research showed that curcumin is beneficial for kidney disease. I scored myself some curcumin and I think that it is helping, but I have to be careful with my gastritis-prone stomach lining.

Vitamin D

“Under no circumstances are you to let the sun hit your skin!” directed my dermatologist. “Are you getting enough sun?” asked my rheumatologist. “You need the vitamin D and the natural kind you make in your skin is best…” Ugh. How am I supposed to figure out stuff like this? Because I keep a symptom journal I have discovered that sunshine makes me sick: rash, fatigue, pain. Sorry rheumatologist, the dermatologist wins this round. I started taking the vitamin D supplement not long after I was diagnosed and noticed that it helped me with depression. Who knew? My internist monitors my vitamin D levels to make sure that my current supplement is enough.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish or Krill Oil)

I was really late to come to this party. Struggling with an out-of-control Sjogren’s flare last winter my ophthalmologist suggested that I take fish oil to improve my tear production. Okay, my tears are just horrible. Not only do I barely produce any tears, but what I have flash evaporates right off my eyeballs lickity-split. I didn’t even bother to check the internet before I gulped down some fish oil tablets from the grocery store. Wow!! The next morning I woke up to eyes that didn’t hurt. Then I noticed that my neuropathy was better.  Oh, yeah. There was that one study that said that omega-3 oils helped with migraines, and my ophthalmologist mentioned that he took it for tinnitus… It gets even better: it helps reduce blood clots too! Every time I end up in the ER they go on a blood clot hunt… this is probably a good supplement to add to my diet, huh. It also helps with Raynaud’s, but the effect was seen with people with primary Raynaud’s. Hey, it was a small study. I’m taking the krill oil anyway!

Tart Cherry
Another unhappy cat model… Okay, he is unhappy because he loves me and he knows that this tart cherry really did a number on me. Bad tart cherry, bad!!

Tart Cherry

Things were really bad for me last spring. I had brain fog and dizziness that left me afraid to drive. The fatigue was unreal and everything hurt. My BKB Deb advised me to try tart cherry. Off to the internet I went. Oh. It is a real thing. I found this article, and this one, and one showing memory improvement in rats. Since I was miserable and couldn’t remember what a memory was, I took tart cherry out for a spin. Woohoo! I woke up the next morning feeling *normal*. I had energy, and the brain fog was gone. In the days and weeks to come I continued to feel pretty darn good until… the kidney function tests came in. My kidney function dropped 15% in just 6 short weeks and the tart cherry fun came to a screeching halt. The notation “chronic kidney disease” was added to my chart and that was the end of that. I stopped the tart cherry, accepted feeling like road kill every morning, and my kidney function crawled back up to a higher score. Whew! Talk about dodging a bullet!

There is a lesson here. Take the supplements that your doctors suggest. Check out other supplements before you start taking them, and let your doctors know before you start. I talked over the tart cherry with my internist and rheumatologist before I started, and they caught the kidney function drop pretty quickly because I was going for bloodwork every month. Just because I ran into trouble doesn’t mean that you will. Keep a symptom/food log and monitor like crazy. If your doctors know what you’re up to they can order testing just like mine did. Saved by the blood test!

Knitting
Oh yeah. I also do a daily supplement of knitting. 🙂

If anyone has another great supplement I should check out, let me know!

Happy Thanksgiving: Arm Warmer Mitts Pattern

All week I’ve been getting ready for the holiday tomorrow. The turkey is in the fridge (and at exactly 2pm tomorrow afternoon he will slide into the oven!), the pies are on the counter, and the rest of the fixings are patiently resting in the fridge. All the cleaning is done except for the last minute vacuuming (hello… cats!), and even the stash has become organized. Through all of this I have also been churning out long mitts that are also arm warmers. It’s cold now. I need arm warmers!!

Hand in MItt.
Look at how cute these are! This yarn, Western Sky Knits Magnolia Sock, is 10% cashmere. Yum!!

I have Raynaud’s syndrome; when I get cold I lose circulation to my hands, feet and even my face. It can happen really quickly, too. Look at what happened to me while shopping in the produce section of the grocery store last night!

Raynauds
I was picking out fruit and salad from the refrigerated cases when I realized I was cold and my hands were numb. Yep. Raynaud’s attack. I finished my shopping with the sleeves from my hoodie pulled down over my hands.

During the winter I cope by wearing lots of simple layers that can be easily adjusted to adapt to changing conditions. Since I’m a knitter I have lots of socks, hand warmers, and shawls that I can layer on with reckless abandon. Seriously, I’m a walking knitwear advertisement in cold weather. I’m thinking about leg warmers for under my jeans and for my arms… arm warmers!!

The perfect product would be simple arm warmers that could be pulled down over my hands and fingers if I need it (so I put in a slit for my thumb), but could also be worn pulled up my arms to keep my hands free for household tasks like when I’m working with water or cooking (with cold things from the fridge). The warmers also needed to be long enough to pull up my arm, but should also be able to just bunch around my wrist. Snug enough to slide under sweaters, but loose enough to slip over gloves. Multi-purpose warmness. Take that, winter!

So here there are. I’ve made three pairs so far and I have another pair on the needles. I am just rocking these guys.

Arm Warmer Mitts
The yarn with color stripes is Chasing Rabbits Fern yarn. The fern is a little thinner than the Magnolia sock, so those warmers hug my arms better. The cashmere ones are just wonderful to wear while reading (and knitting) in bed. I love these mitts!! My Ravelry project notes are here.

As you can see, I have many things to be thankful for. My hands aren’t great (thanks, scleroderma), but they work for knitting, and because I knit I’m in better shape than most other patients with my condition. I have Raynaud’s, but because I knit I am able to create product that help me beat it into submission. I am knitting in a time of absolutely fabulous Indy dyed yarns that make me happy with every single stitch. The fabulous colors in the yarn mean that even a simple stockinette item looks great. I am thankful. Very, very thankful.

Hey, maybe you would like some mitts too! Here’s the pattern.

Arm Warmer Mitts

Needles: size 1 (2.25 mm) double point or cable needles. I used 2 16″ cable needles and split the stitches between them. Adjust my directions to fit your needle choice.

Yarn: Fingering or sock yarn. These mitts each took about 250 yards.

Right Hand:
1. CO 72 stitches using Old Norwegian CO or any other CO that you are fond of. It needs to be a little stretchy. Join in the round with 36 stitches on each of 2 16″ circular needles. Mark the start of the round.
2. Complete K1P1 ribbing for 12 rounds.
3. Knit rounds in stockinette until mitt length is 4.5 inches from the CO.
4. Decrease: K5, K2tog, PM, K1, SSK, K rest of the round. (70 stitches)
5. K rounds for another 1.5 inches.
6. Decrease: Knit until 2 stitches before mark, K2tog, SM, K1, SSK, K rest of the round. (68 stitches)
7. K rounds for another 1.5 inches.
8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 once, and then step 6 once more. (64 stitches)
9. Thumb opening: turn the work at the end of the round and purl back on the WS to the start of the round. (remove the mark when you come to it). Turn the work again and knit the RS to the start of the round. Continue turning the work and working rows in stockinette (purl on the WS, knit on the RS) until the thumb gap is 2.0 – 2.5 inches long; check fit on your hand and knit until you like the size of the gap. End with a RS row.
10. Return to knitting rounds. Knit one round, closing the gap for the thumb.
11. Complete K1P1 ribbing for 11 rounds.
12. CO in K1P1 pattern making sure it won’t be too tight around your fingers when worn.

Left Hand:
Complete steps 1-3 as for right hand.
4. Decrease: K 62 stitches (10 stitches left in the round) K2tog, PM, K1, SSK, K to end. (70 inches)
5. K rounds for another 1.5 inches.
6. Decrease: K until 2 stitches before the mark, K2tog, SM, K1, SSK, K to end of round.
7. K rounds for another 1.5 inches.
8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 once, and then step 6 once more. (64 stitches)
9-12. Same as for the right hand.

Weave in the ends. Add buttons or other embellishments to mark the tops of the mitts if you wish.

Mitts
The finished mitts are 12 inches long, 4.5 inches wide at the top and 3.75 inches wide at the lower (hand) edge.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  May your day be a good one, and stay warm!

The Scleroderma Chronicles: Year 2.5

Wow. How quickly time flies. It has now been two and a half years since I was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease limited systemic sclerosis (AKA scleroderma), and I joined the rare disease club. When last I reported on my progress I was at the end of a tough year; lung disease, oxygen, a referral to palliative care, gastroparesis, and constant pain. I was having trouble walking and my stomach was really acting up; I was losing weight at the rate of a pound a week. Ugh. I was somewhat upbeat by the end of the second year since I was off oxygen, but still, things weren’t really all that great.

Mitts and bracelet
Look at the cute mitts I made in teal, the color of scleroderma. I got that bracelet last fall at a scleroderma patient education conference that loaded me up with lots of great information.

What a difference six months can make. A change in medication made my Raynaud’s much easier to handle. I started doing yoga (carefully) a few months ago and added tart cherry extract as an anti-inflammatory that I can tolerate better than traditional NSAIDs. I bought shoes that felt better on my feet (Haflinger clogs) and got serious with stretching exercises for the plantar fasciitis I developed due to tightening on the bottoms of my feet. I switched to a gastroparesis diet that is mostly easy-to-digest, low fiber foods (got to love pasta and yogurt to do this one…) and began to add some blended  fruits and veggies. My weight loss stopped and I started to gain back some weight. My skin has started to loosen up on my right arm (scleroderma literally means “hard skin” as the most obvious symptom is thick, hard skin that develops as the result of systemic scarring), which is pretty darn exciting!  Over the last six months my energy has been slowly coming up and I have been managing with less pain; I can even walk normally! I’m breathing better and I rarely need to use the rescue inhaler. There was a Sjogren’s flare, but still, things are better.

I just finished making the latest round of testing and doctor visits, and I have to say, it is pretty exciting to visit with happy smiling doctors. My pulmonologist was almost giddy! My lungs and heart have maintained (scleroderma damage tends to be forever…) with almost no new damage; I am right at the edge of trouble, but I’m not there yet. I have good blood work, and even had the first NORMAL kidney function test in over 5 years. My red blood cell count is back down in normal range, and my muscle strength has improved so much I can now easily push shopping carts.  It seems that the increased dosage of immunosuppressants has turned the tide and I am stable. STABLE!! What a wonderful word that is.

I will continue with all of my current drugs for now and there will be more testing in a year, but it is clear that I have definitely pulled up from the nose dive that they through I was in a year ago.

Life is good.

Back to knitting!!

 

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.