Thursday, August 14, 2014

10 Songs & An Album

I have a lot to say. I have been through a whirlwind of ups and downs (mostly downs) the last month. I have seen some really dark days, and felt really alone at times. But I will hold off on all of that until I have gained some distance and perspective from all of it.

They say that if you're going through hell, to keep going. And that is what I am doing. So, when I finally come out on the other side, I will share what I learned with you while I was on my way.

Until then, I will share with you one of the few things that keeps me going: music.

Sometimes, when my thoughts are too loud I turn on the music to drown out all the other sounds. And it helps. So, today (inspired by another blog post I saw) I wanted to create and share a playlist on songs that I think help describe the physical and emotional aspects of living with Scleroderma. Some of the songs are purposely kind of funny and some are very emotional. If you live with the disease, you'll understand why I chose these songs. If you don't,hopefully you'll begin to better understand how this illness effects our entire bodies, including our minds.
I also found one whole album that aptly describes what many sclero patients endure in one word, and it is surprisingly by my favorite artist of the moment.
So, without further adieu- (Linked to Spotify playlist if you'd like to take a listen)

10. Rehab-Amy Winehouse: Because sometimes sclero patients need to go to physical therapy to rehabilitate their hands, legs, hips etc. And quite frankly, it can we say "no, no, no."

9. Ice Ice Baby- Vanilla Ice: Well...cause sclero patients are ALWAYS cold.

8. Blue Lips- Regina Spektor: We suffer from Raynaud's Phenomenon...need I say more?

7.  Ring of Fire- Johnny Cash: Anyone with sclero probably suffers from acid reflux and GERD. And when food comes up your esophagus with the fury of hell's angels...well..."it burns, burns, burns."

6. Scar Tissue- Red Hot Chili Peppers: What happens in scleroderma is a thickening of skin and other vital organs because of the excess build up of collagen. Collagen is what the body creates when healing a scar.

5. Keep Breathing- Ingrid Michaleson: Many sclero patients deal with lung fibrosis, pleurisy and other lung complications. We also just deal with a lot of BS from our bodies, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, our friends, family and the best thing we can do "is keep breathing..." even if it physically hurts.

4. Disturbia- Rhianna: Because it is a fact that: "Depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness. It is estimated that up to one-third of individuals with a serious medical condition experience symptoms of depression."

3. Hands- Jewel: For many sclero patients, their hands are the first and most severely affected areas of the body.

2. Tired- Adele: The title says it all. Cause we are ALL "tired of trying...when we don't get nothin' back."

1. My Skin- Natalie Merchant: Again, the title says it all. Sclero meaning hard, derma meaning skin. This is song is beyond sad, but it quite adequately expresses what many feel: Take a look at my body/Look at my hands/There's so much here/That I don't understand..../I'm a slow dying flower/Frost killing hour/ The sweet turning sour/And untouchable

That is my top ten song list (for now). The album that I think sums it all up is.....

Lungs by Florence and the Machine- mainly because of the title, as I said before many sclero patients suffer from lung complications, fibrosis, pulmonary arterial hypertension, pleurisy etc. And also because almost every song on this album is amazing, emotional and speaks to me in some way.

So, what do YOU think of this list? Do you have any you'd like to add that adequately define what it means to live with scleroderma or other chronic illnesses?

Share in the comments below!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Caregiver Fab Five

“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.”
― Pablo Neruda

Wow, it's been almost one whole month since I wrote! My apologies! But you know, life, laziness, procrastination and pain usually get in the way of me doing the things I say I'm going to do. But alas, here I am. I have returned to share with you the last of the Scleroderma Awareness series blog posts and memes. (Better late than never!)

Today's final post in this series is inspired by my hubs Lupe Mendez. Without whom, I'd probably be hooked up to machines being fed through a tube on oxygen in some dingy county hospital by now. He is my rock. My strength. My everything. (While I do have a great support system overall with wonderful parents, friends and family, he is with me on an everyday basis as patient and kind as ever) So, it is only fitting that I acknowledge him...but even more so, I am giving him space in my blog (he knows how selfish I am so this is a BIG deal) to share HIS side of this experience. 

I asked Lupe the other day to please share what 5 things he thinks all caregivers/spouses should know or remember when loving and living with a person with chronic illness. So here they are: (His words, not mine)

1. Be Mad: It's ok to be mad at your spouse/loved one every once in awhile. Sometimes they can be a pain in the ass and while you understand that they are ill or in pain, that doesn't give them the right to treat you like crap. So, be mad and share how you feel. You are allowed to feel frustrated and angry too. Accept it, share it, and move on. 
I (Jasminne) am a pain in the ass at least once a day. Usually involving what to eat for breakfast/lunch/dinner
Lupe quite simply tells me: You are a pain in the ass. Now, what do you want for dinner?

4 Year Anniversary Dinner
2. Laugh:  Always remember to keep the humor in the relationship. Laugh at yourself, at her/him, at the stupid disease at everything! Make fun of each other (in good fun), of the disabilities, of the pain, of the pills, it's the only way to get through the darkest times. 

Example conversation this morning:
(Lupe did something to make me "angry")
Jasminne: I'm going to cut you! Stop it!
Lupe: You can't even hold a knife. 
Jasminne: I hate you. So rude. (And we laughed) 
We make jokes about everything, even things that shouldn't be funny, but it helps us deal and reminds us that everything will be ok. 

Lupe @ a poetry reading
3. Have Goals: Have your own goals as a caregiver. Your spouse/partner/loved one WILL take a lot of energy and focus in the relationship. But you MUST have your own goals, hopes and dreams for the future. You have to put yourself first sometimes too. If everyone's goal is just make the chronically ill person healthy or better it will drive everyone mad and you will not be the best YOU can be for that person. Remember (especially if you are the spouse), your wife/husband fell in love with you, don't lose yourself in the process of caring for the one you love. Take up hobbies that you strive to get better at, reach for professional goals, go back to school, have projects around the house, get healthier, whatever it is, give yourself the time, space and energy YOU deserve. 

Example: Lupe applied for and got into an MFA creative writing program- after I- Jasminne- pushed him into it because I saw how unhappy he was with his career and life in frustrated as I get with his crazy school schedule, I know in the long run this is will make him happy and if he's happier, so am I, and if I'm happier I'm less likely to get sick! So it all works out!

4. Give Space: Give your chronically ill spouse/partner/loved one space to deal with his/her emotions. Even if you want to be there and shower them with love and comfort, sometimes they do just want and need to be alone. And that's ok. Try to not take it personally. They have a lot to deal with and many emotions to process. If they are anything like Jasminne, they will come to you and talk it out when they are ready. 
Just Because Flowers
Whenever Jasminne goes to see the doc alone and gets bad news or no news, she comes home in silence. As much as I want to ask her a million questions and try to find out what we need to do next and how she's feeling, I know that she is still processing the information and trying to understand her own emotions about what she's just learned/heard. So, I(Lupe) will try to have dinner ready, or offer a back rub or pick up her favorite dessert. It doesn't always put her in a better mood, but I know that she'll appreciate it when she's ready, and she'll open up about it when she's ready. 

5. Be Proactive/Advocate: Sometimes your spouse/partner/loved one will be stubborn. They will not want to take their meds, see the doc, go to the ER or eat the way he/she should. That is when you put your gentle bedside manner aside and you strongly encourage/force them to do as you say. Yes, taking pills everyday is not easy, but you know that it is for his/her benefit. I'm not saying force feed them their pills/meds but use the power of persuasion to do so. This especially applies to those moments when you KNOW you need to get in the car and go to the ER IMMEDIATELY and they are still wavering and saying things like: "I feel fine...I'll be ok...Just give me some (insert pain pill here) and I'll be alright...No, I swear it's just heart burn/stomach ache/headache..." 
With someone who is chronically ill it is rarely EVER "JUST" something...better to be safe than sorry. They may know their body, but it is up to you to advocate for them and be proactive. 

Summer of 2012, Jasminne kept complaining of pain in her side. Insisted it was just slight back pain probably due to heart burn or sleeping wrong. I insisted she tell her doc about the pain. She said it wasn't a big deal. Two days later, we were in the ER and docs were ready to drain 800ccs of fluid from around her heart. She was in shock at how serious her situation was. In that moment, we both became proactive and advocated for her. I insisted that they find her rheumatologist before conducting any procedures and we were able to keep her from undergoing minor heart surgery. BUT had she listened to me earlier.....*sigh...I digress. 
At the Lupus walk

So..those are Lupe's Fab Five tips/things to remember. For those that are caregivers/spouses what do you think? He is right?

For those that are ill, are these things you agree with? What does YOUR spouse/partner do that make a difference?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Girl Who Cried Sclero...

I am sure there is a general consensus amongst my friends and family that I just need to shut up already. I mean "we get it, you're sick...Stop beating a dead horse!" And I can respect that feeling, but in reality, this "horse"(aka scleroderma) isn't dead. It lives inside me, threatening to break me down and pull me apart from the seams on a daily basis. won't shut up about it. Not until there is more awareness. Not until the word scleroderma is as common as the word cancer. Hopefully it won't take an epidemic to make it that way, and that's why I do what I do, so patients can be diagnosed early, get better treatment, and live better lives.

So, with today being World Scleroderma Awareness Day and with all the work that has been done to spread awareness, I wanted to highlight some of this month's best moments as well as give a shout out to all my family and friends who have supported me in some way throughout this journey.


1. Memes
One of the most exciting things for me this month, has been to see the overwhelming response to my memes. Both from scleroderma patients themselves as well as family, friends and total strangers. I have shared these pictures with as many people as possible and they have kept paying it forward and sharing them with others. I have received emails, messages and comments from people I've never met telling me how much they relate and how brave they think I am for putting my story out there. It has truly touched my heart and reinforces what I know to be true: I am not alone and my story matters because I can give a voice to those who cannot speak. None of the memes went "viral" but I did reach more people than I ever expected.

2. TX Chapter on Great Day Houston

This past Thursday, June 26th, the Scleroderma Foundation, TX Bluebonnet Chapter had the privilege of being in the audience for KHOU 11's Great Day Houston show. This show is a daily talk show/morning show hosted by local celebrity Deborah Duncan. Back in May, I was in the audience supporting the Lupus Foundation and had so much fun that I decided to reach out the show again during scleroderma awareness month in the hopes that they would let us be a part of the audience to raise awareness.  Earlier this month, I sent an email out to their audience coordinator and asked when we could come, in a matter of a couple of hours we had set a date and were told to bring 12-15 people to fill seats. I spent the next couple of weeks trying to rally people to make sure we had enough guests. And...we did!

I believe there were at least 20-25 people there wearing teal, and supporting our cause. Our board president Audrey Brouwer shared information about scleroderma at the end of the show and afterwards, Deborah said she would be in touch with us to bring in a patient and/or doctor to interview about the disease. (How awesome would that be!) We had a great time, clapping, cheering, laughing and even eating BBQ with Deborah Duncan and her staff. I am so appreciative of all the people that came out to support even for just 2min of fame on local TV.

Check out the segment below:

Ay Papi...
3. Family Support
It is unbelievable the amount of support I have received from everyone in my immediate family through to cousins of mine that I had no idea were even keeping up with me on Facebook or reading my blog. My family has found ways to show support in the simplest of ways and even going above and beyond what I ever expected or could have hoped. For starters, my parents have spent the month wearing teal as often as possible...even if that meant my quirky father putting his T-shirt on backwards instead of just having my mom take a picture of his back.

Love her!
My mom has also made a point to share inspirational quotes, images and scleroderma facts on her Facebook page on a daily basis. She is becoming quite the advocate!

The second group of people that have wowed me with their support in my family has been my cousins. On both my mom and my dad's side, they have done everything from paint their nails, and wear teal at the gym, to waking up at the crack of dawn just to appear on the Today Show in the hopes of raising awareness. I feel so blessed to have this many people in my life helping me fight the good fight and doing so much just cause little ole me is chronically ill.

Daniela, Cinthia, Ailin, Iraida & Iris- THANK YOU!
Throughout the years these awesome ladies have participated in scleroderma walks with and for me, sent me love and flowers after hospital visits and flare ups, and are always praying for me and trying to find ways to brighten my days. I was so elated when I spotted Iris on the Today Show this morning, making noise, smiling and waving a sign on only 3 hours of sleep! You are a trooper cuz, and I love you for it!!

Over the years, I have learned that many patients diagnosed with a chronic illness often have to cut people out of their lives because they don't understand what they are going through, or they judge them or refuse to accept their condition and choose to live in denial. I can honestly say, that my experience has been the opposite. I have had such an outpouring of love and understanding come my way (slowly but it is growing as I educate people more and more) that I almost don't know how to handle it all. My friends and family may never truly understand what I've gone through our what lies ahead of me, but they sure as hell are doing their best to support me through it, and that's more than enough.

(Yes, I know I didn't mention the hubs...he's getting a post all to himself tomorrow- ya'll know I can't do this without stay tuned!)

4. Friend Support
Finally, the outpouring of support that has come from my friends via social media has been awesome. Again, it has often been those individuals that I never would have suspected or didn't even realize were "following" me or reading my blog. I love that both men and women have rallied at different times this month to wear teal, share one of my memes, or comment on a blog post.

I may feel like a squeaky wheel sometimes, but I think it's finally paying off! So, to all my friends that made one small sacrifice to show your support, and hopefully shared why you were doing it with one other person- THANK YOU! Now, my world is a little brighter because one more person knows what scleroderma is thanks to your small effort, and in order for patients lives to be saved, better treatment found, and research money to be had- awareness is key.

Michelle, Angelie & Joe
This month is not over yet, but it's getting close. Just a couple more days. But just because we reach the end of June does not mean my (our your) work is done. I know I will continue to blog (as often as energy and time permit) and I will keep doing the work I am doing for the Scleroderma Foundation until they force me out.

I know many people who are silent and private about their illnesses, and that is their prerogative. I am not one of those people and I never will be. It is important to me to empower myself and others with knowledge and awareness. If we do not advocate for ourselves, no one else will and when you're dealing with apathetic doctors and nurses, a faulty medical system, and just straight up ignorant and rude ass people, YOU HAVE to care, you HAVE to be educated, and you HAVE to speak up for yourself.

I hope that through this process I have given someone (friend, family, patient or caregiver) the strength and the foresight to continue pushing through this terrible disease and moving forward towards living a better life.


Want to "like" the meme above?

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Twitter: @jasminnemendez

30 Ways to Help Spread Scleroderma Awareness