National Chiari Awareness Month – 2018

National Chiari Awareness Month – 2018

The month of September is Chiari Awareness Month. In May of 2013 I was diagnosed with Chiari 1 Malformation and Syringomyelia and my life since then has changed – tremendously. I remember going recently to a store, because it’s a place I visit regularly – they’re a sweet Vietnamese family, I’ve got the chance to get to know them. We were discussing Chiari the last time I went there, one of the daughters said, ‘besides going to the hospital when I was born, I’ve never been there.’ I was speechless, I know my way around – just about, every hospital in my area, I even know what hospital not to go to because they lack ‘my’ department – neurology. The difference between someone with Chiari Malformation, Syringomyelia, among many other different illnesses, is that we know too well what is like to be at a hospital – while others don’t. It’s an unfortunate truth.

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There are currently four types of Chiari Malformation and each are classified by the severity of the disorder and the parts of the brain that descend into the spinal canal. As you can see, I have type 1, this is when the lower part of the cerebellum called the cerebellar tonsils extends into the foramen magnum. This is where only the spinal cord would otherwise pass through. Chiari unfortunately goes un-diagnosed, and is first noticed during adolescence or adulthood, usually by accident during an examination of another condition. As it happened to me, I went into the ER in May of 2013 for what was suppose to be a quick ‘trip to the ER,’ but turned out to be far more serious than your typical ‘headache.’

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What surgeries have I had for Chiari 1 Malformation and Syringomyelia? As for the Chiari, in May of 2013 I had emergency posterior fossa decompression, here the surgeon created more space for the cerebellum as this relieves pressure on the spinal cord. At this time the surgeon also made an incision on the back of the head and down the neck area, and removed a small portion of the bone at the bottom of the skull, this is called, craniotomy.

In November 2017, for the Syringomyelia, I had spinal laminectomy in which they placed a syrinx shunt – this shunt (a flexible, tube like device, according to my surgeon it’s also less than the size of a hair strand in diameter) will remain in my body forever. The syrinx shunt diverts the fluid from the syrinx into another space in the body where it can be absorbed. There are a few locations where the fluid can be absorbed and this is what differentiates one shunt from another. The shunt I have is absorbed in the peritoneal space, also known as the abdomen. The space location is determined on the patients case and the surgeons personal preference.

Why spread awareness for Chiari Malformation? Without awareness there is no funding, without funding, there is no research, without research, there is no cure, without a cure, there is no hope. However, if not in my lifetime, maybe another’s, but I pray that there will be a cure for Chiari – someday.

Today, I’m still living with a number of ongoing symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, headaches, vertigo, imbalance, difficulty concentrating, etc. which also includes chronic pain. I need to be monitored for changes that can occur in the CSF flow or cerebrospinal fluid. I’m currently experiencing severe numbness on my left side, especially in my face and tongue – you’d never know it if you’d see me. However, I finally have a great neurological team that is helping by monitoring me, via MRI’s and managing my pain levels, via medication, as best as they can. It’ll always be a process, but it’s a process that with patience, it’s as tolerable as it can be.

The perfect cure for worry, is to trust in God. 

And in light of my series ‘Happy Meme Monday’ I’ve decided to include some Chiari Malformation memes. Enjoy.

These memes – sum it all up. Have a blessed Labor Day.

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Visit my online store for Chiari Malformation awareness merchandise.

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Random Acts Of Kindness Award | 2018

This is incredible! Such a wonderful way to remember a few positives in our lives. So often it’s easier for me to dwell on what’s going wrong, I forget what’s going right. This is one of those moments. Thank you Stuart this is so amazing – if you haven’t read his post, you must! It’s a true testament of never being alone in your struggles, God is always listening, God is always providing for you and sending His angles to help you. I continue to see His providence in my family – daily.

Here are the rules:

• Tell who you nominate and why.

• Copy and share the picture that shows the award, posted above.

• Share a paragraph of something that impacted your own life in the way of receiving kindness or how you extended kindness to someone else.

• Nominate anyone or share to your own page. If you so choose to Participate. Tag or ping-back to the original person who nominated you, or the original post.

The first act of kindness that came to mind was one from back in 2013. I had just recently been diagnosed with Chiari + Syringomyelia laying in my hospital bed awaiting my decompression surgery. I was feeling so lost and scared – but did well in hiding it all, not wanting to worry my family even more. I had three little ones home at that time, the youngest being 2 years old. My husband although a great support, still had to be home to care for our little ones. When my 8 hour decompression surgery was over, I was in so much pain and still feeling alone and scared. My first night after surgery, not being able to sleep, the night shift nurse came in – she had the sweetest voice, so comforting to hear, began to talk to me. I can tell she wanted to put me at ease and we began conversing. We spoke about our families, she spoke about her baby girl and we continued until she saw that I drifted to sleep. I will always treasure such sweet memory. She was my angel that night, she saw that I had my medicine for my physical pain, but she also wanted to comfort my soul, my heart. There are angels, that I’m sure of.

My nominees:

Julie

 OJSPRIDE

Bethany

Shantanu

Alyssa

Caz

My nominees – as for you too, I admire you all for so many things, but most of all, you encourage me through your wonderful words, your output on life, your perseverance to make things lighter and more positive. Thank you!

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Chiari 1 Malformation and Mental Illness

Chiari 1 Malformation and Mental Illness

While many of doctors that claim to have experience in Arnold Chiari Malformation would still say, Chiari is more “in your head” than anything else or “Chiari doesn’t cause symptoms” –  no further treatments need to be done, I disagree. I still like to describe Chiari as an invisible illness because I look so normal to the person in front of me but even as it goes unseen, it doesn’t mean that the symptoms and pain are psychological. If your current doctor continues to tell you that, “you are OK,” do not hesitate in seeking a second opinion and starting from scratch, find a doctor that does have experience with ACM. I got a second, third and a forth until finally in my search for new doctors, it led me to a great neurosurgeon in my area. Although, I haven’t found any research linking Arnold Chiari Malformation and mental illness, my experience with the disorder has led me to believe that self advocacy and self care is essential. The need to mentally help yourself, is important. I realize that even after having had two surgeries due to Chiari 1 Malformation and Syringomyelia, the mental challenges that come after going through such a traumatic experience is one worth talking about.

Can you remember the day when men dressed in white coats – surgeons, came to your hospital bed side to inform you of your test results, followed by the procedures that you will soon have to endure? Because even after having Chiari decompression and Syringomyelia laminectomy, know that none of these surgeries are a cure, these surgeries are needed just to prevent permanent nerve damage. Also, these surgeries are not a guarantee that they will help alleviate any of the current symptoms. So, whether mental illness has a place in your life, in form of depression, anxiety, social anxiety, baby blues, postpartum depression, autism, post traumatic stress disorder, eating disorder, substance abuse disorder, please know that you are not alone. Also, I encourage you to find your voice and find the courage to get help, professional help. Because like many things, mental illness has no one face, it does not discriminate and it can happen to anyone.

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So, if we’re going to go down this honesty path and I remain true to myself, besides you knowing these tidbits about me, know that aside from being a brain surgery survivor, I have been dealing with depression, social anxiety and agoraphobia since my decompression surgery. Which according to the Webster’s dictionary, agoraphobia is a fear of open spaces, making it difficult for the person to leave their house. Please do not assume that I am cooped up in my home. It just means that it takes me a lot longer to mentally prepare myself to get out of my home and do things the “ordinary” person does so naturally. They include things like attend doctors appointments or go for a quick trip to the store. It can take days to mentally prepare myself to leave my house for a doctors appointment – at times at the end even canceling. These tasks are challenging for me, perhaps you are dealing with a different mental illness.

If you’re asking and wondering how I found all this out. Well, the turning point for me came in form of  a routine neurological visit that led my doctor to suggest I see a psychologist. Of course coming from a family where psychologists were ever mentioned, I immediately got defensive and declined. When the doctor – bless his heart, asked why, I quickly became defensive and said, I am not crazy. He then replied, “I am not crazy either and I see one, because after a 20 year marriage that came to an end, seeing a psychologist was a way I was able to cope.” This made me feel one, not crazy and two, open to the idea of seeing a psychologist. And as 2017, am now seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist, both of which work hand in hand to get me from feeling ill to feeling well. This is something hard to admit because society has placed a negative stigma towards psychology and mental health. It’s something that isn’t spoken about, it’s frowned upon and shamed. The last time I read on someone advocating on mental health was coming upon an article from singer, Demi Lovato. I think being silent on metal illness is so much worse than the topic itself. People build things up inside because they’re afraid, afraid of being embarrassed, humiliated, misunderstood or feeling the wrath that it would potentially bring. I want to embrace not only my new body that has produced six babies to which I proudly wear six scars. But also the scars left behind by Chiari. However, learning how to embrace and accept my new life after my Chiari 1 Malformation diagnosis has been challenging but also life changing. Chiari isn’t for the faint of heart. As part of my Chiari journey I want to feel free to find my voice and speak on how I work daily on my mental wellness. If you’re working on yours, never give up and if you haven’t started, know it’s never too late to start. I’m convinced this disorder is part of my life but definitely not who I am. Let me be the first to acknowledge that God continues to play a huge part in my journey to recovery – maybe not in the most ideal way because I am so flawed! My religion and spiritual beliefs have helped me in my recovery – I am Catholic. Spirituality helps in recovering from things like stress to mental illness. However, I do also believe that aside from my religion, medical help in the form of professional counseling and medicines also help. Mental illness is by no means anything to be ashamed of, seeking help in knowing how to manage it in the best way possible is important for your well being. The main goal is to lead a peaceful, meaningful life and to continue on the road to recovery, that is both spiritual and mental.

Also, know that it’s OK, it’ll all be OK, do not compare yourself to others, to other moms, dads, friends or co-workers, because to others we are either too much or not enough. And that’s OK too.

Happy day friends.

-Ana

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Photo: Pablo Gentile

LIFE OF A MOM WITH CHIARI 1 MALFORMATION + SYRINGOMYELIA

This rare disorder has quickly changed and altered the course of my life. So, my hope through this outlet is to raise awareness for it. I think the most important thing like everything, especially an illness is early detection, early diagnosis and ultimately receive treatment is essential. I can’t stress that enough. The importance of knowing what you have is key. So, if you’re feeling any kind of way, overly tired even after getting a good nights sleep, rapidly putting on weight or loosing weight, have ongoing headaches, having unbearable back aches, etc., go get yourself checked! I know many people have a fear going to their doctors out of fear, fear of being told they may have something, like an illness. But understand that this will allow doctors to properly treat you if something were to arise and time is always of an essence.

Chiari Awareness Picture

The changes that have happened due to  In 2013 Life Began with Chiari + Syringomyelia have been things that have affected my entire family. My life as a stay-at- home mom having Chiari and Syringomyelia has affected the way I do everything has changed. I make the changes to accommodate the levels of pain that I may feel on that day.

A few of the changes I’ve made are …

 shop online

  have family movie nights in the comfort of our home

 bring the ice cream home

⇒ As far as cooking, if you’ve read More About Me you know I am Nicaraguan and I love cooking and baking. It’s such a stress reliever, but it’s then been limited.

So, overall I have really had to change my way of thinking to care for myself, to foresee situations, for instance locations I may be traveling to, perhaps on vacation. So, have self awareness. Also, don’t feel afraid or guilty to say no, make changes to your plans or feel bad to say no to people. Just know this is your honest truth and you come first. You can read more about that here Life Perspective After Chiari + Syringomyelia Diagnosis I get pressured into feeling “normal” but what is normal? Because I do consider myself normal, just not the definition of everyone else’s normal. This is a chronic illness that comes with chronic pain. Chiarian’s are often called Zipper Heads, because of the scar that is left behind our necks from decompression surgery. It’s a scar that I was once afraid of showing but have realized that everyone wears a scar. Some scars are just seen while others are not. You can wear your scar on your arm from a fall, on your face from a burn, behind your neck from decompression surgery, scars from c-sections – such as myself from my 6 littles or on your heart from a breakup or loss.

I also find ways …

⇒ to sit and play with the kids, we love to draw, paint and do puzzles.

⇒ I spend countless moments with them cuddled up in bed, reading a book or watching an Elmo or Peppa Pig video – a few of their current favorites.

This is an invisible illness and symptoms can flare up at any time. So, never be ashamed or embarrassed to alter your day. I have noticed that simple things like smiling or am seen outside my home, is quickly misinterpreted as me miraculously being cured and feeling better. However, a smile simply means that you’re trying your best to get through the day.

-Ana

In 2013 Life Began with Chiari + Syringomyelia

As short as I’d like this post to be, I have an inkling of a feeling it’ll be anything but. However, my goal is to try to be as thorough as I can, starting from the beginning of my journey with the disease. A little history of my health, as far back as I can remember as a child and adolescent, I had ongoing headaches and migraines. As my mom would later realize, she’d give me Tylenol just so that I could get through school hours without having a headache mid day. My first episode to what we know now to have been Chiari 1 Malformation, unfortunately went undiagnosed at the hospital. After many tests, I was sent home with what they said was a migraine. This is unfortunate but true to many Chiarians. So after I had a second episode we decided to now go to a different hospital. The official diagnosis came in May 5, 2013 when what was supposed to be a quick trip to the ER, would be the trip that ultimately changed my life. The reason for the ER trip, muscle weakness, problems with coordination, trouble walking, blurred vision, seeing blotchy black spots, sensitive to light, sensitive to noise, dizziness, headache, vomiting and nausea, vertigo, decreased sensation on my left side and trouble swallowing. Things like bending forward, pulling, pushing, straining, lifting became intolerable. After blood work, CT Scan and MRI the diagnosis was Chiari 1 Malformation and Syringomyelia.

We’ll go through a quick crash course for this rare disease, Chiari 1 Malformation is a condition in which brain tissue extends out of the skull causing it to press downward into your spinal canal, present at birth. What does this mean you ask, basically the brain is too big for the skull and it’s causing the brain to stick out or herniate at the base of the skull causing pressure to the spine, my cerebellar descended 12.8 mm downward.

As to Syringomyelia, this is a rare disorder in which a cyst forms within your spinal cord. This fluid-filled cyst or syrinx, can expand over time and compress and damage part of your spinal cord from its center outward. My syrinx began at C3 to the top of T2. You must know that in most circumstances, to have a syrinx present is considered to be a side effect of another problem, in my case, Chiari. The surgery that one can have to relieve the pressure in the head caused by Chiari is decompression surgery.

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What is decompression surgery? I’ll go a little more in depth with my personal 2013 decompression surgery for Chiari. I’ll give you small snippets of what was done inside the operating room. While I was fully sedated, endotracheal intubation was done by the anesthesia team. The eyes are then taped shut and I was placed on the Jackson table with Wilson frame. The head was clamped in the Mayfield 3-pin head holder and affixed to the bed. Then, moving the neck slightly forward, the hair is now clipped and/or shaved with a hair clipper. The surgeon now makes a mid-line skin incision from the back of neck area up to the head to release pressure at the base of the skull. This is done by sawing off bone, opening the dura and then closing the dura matter with a patch. The bone would not be returned back to area. Because the cerebellar tonsils descent or herniation was significant – 12.8 mm to be exact, the decision was made to shrink the tonsils. They removed the tonsils and cerebellar tissue by a few mm’s on each side. A dural repair graft was sewn in to achieve further dural compression and the dura was stitched closed. Lastly, I was then  flipped over to a regular bed and extubated before leaving the operating room. The patient would have a hospital stay of a couple days – mine was 15 days. The neurosurgeon on call the day I arrived at the ER on May 6, 2013 would also be my surgeon on May 9, 2013, surgery day. After my discharge and before my post operative follow up visit with the surgeon, I was admitted to the ER twice, both times diagnosed with aseptic meningitis also known as viral meningitis. Note that viral meningitis is more common and less severe than bacterial meningitis. I was also placed on medications to help with the anxiety that followed from surgery, pain medications and muscle relaxers.

Although I was also diagnosed with Syringomyelia at the same time as Chiari, the surgeon did not attempt to touch this at this time. He mentioned that addressing the Syringomyelia would be  too risky – but aren’t all surgeries risky?

Please keep in mind that I am not a doctor by any means and by writing this, I am expressing my personal experience with the disease. The one of many obstacles Chiarian’s face is that it seems as if no one has ever even heard of these conditions. The lack of general awareness Chiari has, has encouraged me to be a voice and help spread awareness – hence the reason behind creating this blog. Because ultimately this can become a burden – huge, to patients trying to inform family, loved ones, friends, co-workers etc., about what they go through. Where do you begin, how to even explain?! Also, as you may already know, be informed that like any surgery there are potential risks and other procedures may be needed in the future even after a successfully performed decompression.

So, fast forward to 2017, endless complaints to my neurologist and surgeon regarding my 2013 diagnosis of Syringomyelia, all of which assured me all was good. I was still since my 2013 diagnosis, experiencing ongoing symptoms, had countless ER trips, on many pain medications that I decided to make a change. I changed hospitals, doctors and started from zero. I then visited multiple doctors in different hospitals, had MRI’s done for all of them and all of which said to continue medication and that addressing the Syringomyelia surgically would be too much of a risk. Finally after having a borderline break down came a break through. I remembered and decided to reach out to a surgeon I had researched in 2013 after my decompression, Dr. Barth Green, a neurosurgeon. His office isn’t too far from where I live in Florida and so I made the decision to call his office. I had a lot of digging to do first for the neurologist Dr. Martinez-Arizala -they work in the same office. He first needed to see my medical records to determine if my case would be moved to surgeon Dr. Green for final evaluation. The process would take weeks. Yes, this is the system and this is the way things operate. This meant I had to go back to the hospital where I had decompression surgery to gather it all. I had to get all of my records, from MRI’s to CT scans, all to be saved on CD’s, this included before and after surgery, any and all medical records, operative report, all doctors notes, etc. etc.! All. Of. It. He wanted to see it all! Thankfully all was not in vain, I was called by the surgeons nurse to come in and meet with Dr. Green soon after all my medical records were sent. He had already evaluated my case/records on our initial visit and recommended laminectomy with a possible shunting of the cyst, meaning placing a shunt was a possibility. They say, “possible shunting” because even after having done an MRI prior to surgery, the final decision is made at the time of surgery. There is really no way of knowing what the doctor is dealing with until he opens – too graphic! Sorry! The date of surgery was on November 7, 2017 and here laminectomy was performed and a syrinx shunt was placed. The syrinx shunt diverts the fluid from the syrinx into another space where it can be absorbed. There’s a few locations where the fluid can be absorbed and this is what differentiates one shunt from another. The shunt I have is absorbed in the peritoneal space or abdomen. The space location is determined on the patients case and the surgeons personal preference.

I appreciate you coming this far in the post and following my journey. Those of you that can tolerate not so pleasant images, I share some pictures of my hospital stay following my most recent November 7, 2017 surgery for Syringomyelia.

Xo – Ana

 

 Pictures following my November 7, 2017 surgery for Syringomyelia