The Scleroderma Chronicles: Rare Disease Day 2018

It seems like I just wrote a “rare disease day” post just yesterday, but it has been a whole year already. Actually, I think that I was really lazy last year and just re-posted the previous year’s blog post. Anyway, tomorrow (February 28th) is World Rare Disease Day. This year the motto is “Show Your Rare”, which is a little scary as it sounds vaguely like how I might order my steak, but I’m game. I’m rare, and here is my story.

First things first. Let’s talk about rare diseases. Here in the United States, a rare disease (also known as an orphan disease) is one that affects fewer than 200,000 people in the US. The bad news is that there are a lot of rare diseases; over 6,000 different diseases that impact about 25 million people just here in the US. Many of these are genetic in nature, and they tend to be chronic (more about that later).

I joined the rare disease club the day that my systemic sclerosis (a form of scleroderma) was diagnosed. With only about 100,000 cases in the US, we are definitely rare. Here’s the scoop on my disease: it is progressive, disabling, chronic, and possibly fatal. It shares some characteristics with cancer cells. It is also mostly invisible to other people, and people have no frame of reference to understand an illness that they have never heard of before, so they tend to be dismissive.

Scleroderma hand
One of the most obvious features of my condition is my thick skin. My legs and lower arms are literally hard, and here on my hand you can see that the skin folds kind of strangely. My skin is thick with scar tissue that has built up in response to inflammation set off by my immune system’s attack on normally healthy tissue.
You can really see it on this finger. My finger looks pale since the scaring is so bad it cuts off circulation when I hold it out straight. There is a silver lining to this: I will never have “old lady” hands.

My hands look strange, but I am doing really well all things considered. I have good circulation and flexibility which my doctors think is due to knitting. “Knit as much as you can!” was the recommendation. See, every setback in life has a silver lining.

What can’t be seen is my astonishing fatigue, muscle/joint pain, and brain fog. So much brain fog. I’m also accumulating organ damage as the months pass by. Digestive system damage, kidney damage, lung damage, and blood vessel damage that is slowly increasing the pressure in my heart.

Scleroderma face
All that redness on my face is due to blood vessel damage, and you can see the thick skin around my eye. Collagen build-up has given me chipmunk cheeks. Special. Thank heavens for red-cancelling make-up.

It’s like a scene from the movie, The Terminator. You know… if you substitute this line about the Terminator from the movie with the word scleroderma it would be… [Scleroderma] can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear! And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead!

Mortality rates are down for my form of the disease due to new drug interventions. The other good news is that it is moving really slowly in my case. I think that I have had this disease for decades, and only now, in my 60s, is it catching up with me. I’m on the best drugs available, I love my doctors, and they have slowed the disease progression down tremendously over the last couple of years.

But I’m still dealing with a serious chronic illness, as are many other people with rare diseases. For me, when trying to explain my illness to others, it is the concept of “chronic” that causes the most trouble. People tell me to get more sunshine, more exercise, better food, use essential oils, whatever, so that I can get better. That’s the way it is for many health conditions, but not for a chronic illness.

There is no better, I tell them. Only this. Nope. They will insist that I can get better if I just try, and take it as defeatism when I calmly explain that some of this damage can’t be reversed. It is possible to get better without getting well, they will say. You look so great! It’s like it’s a personal affront that I can’t just be cured. If they haven’t seen me for a few months they will express surprise that “this is still going on”.

It is the concept of “chronic” that is the problem. To accept that you are sick is not weakness or “giving up”. It is coming to terms with the nature of your enemy.

So here is my Rare Disease Day request for anyone who has managed to read all of this. Accept chronic. Ask the person you are talking to about how they are doing. Ask what their doctors are telling them. Accept that they are in a situation that they can’t escape from. Don’t shy away from the fight if you care about that person.

If you know the movie “The Terminator“, you know that the heroine of the tale, Sarah Connor, was a hell of a fighter. She never, ever gave up, and in the end she got the best of the monster trying to do her in.

I’m channeling Sarah Connor.


The Scleroderma Chronicles: Rocking the Spoonie Clock

I, along with a lot of other people with chronic illnesses, consider myself to be a “spoonie”. If you’ve never heard of spoon theory, it is a metaphor that describes the intricate bargaining game that those of us with limited energy resources play everyday to balance our activities with the little gas in our tanks.  Christine Miserandino developed the spoon theory and described it in an essay on her blog in 2005; trying to explain to a friend how she managed fatigue with her lupus, she grabbed spoons and used them as props to represent discrete energy packets. If you only have a limited number of energy units (spoons) to use in a day, you are painfully aware of how many spoons everything that you do costs. A shower? That is a spoon. Walk to the mailbox to pick up the mail? Another spoon. If you want to grocery shop, plan ahead. When the spoons for the day are gone, you are done. If you planned badly, you are basically toast. Get ready for some bad days ahead.

Owner and her cat.
Wrapped in layers of knitted goods, struggling to stay warm, MacKenzie and I enjoy a late night purr break at the height of my flare in December.

Early last December I ran through my spoons and just kept going for another couple of days. I knew I was headed for trouble, but I was in a situation where there were no other options for me. Take care of today and deal with tomorrow when it comes, I told myself.

Oh dear. The flare arrived and fatigue descended with a vengeance. I slept 10-12 hours a night and collapsed in exhaustion for a nap at least twice a day. If energy is counted in spoons, I was down to only about 10 for the day. Not only were the spoons my problem; it appeared that as soon as I got onto my feet and went into motion an internal clock started running. No matter what I did, I could not go more than 2.5 hours without a nap.

Christmas shopping!! AARRGGG!!!

Thank goodness for the internet. I made plans and checked the availability of items I wanted to buy using my phone while in bed. I made sure stores close to me carried the items that I wanted. I made shopping lists in a little spiral notebook that I carry with me (hello… brain fog!!) to help me remember what I’m looking for while in the stores. I planned shopping routes that were short loops that would take me to three stores/stops max and then get me home before my time and energy ran out. I planned the trips for times when the parking lots would be almost empty so I wouldn’t have to walk far.

So, one day I planned and cooked food for the week. Who knew making spaghetti was so exhausting? Before I could get the dishwasher loaded the timer on my spoonie clock went off and I was done.

The next day I made one of the loops. Whew. I got right up from the nap, started up the car and headed off to Kaiser for my monthly blood testing. Then on to Target… hurry, hurry, it has already been an hour. I finished that loop at the book store where I shared a laugh with a mom who was making the same stops as me on her own shopping route. She had also gone to the public library, though. She looked at me kind of weird when I said I had decided to not go to the library as it was too far to walk in from the parking lot there. Ugh. No way was I going to explain about the spoons to her. No time. My clock was ticking; I was at the 2 hour mark and had to check out and drive home. Hurry, hurry. I’m now having trouble walking because my legs don’t really want to go… Brain fog is starting to close in and my head feels buzzy…

Home. Nap. I didn’t even take the packages out of the car until after the nap.

Two more days, two more loops, and I had gotten everything and even got stuff mailed out on one of the loops. Careful planning, lots of patience, and an acknowledgement of my limitations went a long way in getting me through everything. Did you know that if you go grocery shopping late at night there is no line. True fact!

For more than a month I was careful with the spoons and never ran down my spoonie clock. I knitted in bed. I ate my little pre-planned meals and ordered things off the internet when I could. I took lots of naps, kept up on my meds, and did everything I could to manage my symptoms. The Turkish Hell socks lengthened as the list in my notebook got items crossed off.

Today I am through the flare and I must have at least 20 spoons a day. Maybe even 25. I’m rich!! The spoonie clock is up to 6 hours. That’s pretty darn good.

You know, people are always telling me how great I look.

If only they could see my spoonie clock ticking away.





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!

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.

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: Days of Wonder

The last time I chatted about my systemic sclerosis status I had just seen my doctors and I was doing great. I had sustained very little additional damage to my lungs and heart, I was taking a new supplement (tart cherry) that was an anti-inflammatory that my doctors thought I could tolerate, and I just flat out felt great. I could walk without pain, I had energy and I woke up most mornings feeling *normal* which was pretty darn amazing.

At the end of June I headed off to the clinic for my usual blood tests, joked with the man who draws my blood every 60 days, and bought myself a Starbucks on the way home to celebrate another successful outing. Two days later I was wondering why my blood results hadn’t been posted to the online portal. I was outside drinking my morning latte with the cats and the roses when the call came; my liver results were fine, but my kidney function had dropped dramatically. Oops. No more tart cherry for me!

Maine Coon cat with a bob tail.
Yellow Boy hanging out with my squash plants. Amazingly, he did not run away when the call came.

That’s when the days of wonder began. Wonder as in: “I wonder what will happen next?”, “I wonder what this is?”, “I wonder if I should call this into the doctor?” , and “Good grief, what now? I wonder when this will end?”

As soon as I went off of the tart cherry extract icky symptoms came back with a vengeance along with some new ones. It’s like they all made new friends while they were gone and couldn’t wait to show them off. Here’s what has been happening over the three weeks.

  • I woke up one morning with pitting edema in my arms and face. I looked like a chipmunk. I also had shooting nerve pain in one side of my face. Fabulous.
  • Two days later the edema was gone, but my knees hurt so bad they woke me up at 4am, and that was it for the night. Ugh! They also had swollen lumps on them!! In desperation I smeared medical marijuana cream (from a neighbor – this is Colorado and we have this stuff!) on them to see if that would help. The pain shut off within moments! I need to get me some of this stuff!!
  • The next day I slept through the night, but when I woke up in the morning the skin across my knees was so tight that I couldn’t bend them until I warmed things up with a heating pad. They itched and were warm to the touch. Maybe marijuana cream isn’t such a good idea after all. I’m losing patience, I tell the cats, who have piled onto my legs too since there is a heating pad in use… When will these cats learn how to make a morning latte?
  • Shooting pains start in my lower abdomen the day after my knees stop hurting. Diverticulitis, says the internet. Seriously! I wonder if I should call this in? I wonder if I should see that gastroenterologist after all…

Over the next several days I experienced scary low blood pressure episodes, chest pain, fevers, itching, more joint pain, and to top things off I started losing my balance and falling over without warning a few days ago.

Days of wonder, indeed. Nothing lasts; it appears that I’m on a roller-coaster of symptoms that will provide my summer thrills and scares until the ride ends (hopefully soon!). My repeat blood work showed that my kidney function had improved, and my rheumatologist isn’t saying scary things to me any more. My blood pressure is again stable, the chest pain and edema are gone, my balance is restored, and the pain in my face has vanished.

Cinco de Mayo rose.
This is one of the roses in my garden. It is called “Cinco de Mayo“, and I planted it in memory of my mother, who loved roses, who died on May 5th many years ago, and who remains the benchmark for all time for patience, grace and courage in the face of adversity.  Of course this rose has been blooming beautifully during these days of wonder.

This could be a really bad time, but I’ve discovered that it is best to just go with the flow and to focus on the ridiculous side of all of this; lumps on my knees, my chipmunk face, and falling over without warning. Really, don’t you just want to bust out laughing at the thought of all that? Thank heavens I didn’t develop a rash! It is also important to notice all the wonder around me. The beauty of my garden and the flowers, the days in bed reading new books, great dinners produced in the crock pot, the antics of the cats, and the joy of putting together a new knitting project. Wonder is endless, easy to find, and costs nothing. Okay, let’s be honest. Binge watching shows on Netflix helps too.

Today I feel a little dizzy, but much better. Hopefully I’m coming to the end of the tart cherry withdrawal. That’s right. Best to stay positive and cheerful.

I wonder what will happen tomorrow?

Ready for the Magic!

I really don’t like to do this, but the first step in recovery is to admit that you have a problem. That assumes, of course, that you are interested in actually recovering from your addiction…

I keep buying these gray-toned yarns with flecks of pink and purple in them… I think that I have actually bought five different 2-skein sets of this type of yarn with the idea of making another “Waiting for Rain” shawl.  Maybe, I told myself, it can become ANOTHER Find Your Fade. I’m in my 60’s now, and my hair is starting to go gray…  I’m wearing more black and this yarn will go with my entire wardrobe. Do I need any more excuses? No, not really. This yarn had me at “hello!”

Nope. Not recovering today. There is no problem here. I love yarn, I love to knit, it makes me happy, and there are few things that make you decide to do what makes you feel happy like getting diagnosed with a possibly-fatal autoimmune condition. Oh. For one thing, you notice that the condition of life itself is eventually fatal… whatever have I been waiting for?  Buy yarn. Time to knit!

Still there is the issue of what to do with all of this awesome yarn?


This is the Marled Magic Sweater by Stephen West (photo credit: westknits). Hey, wouldn’t this be the perfect solution to consume that yarn and make something that will carry me through the cold of winter wrapped in absolute cushy yumminess?  Yes, yes it will!! I downloaded the pattern that week and read the directions. Oops. This is going to be challenging and it is going to take a lot of yarn. Stephen suggests that you stock up/locate about 1500 grams of the stuff to make your yarn palette. Good think I have a stash that reflects my true yarn-addiction status.

Pile of yarN.
I pulled out every yarn that I thought I could use and piled it all in a couple of large bins. After that I sorted the yarn into color grouping and sadly make some cuts. Then I made some more cuts. This is what I was left with…
Lace weight yarns.
The marl in the fabric is created by knitting with two strands of yarn held together. I pulled out lace weight yarns in the colorways that I was looking for. This is mostly mohair, silk, and alpaca yarn. I have a lot of the steel gray mohair at the lower right hand corner, and will use the other colors to spice things up.
Yarn collage.
Then I pulled out these fingering weight yarns to accent the gray mix yarns that I started out with: blues, purples and rose/pinks. I have some golds and teals that I put back into the stash, but they may sneak back into the working yarn palette later. I put in the gray Brooklyn Tweed Loft too as Stephen suggested that it be included if possible to help cut the weight and to prevent stretching.

Pretty intimidating, but I am getting ready to so some serious yarn winding and should get the project page on Ravelry started soon. Wow. This is a lot of yarn to enter, and then there will be the notes…

Good thing I am a true addict!!

PS: my rheumatologist told me that I should knit as much as I can to help keep functionality in my hands. Never did medical advice fall on such fertile soil… not that I needed another excuse. 🙂

The Scleroderma Chronicles: My Second Year Report

Well, here I am at the end of my second year since my diagnosis of systemic sclerosis, a life-threatening form of the autoimmune disease scleroderma. Last year I blogged about my illness: I had come through the worst of the grief and horror at the initial diagnosis, had made my way through some scary incidents that sent me flying across town to emergency centers, and was pretty upbeat about where I was in the progress of the disease.  I was sick, but I hadn’t developed any of the most serious, life threatening complications. My heart and lungs were fine. I had just been started on some serious immunosuppressant drugs (the same ones that are given to kidney transplant patients), and while they are risky, I had been told that they could really make a difference in my 10 year survival rate.

Hey, you roll the dice and you take your chances.  No sense worrying about the unknown future. I drugged up and slept like a baby at night.

Star Trek Meme
The Kobayashi Maru test, as all Star Trek buffs know, was a no-win scenario;  it was meant as a test of character. Systemic sclerosis, an incurable,  progressive, disabling and potentially fatal disease, can  also be considered such a test.

Ready to hear about my second year? Let me give you a hint: buckle your seat belt, because we are in for a bumpy ride.

  • November-December: the drugs begin to kick in and as they beat my immune system into submission my skin starts to harden up. I hurt everywhere!! I can hardly bear to comb my hair. The place where my flu shot went in hurt for weeks afterwards.
  • January: I caught the flu. Talk about insult to injury! Here’s the short version: antibiotics, off the immunosuppressant drugs so my body’s immune system can fight back, and then trouble breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, and a partridge in a pear tree. What a mess! The month passes in a blur.
  • February: I’m still pretty sick and struggling to breathe. I get bounced back and forth between doctors as the debate about the root cause of my symptoms rages. I begin to pressure my doctors for answers and there is much testing. Oops. All is not well with my lungs and my heart is accruing damage. I get sent to a pulmonologist and she give me an inhaler to help me breath. She also tells me I am in serious trouble and refers me to palliative care. The doctors increase my immunosuppressant drug dosage.
  • March: Why, hello, Sjogren’s Syndrome. We forgot all about you! In the concern about my systemic sclerosis, the bad boy of my autoimmune twosome, everyone forgot that I also have Sjogren’s Syndrome, another serious autoimmune disease that causes dry eyes and mouth. As it turns out, it can also cause small airway disease (think never-ending asthma attack) and it has pushed me into chronic respiratory failure. Hello oxygen machine. You are my new best friend.

    Oxygen machine
    My new best friend!
  • April: new lung scans are back, and while I am diagnosed with interstitial lung disease, it appears that it is only mild. Huge sigh of relief!! There is also consensus that my pulmonary hypertension has not advanced. Both of these diagnosis, while still early and mild, are very serious, and the decision is made for palliative care to continue to follow me. Bummer!
  • May-July: Sunshine! Heat! Burning muscles, aching joints, gastritis, dizzy, dizzy, dizzy, and I notice that my lips are blue. I’m on oxygen 24/7 by the end of July.
  • August: my internist changes my meds to bring my heart rate up, and suddenly I have enough oxygen. The heart palpitations stop and after more testing I come off the oxygen. The 6 month Sjogren’s-driven asthma attack is finally over.
  • Quilt and socks
    Summer quilt and socks for my poor hurting feet.

    September-October: why does it hurt to walk? What is up with my feet? And this whole barfing in the middle of the night is getting downright annoying… My internist tests me to see if I have an H. pylori infection.

  • November: Well, doesn’t this beat all. The H. pylori test came back negative and I am diagnosed with gastroparesis. The muscles of my stomach are too damaged by systemic sclerosis to work correctly; the damage is irreversible. I start eating a very limited diet of soft foods and dairy. Ironically, I can now eat jelly donuts, but not fresh baby carrots. I’m losing weight anyway.
Little Greenhouse
The gastroparesis diagnosis hit me hard even though I kind of  knew it was coming. I stopped to get a little cheer-me-up on the way home.  Check out the little greenhouse I put together for the kitchen window. As always, MacKenzie had to help out with the picture.
Here’s the flowers. Aren’t these cute? They were sold at the local nursery to put into “Fairy Gardens”
and how could I resist adding the little cat and the mushroom? Those plants are miniature Kalanchoe that should eventually bloom again.

See, a bumpy ride that is still going, but a year that was also rich in gifts. Palliative care forced me to face the future with more courage and to make end-of-life decisions for my family and to start cleaning out my house of junk. I talked to family about my medical power of attorney. I enlisted one of my doctors to manage the medical team and I began to feel more in control of my basically out of control disease. I began to knit gifts for those I love with a purpose: everything now is a piece of me. In my mind the shawls that I am making for everyone I know are the “Good-bye Shawls”. I am on fire to make as many fingerless mitts for other scleroderma patients as I can. At the end of the day, this year was not one of struggle and heartbreak as I dealt with the endless march of a disease that has no pity or remorse. Rather, it was one of care, giving, creative fire, good friends, and the meditative peace of knitting.

Okay, I do get cranky at times, and there has been some crying.  I get short with annoying salespeople because it is so hard for me to shop. I told my ex-husband I was tired of hearing about his “stupid-ass”  motorcycle. I yelled at the cats. I hate when people say, “Well, you look great!” in a way that suggests that I’m not really all that sick at all. I wish that they were there to hold my hair when I hobble to the bathroom at 2am to throw up that nice meal that I hopefully ate but couldn’t digest. There. I got it off my chest, and I feel much better. Aren’t you relieved to hear that I can be petty and mean from time to time?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. You know, it is easy to focus on the day: travel, turkey, family and the descent into wild Christmas shopping. Sometimes we forget the history of this national holiday; thanks for a good harvest and the blessing of probable survival through the coming winter. It is also a time to reflect on the bounty of the last year and to be grateful for the gifts it brought.

In spite of all the bumps of the last year, I am grateful for all of the gifts I have received.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

So Long, Farewell, Auf Weidersehen, Good-bye… to My Support Group

Okay, this is a rant. This rant is so long and complicated, with so many connections to other topics, that I have considered that I should perhaps launch another blog just to deal with it. Or maybe create an online course for people with complex autoimmune diseases. Something. Because I finally have snapped for sure.

It happened while I was attending my monthly Scleroderma Support group in July. I go to these meetings because I need to talk to people about my illness, become educated about treatments and coping strategies, and to get, you know, support! I want to flock with my peeps!! Usually in these meetings there are introductions, a little sharing, nice snacks, and a presentation by a guest speaker.

This is the problem. The speakers who have been coming are often involved in alternative treatment strategies. As in alternative medicine. As in flat out pseudoscience masquerading as legitimate methods of treatment for our complex health conditions.  These speakers have been trained in their “method” and faithfully parrot back what they were told in their training. They have little actual knowledge of human physiology, biology, disease, or science. They are connected to a product or system that they want to sell to us to help us “stay healthy”. They especially tell us that they can help us have “healthy” immune systems and/or take away our pain. Since I am in pain because my immune system is misbehaving it’s hard to not find their messages appealing.

Except… I was a biology teacher. I used to work in a research lab. I know science as a logical process with rules, and this information is so outrageous it causes me to wiggle around in my chair, bite my tongue, and often whip out my cell phone to fact check.

Me: Google, please tell me if Leaky Gut is a real thing?

Google: Are you crazy? Of course not.

Me: That’s what I thought…

But evidently I absolutely, positively need to take this essential oil to protect me from leaky gut. Or the toxins will leak out though the holes in my intestines. This is the cause of many complex illnesses. Research? We don’t need no stinking research. We have testimonials!!

Compression Points on Foot
This pressure point chart was so outrageous I needed to put down the knitting to take a picture!

How about the day I learned that I need to massage my hands and feet at specific pressure points to clean the toxins out of my liver, pancreas and other parts of my body? Really. I was informed that the problem is that the cells of my body get dehydrated, will form tough protective barriers, and the fascia then can’t move fluids throughout the body. This was such a garbled version of reality it was practically science salad.

Me: Google, please tell me exactly what fascia is.

Google: Sure. Fascia is the thin, tough barrier around muscles and organs. It is part of your connective system and made of collagen.

Me: Google, just to be sure, it doesn’t have anything to do with fluid transport?

Google. No, dumb ass. That would be the lymph system.

Me: Google, that’s what I thought. No need to cop an attitude with me, you wouldn’t believe what I’m dealing with here.

As if all this fact checking wasn’t exhausting enough, there is also a hint of “anti-science” in the room. Several other patients have become convinced that we need to stop taking our meds as they have unacceptable side effects. It is better, they argue, to control our disease with diet, essential oils and supplements. OMG! It isn’t possible to google fast enough to keep up with this stuff!

Me: Google, what is this alkaline diet all about?

Me: Google, is dairy inflammatory?

Me: Google, do I need to take massive doses of probiotics every day, or can I just eat yogurt? This speaker is telling me I have to buy their product since I can’t eat dairy anymore…

Me: Google, how quickly do bacteria divide? Every 20 minutes? So I don’t need a massive dose?

Me: Google, is there any research showing a positive benefit of essential oils in systemic sclerosis?

Google: Stop! I have smoke coming out of my ears! Let me direct you to this nice List of Topics Characterized as Pseudoscience. There. You’re welcome.

Yep. This is my lunch. See the dairy? That yogurt has 8 live cultures in it and I am not giving it up!!

While loading up on gluten free snacks at the break I finally snapped and asked the group facilitator if she thought it would be appropriate to let people advocate going off their meds and using essential oils to treat their conditions if this was a cancer support group?

“Well, no…”, she replied. “But that’s cancer.”

I just looked back at her until I saw something click in her brain, and then I left. I’m done.

Since then I have been fussing around about why this is happening. I understand that this is a tough disease (in more than one way), but how awful it is that there is so much misinformation out there that people don’t know what is accurate, and what isn’t. Desperate people will clutch at anything that gives them hope. Sometimes these things are based in sound logic, reason and science (stem cell transplants), and sometimes they are not (amber beads for pain relief). Obviously people need to know more about the nature of science, basic physiology, immunology, cell biology, and how the medications prescribed by their doctors work. They need to know their Star Trek!!

Star Trek Meme
A no-win scenario, the Kobayashi Maru test was designed to be a test of character. 

That’s right. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn is what I needed to put this into perspective.  So many movie quotes, so many posts.

So, I feel a lot better after finishing up my rant, but I still think that I may need to launch a mini-series of posts relating to this. I mean, there are all those pseudoscience cures to debunk. All that biology to share. All those Star Trek quotes.

Stay tuned. If I start the new blog, I’ll let you all know where it is. Otherwise, a lot of my knitting friends are going to be exposed to some biology.  Feel free to let me know how you feel about that.J