The Sacrifice, written by my daughter Carmen, was published on Amazon in May 2020. This is her 2nd fictional novel that has been published. In her latest book, the main character becomes sick and eventually diagnosed with gastroparesis. Carmen does a fantastic job describing the ordeal that someone with gastroparesis may go through prior to, during, and after being diagnosed. While Eden, the main character, learns more about what's going on with her medically and how to best deal with it, she is faced with additional (non-medical) life problems as well. Through it all she tries to rely on family and friendship, while also learning more about herself. THE SACRIFICE is a fictional, creative, and emotional read. While much of the book is realistic, including the gastroparesis descriptions, there are also some unexpected twists and an element of supernatural in this book as well. Carmen’s description and details throughout the book are so vivid that it’s easy for the reader to believe they are actually there among the characters, I know I did.
About her writing, Carmen states,
"I never thought that I would be the one to write books while I was still a kid. But here I am with my second novel. I have always enjoyed writing for the most part, but during the past few months, I am truly starting to realize that I have a passion for writing. When I was just nine years old, my life completely changed. My mom was diagnosed with gastroparesis. I didn’t know what to do, or how I could help her, when she was always feeling horrible and in the hospital. With family by my side, I learned a lot throughout that year, and continue to learn more things each day. At times, I’ve felt like everything was pouring down on me, but didn’t really know how to handle it all. I eventually learned how to open up to my family and lean more on my faith. My goal is to use my writing and experiences, along with creativity, to spread messages of encouragement to others.
I was inspired to write THE SACRIFICE because it describes the struggles teenagers can have when living with or trying to survive chronic illness and family challenges. The disease, gastroparesis, that I included in this book is the same disease that my mom has been living with. I may not have the disease, and I may not be able to feel the pain that my mom does, but I see the pain that she goes through every day in my life, and that gives me the ability to relate to it. This book is fictional and has some unexpected twists, but also expresses to the reader that you can make it through whatever troubles you are going through and you should embrace what life gives you. I hope that everyone who reads this book learns something from it as well."
Summary of THE SACRIFICE:
“Eden is a seventeen-year-old girl that is enjoying her last summer before senior year, but an unexpected curveball gets thrown at her with a life-changing disease. Her twin brother, Bennett, and best friend, Carter, stay by her side, but once a tragedy happens, she begins to feel the pain that she never imagined having. One letter ends up being the mystery that she wishes she never opened up. Will she be able to find closure, or will she give up on everything that she's ever worked for?”
You can purchase your ebook or paperback copy of THE SACRIFICE from Amazon now!! https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0892DJV6G/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_U_x_12-0EbYPCRE
Carmen’s first book, UNBREAKABLE, is also available on Amazon.
I have become accustomed to the rough choppy waters of living with chronic pain, fatigue, and more due to the uncertainty of day to day life with chronic illness. Waking up feeling awful, is not an unknown reality. Feeling decent enough to attempt living and not just existing, just to pay the cost later or without notice become overcome with symptoms is not unfamiliar either. Obstacles, pretending, making difficult choices, weighing risks over benefits, all are part of my now normal routine. It’s been over 6 years since I’ve been able to depend on my body’s response to experiencing life. Granted there have been some extremely rough waters to navigate. Unexpected swells that sent me rocking, some that have attempted to flip me under or cause me to capsize.
During these turbulent conditions I was able to hold on, and while difficult and challenging, even if momentarily knocked down, I was finally able to regain my footing and remain upright. Surviving the unsettled and dangerous waters to slowly drift into calmer waters. Dangers still lurking around, but also able to relax a little and enjoy some of the beauty around me as well. From sunsets to sunrises, warm sun on my skin, a few clouds here and there, and the clean fresh scent reminding me that life was/is still worth living. Stormy sea conditions were still present, and not forgotten, yet were not right on top of me, weren’t pounding on top of me, all of the time. I was actually becoming able to navigate semi-safely, within limits of course, to avoid some of the storms. At times choosing a path that led me to wavy, uncomfortable, choppy waters of short unwanted storms that I knew would eventually be put behind me and a part of my past. Skills and strategies were successfully used to control the impact that the unwanted mini-storms would have on me in the “big picture.”.
However, at times, the paths before me were not as clear. There are times that I have been caught off-guard and seriously unprepared. Recently, I felt that I was on the right track. Not perfect by far, but more acceptable. Bounced around, fatigued, still symptomatic, but choosing certain situations that were more risky to be able to enjoy some views and experiences of life with my family along the way. Mentally striving and alive. Aware that I had to be cautious and careful, not completely smooth sailing, but definitely more manageable. Thinking that finally, with support, I was figuring some things out. I did not have to sit completely still, anchored down 24/7 to remain “safe”. I did not have to completely trade my quality of life for quantity. I could take short rides to explore my surroundings, relax, and authentically smile with a sense of achievement prior to returning to my dock to rest and refuel for a few days. These days or weeks of recovering, resting, refueling, and preparing for future outings were not only acceptable and understood by me, but encouraging and peaceful for the most part because I could visualize and look forward to future outings being a possibility while also retrieving positive memories while recovering. A reminder that the consequences were at least worthwhile. Sickness and limitations were still part of my life, every single day. But listening to myself, recognizing and avoiding most dangers and not expecting too much of myself, helped build more patience when having to ride out the windier wavy waters, whether expected or not, whether when living life or while anchored down.
Just as I was gaining confidence and becoming braver, testing my limits more, and taking more risk - even if just for a day or two - a massive storm formed around me. It was as if I was trapped at sea, white caps crashing all around me, out of reach of a safe familiar place to dock. I was left feeling confused, scared, and lost. At times felt as if I had been capsized with raging waves surrounding me. My sense of safety removed, no correct choices before me. It didn’t matter which way I turned or considered treading, every direction had waves crashing hard enough to destroy me. It was almost as if I had to choose which path of destruction I preferred. Did I want to go against everyone else and fight for a new line just to risk my life for a dangerous life-threatening infection, or simply give in and literally become a shell of myself, just dangling in the waters hoping the current wouldn’t overcome me? Partially waiting for me to completely fade away helplessly, completely missing out on the chance to reasonably experience life in spite of everything else.
Dangling in fear that I would lose my grip completely. Part of me actually wanting to let go. A larger part of me reaching and grabbing for anything that may help me remain above the surface while feeling as if I were slipping further and further under the water. Bobbling in fear of being stranded alone and empty, no meaning left, just here until I completely disappeared. Wanting and desiring so much more! Knowing that I can’t let negative thoughts, regardless of how realistic they may seem at the time, or my fears take control as the weight of them will without a doubt pull me under. Also knowing that allowing myself to hold onto everything that I’m missing, blaming myself for where I’m at or even for where I am not at, hating parts of me that I don’t understand and are unable to understand or control, would not be beneficial as they too would do nothing except pull me deeper and deeper underwater. Eroding the part of me that wanted to remain. Regardless of my knowledge, when dangling and treading in the cold violent unstable water, it’s easy to try and escape by holding on to anything that surrounds me, positive or negative.
Most of the time, I try to reach for things that will keep me hopeful and above water. I know that I don’t want to drown, don’t want to die, and don’t want to give up. I just want relief. I just want to be me, the me that I can respect, share, and enjoy at times. The me that has meaning and purpose, can be proud of and at ease with. The me that can create positive memories with my children and family. The me that exists beyond my illness and symptoms. Time and time again, I know that there are only a few things that help me survive during these times, which helps keep me afloat when everything else seems to be hastily dragging me under. They are not immediate “cures”, they don’t offer me complete safety at the moment, but they help me through moments, or if fortunate, days at a time. Medically, and mentally, my current medical team, especially Dr K and Dr S help me stay afloat if I let down my guard and allow them. Spiritually, my faith keeps me going. Part of me still believes that everything happens for a reason. I know that God is present, and even though I may never understand what His plan is or why, I'm confident He has a plan and is always by my side. When His plan for me is over, then so will my earthly life.
My family, especially my children, are monumental in keeping me afloat. THEY are what I think about when I’m at my lowest, thinking about how much they mean to me, how much I love them, how I don’t want to do anything that will cause them additional worry or pain than I’ve already caused them. Rethinking (and at times rereading or looking through photos) of the wonderful memories that we have shared together as well as the horrible ones that I have been able to overcome with their assistance (even if they have no idea of how critical they have been at pulling me through). But I don’t just think about the past, because sometimes, as positive as it can be, it can also be a reminder of times I miss so much. I try to balance my emotions by also thinking ahead to the future. While also tricky at times because it’s easy to get sidetracked with what I can’t or won’t be able to do anymore, I try to focus my eyes on the present and future possibilities of life with them. A desire to be here for each of them currently, experiencing life with them and through their eyes and accomplishments, as well as wanting to be here to witness their careers and hopefully have an opportunity to one day be a meaningful part of my future grandchildren’s lives as well, if I can make it that far. My children are my life and I am willing to survive any obstacle for them, no matter how difficult or painful it is on me. (Other things such as music can be a helpful distraction momentarily, helping me reground myself, deafen negative thoughts, and refocus on what’s really most important to me.) Honestly, IF it wasn’t for how much I love my kids and how proud I am of the people that they are and are becoming, if it weren’t for them wanting and needing me to be a part of their life (regardless of how I feel), I don’t know that I would even bother trying anything anymore. They accept me and love me for who I am, even if/when I don’t.
Storms from chronic illness and life may knock me back and test my strength and will, but God, my family, and a couple of caring doctors are my lifelines if I just trust them and myself enough to reach out and hold on until calmer, more serene tranquil days can arrive. (I just pray hard that I don’t cause additional weight or strain on their lives in the process or meantime.)
Gastroparesis is a chronic invisible illness that impacts every aspect of our lives.
We may appear "fine" on the outside, but what we deal with every day on the inside is NOT.
Gastroparesis doesn't discriminate by age or size. Some will lose a lot of weight, some actually gain.
A change in one's food diet may help improve symptoms for some, some are able to get by on liquid and/or pureed diets, and others require tubes and lines to receive their hydration and nutrition.
We struggle to find better treatments and improvements in our quality of lives.
We advocate for change, because we don't want others to have to endure what we have.
We form online friendships that become very dear to us. Our connections help us support one another during most challenging times, celebrate achievements, and unite to make a difference.
We are saddened with each green candle as we miss the ones that pass away, fear the loss of additional friends in the near future, and worry about our own path as we experience similar health stories of those we lose. Advocacy helps keep their memories and spirit alive in our hearts.
Special thank you to Melissa Adams Vanhouten, Shanna Harjo, Corina Castillo, and all of the Gastoparesis: Fighting for Change Advocates that helped with creating and sharing these and many more collages, memes, and personal stories for awareness this past month as well as other times throughout the year.
It's difficult to communicate to others, including to our families and ourselves, that there is no fix or cure for this awful disease, at least not yet. Depending on your individual cause, improvement may be found when the reason (other illness) is effectively managed. For the rest of us, at the moment anyway, it is all symptom treatment and management. Medicines to treat, or minimize, some symptoms that can in return create horrible side effects. Medicines to treat the side effects that were created by the medicines we were taking in hopes of alleviating symptoms. Surgery interventions that make us face a risk of making our illness worse in the off chance that it may possibly help use improve. I admit, I get frustrated with myself and others at times because I'm doing everything that I'm supposed to do, yet still sick. I know that too many of you can relate.
Everyday, I deal with troublesome symptoms. I used to be an active mother and teacher, a career I absolutely loved, but unfortunately had to eventually resign from due to my health. The evening of February 16, 2013 I went to bed as a "normal" 35 year old and woke up the following morning to an unexpected life of chronic illness. One where food was no longer a pleasure, but instead a nightmare of pain, nausea, and vomiting. I spent months unable to eat anything at all, in and out of ERs and doctor offices dehydrated, in pain, and in need for someone to listen to and actually willing to help me. However, I was unable to find any answers or relief with the exception of IV fluids, usually accompanied with blame for allowing myself to become dehydrated. According to them, I just needed to drink more water, what they didn't understand was I couldn't take in anything without drastic debilitating symptoms. It took numerous different doctors and two hospitals before I FINALLY found someone that understood the reality and severity of my health issues, took my condition seriously, and admitted me for the first of many hospitalizations. Even today, I still fear meeting new doctors as a result of some of the negative, degrading, and hopeless experiences I have been through. Thankfully, through determination and God's grace, I currently have an awesome medical team of doctors that authentically care about me, my quality of life, and that I can actually feel comfortable with trusting.
At this time, the majority of my nutrition literally enters my small intestines through my GJ feeding tube I've had since 2013 and then exits my small intestines through the ileostomy that I've had since 2016, when I had my colon removed due to colonic inertia. Due to chronic dehydration, I have had a few PICC lines and PORTS. Both are types of central lines that are threaded through a vein to the entrance of the heart, but differ in the location they are placed and how they are accessed. I, personally, have a PICC right now to infuse Lactated Ringers at home throughout the week and for a couple of iron infusions when I am anemic. (Other people may use central lines for things such as saline hydration, TPN, antibiotics, and/or chemo.)
Having central lines can most definitely be beneficial but also come at a great risk for central line blood infections and sepsis. I have been hospitalized numerous times for infections that required removal of my line, broad course antibiotics while inpatient at hospital for at least a week, sometimes longer, and then having a new line placed. I have had friends, likely you have as well, that died as a result of central line bloodstream infections. It is a scary risk, but necessary for some in order to have any kind of quality of life.
Daily I deal with pain, nausea, and fatigue. The majority of all of my health problems can be labeled as chronic GI motility disorders, (recently being rebranded as Disorders of Gut-Brain Interaction by Dr Drossman and the Rome Foundation). The Research Enhancement Act is a bi-partisan bill that we are currently trying to have co-sponsored and passed in the House of Representatives. It is also known as H.R. 3396. If passed, it can help increase research and awareness for GI motility disorders including but not limited to gastroparesis, colonic inertia, GERD, achalasia, and pseudo-obstruction. Even if our problems are not cured in the immediate future, better awareness, more effective treatment options, and improved understandings of the causes and impact of these illnesses on our lives and our family's lives can. Our successful #DCgreen2019 Gastroparesis March on Washington patient rally, our Facebook live Virtual March on Washington event, and our attendance and participation in legislature meetings with IFFGD (International Foundation for GI Motility Disorders) at their Hill Day event show that together we can, and will, make our voices heard to make a difference.
In closing, I want to encourage each of you to never give up. Keep advocating for yourself and/or your loved ones. Find a doctor that is right for you. If you're not getting answers or aren't satisfied with the care that you are receiving, keep searching. You know your body best. When plagued with chronic illness we learn very quickly how important it is to actually create a medical team, one that knows and understands us and wants to work WITH us on devising the most effective plan for our personal best quality of life. Communication, empathy, and compassionate care are all beneficial along with medical knowledge.
Learn from your experiences, allow them to make you stronger. Remember you are NEVER alone. You will have difficult days, we all do. You may have days that you feel like giving up, I know I have. And that's okay! If you need to take it one day, one hour, or heck even one minute at a time - do so. B-R-E-A-T-H-E. Reach out for a supportive hand or a sympathetic ear when needed. Nothing is wrong with that. There's a whole community of people that care for you and are here for you, whether it's family and friends nearby, ones you connect with online, or both. I promise you are not alone. On more tolerable days, if possible, offer helping hands or ears to others. It doesn't matter if it's in person, by mail, over the internet, or by phone. Small actions can make a positive difference in someone else's day or even life, just like they can for you. Find a way to have your voice heard. Whether it's by social media, writing, talking, attending conferences or events, contacting your legislators, or something else - you have a purpose and you have a message that can make a difference. You may even discover that sharing your experiences helps you feel better mentally and emotionally. To me it helps bring the feeling of purpose and meaning to my life.
I know that I posts more online, whether blogs or other social media platforms, about my illness than many would like read or hear about. I try to post positive comments & pictures, usually family related, as well. The negative ones are not because I want pity or attention, it’s simply because though I am not my illness, my illness is a huge part of my life. How can it not be?? It’s because social media & blogging are an outlet for me, especially since I don’t get out much anymore. Being a private person, I usually don’t share anything at all on my worst days, I don’t go into detail about all of my continuous symptoms or struggles, but at times I do need to get things off of my mind.
Advocating, which I know some are tired of as well, is a POSITIVE act. Since having to resign from teaching due to my health, which is still difficult & painful for me to think about, I struggle with purpose and meaning to my life outside of parenting. Advocating gives me a sense of helping & making a difference, even if it’s small scale. Smiles and laughs caught on camera are positive glimpses, sometimes internal happiness, but not the entire picture.
For example: I spent 2 days with friends across the US in DC last week - both inside. Only 1 of those days (day with legislators) required me to be on my feet for extended amounts of time as we walked between offices. Lots of pictures with smiles, because it WAS a special and monumental time. But, physically it was more demanding than I would let myself believe. Nights were sleepless due to pain & over-exhaustion.
I’ve been home for 1 week and still have not returned to my “baseline”. Up until Monday, my kids were trying to convince me to go to ER or at least see one of my Drs because they were worried about me. I was worried as well, but didn’t have energy or strength to go anywhere & knew that there was nothing that could be done to help. I already have IV fluids regularly at home along with tube feeds & medications. My body just needed lots of patience and rest, still does.
The way my body reacts to what used to be a “simple” day is not caught on camera, is not usually shared, yet is my reality & is extremely frustrating. Keeping my reality bottled up all the time is destructive to mental health. I try to portray positivity, but at times break down and share the negativity of gastroparesis & chronic illness, because if I didn’t I would not remain in a safe state of mind. You don’t have to understand, only those that live with chronic illnesses truly can, but please be respectful & mindful of the need to express negativity at times. I used to try and teach myself to “force positivity” all the time, but found myself sinking deeper in despair. Being “fake” or “wearing a masks” , which I still catch myself doing to prevent others from seeing my pain & how bad I feel, is often much more draining & isolating in the long run and can lead to a more dangerous path for oneself.
Therefore, I apologize if my posts get on your nerves, are negative or sometimes even depressing, but I do not apologize for being real, being human, and looking after me.
A proud mother, educator, Gastroparesis & GI Motility Disorder Advocate,
Like my content? Want to thank me with a small token of appreciation? https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/1LH7R639ORBML?ref_=wl_share
More Blog Entries