An update and an invitation

It’s been so long since my last update. I’ve been busy enjoying life and, oh, just getting engaged to my best friend and biggest, sweetest supporter. :) We are getting married in the spring, and we couldn’t be more excited.

View More: http://footstepsphotography.pass.us/goodwinengagement

I’m nearing four years with my new liver, and it is so healthy. I only have one more year of the hepatocellular carcinoma protocol and then I’m officially in the clear. I’m doing well since my last major surgery last August and the reconstruction has not only helped cosmetically but it has radically eliminated my adhesion pain. If you have had multiple whole-abdominal surgeries like I have and you suffer from pain from adhesions (or undiagnosed, piercing abdominal pain) please look into this. Insurance covered mine since it was done for medical reasons (adhesion pain). Before the surgery, I was going to the ER regularly for sharp, overwhelming abdominal pain, and I haven’t had to go in at all since the surgery. The surgery was pretty major, lots of staples (or was it stitches? I don’t remember), and I ended up in the ICU afterward due to almost going into sepsis, but the pain was completely worth it. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

As I’m on immunosuppressants to prevent my body from rejecting my liver and suffer from a few chronic illnesses, my immune system is pretty weak. I have always been regularly sick, frequently on antibiotics, etc. I finally got fed up and saw a renowned ENT (ear nose throat) doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Geelan-Hansen. After one look in my throat, she suggested that she remove my tonsils. I had been told before that they were “cryptic tonsils,” which means that they were so swollen they would rest on the back of my throat. She told me it would be two weeks of the worst pain in my life (that’s a LOT of serious pain to beat!) and to stock up on all of the soft, cold foods I could find. I was afraid of what could possibly be more painful than a liver transplant but was pleasantly surprised how minimal the pain was. Eating Jell-O, ice cream, and oatmeal for two weeks in January was far worse than enduring the pain. However, my throat has not hurt a single time since recovery from surgery, and that is a big accomplishment for me!

I found myself calling Dr. Geelan-Hansen again this spring after half a dozen ear infections, and we decided to add tubes to my ears as well. This happened a couple weeks ago. Ear tubes help fluid drain out of ears rather than sit around and cause infections, and so far, I’m enjoying no more ear infections! I had them inserted under general anesthesia, and I’m definitely glad I did that as the post-op pain was pretty bad for about a day.

I have been so much better, as far as getting sick goes, since both surgeries.

Around the time of the tonsillectomy, I was getting overly upset about my chronic pain. Every single day, I was in excruciating pain, and anything I did just made it worse. As I’ve mentioned before, I have tried every single pain relief option (medication or treatment such as massage/physical therapy) for years and nothing has worked enough to continue it. A friend recommended that I see a local rheumatologist who almost cured her pain, but I had procrastinated because I didn’t think the doctor would be able to make much of a difference. This winter, I decided it couldn’t hurt to try. Dr. Azem was so compassionate and kind and also a genius. After one look at me, she had several points of evidence that I had psoriatic arthritis. She ordered some labs to rule out other things and upon a second visit, she confirmed the diagnosis. It’s basically an autoimmune form of arthritis that produces severely painful, swollen joints. It typically causes psoriasis, too, which is a skin disorder, but thankfully I don’t suffer from those symptoms at this time. So while I didn’t need any more diagnoses, I was happy that we now had some new treatment options to consider.

Between careful discussions with both my rheumatologist and my transplant team, we decided a drug called a biologic would be the best first course of treatment for my PsA. There are several biologics, all taken via injection or through an intravenous line (IV), and my doctor thought Enbrel would be the best treatment for to start with. I have been injecting myself weekly with Enbrel for around four months now, and I’m happy to say my pain has decreased. It hasn’t been a miracle drug, but I have noticed a difference in my pain levels. I am so thrilled to report that. The shots burn pretty badly, and I’m no baby when it comes to pain, but 30 minutes of icing my leg before the injection helps a little bit. I have some other ideas on reducing injection pain that I will share later after I try them.

I’m also experimenting with natural remedies like super foods and essential oils which I am loving and will share once I try a few more things I have in progress.

The PsA flare ups are horrible. (I have been having them before the diagnosis but I considered them to be fibromyalgia flares.) Flares are a short time (weeks/month) when the pain is completely out of control, and they come from absolutely no where without any warning. I’m thankful that there is also a treatment for PsA flares – steroids and pain medications. Steroids, while definitely not a drug I would choose to take, decrease the inflammation, and the non-narcotic prescription pain medications take the edge off.

Compared to my health at certain times in the past, I am so great. No big surgeries, no more chemo, no more balancing on the tightrope over death. I really couldn’t ask for anything more than I have now, both physically and in my personal life. Of course I sometimes still struggle with my new normal, and I wish I had as much energy or as low pain as “average” people, but this is my reality. This is what God has given me, and it’s my job to make the best of it and inspire others with the provision He has given me throughout the past 22 years of illness. Each day, I think of how much I owe to my organ donor for so many more opportunities to live my life to the fullest. I wish I could repay him in some way, so I just pray for his family and hope to meet him in heaven one day. He is my angel.

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Also, it’s that time of year again!! It’s my team’s 4th annual Lifebanc Gift of Life Walk & Run at Blossom Music Center! So far, we are going to surpass our record for biggest team in our team’s history! I am so blessed to have such a great support system to support such a life-changing organization as well as the fact that I’m alive because someone said “YES” to organ donation. Please click here to view more information. I am officially inviting you to be a part of a truly fun, exciting morning. Please consider joining our team or even donating the cost of tomorrow’s latte for the cause of organ donation in Northeast Ohio!

Love to you all.

A gift

Stacy Kramer, and TED, thank you so much for this.

I wouldn’t change my experience.  It profoundly altered my life in ways I didn’t expect… So the next time you’re faced with something that is unexpected, unwanted, and uncertain, consider, it just may be a gift.

Stacy Kramer, brain tumor survivor, so eloquently told the story I’ve relayed to countless individuals.  I think a lot of us who endure life-threatening illness come out to see what a gift it was.  As I’m sure it was for her too, many of my nights were sleepless; there was a lot of pain. I wondered a million times Why me? How can I get out of this? Please, can someone make this stop?!  But standing on the other side of the whole ordeal, as I am now, it’s so much easier to see how the longest days would make me a better person in all the ways I needed, introduce me to hundreds of people I could learn from or impact, and teach me that there is more to life than anyone ever had thought.

So grateful for my gift.  I wouldn’t wish it upon you (you wouldn’t be able to see it was a gift until it was all over anyways), but I’m thankful to God that he brought my scariest, darkest, most painful experiences into something I’m now so grateful for.  May His light keep shining through the darkness.

Stereotypes and prejudices

There aren’t many things that make my blood boil, but any kind of prejudice or stereotype will.  Especially when it’s indirectly targeted at me.

I have been absent from my posting for a little bit due to the crazy busy (but wonderful) holidays and wrapping up my baccalaureate degree in Public Health with a focus of Education and Promotion.  But I need to say something important right now.

I’m in a writing intensive course where we are to write a lengthy paper on a topic relating a health disparity.  Naturally, I chose “Organ transplantation among socially vulnerable adults.” A peer commented on my topic, and he mentioned alcoholism and drug abuse-inflicted liver transplants and ended his piece by saying, “I personally don’t agree there is a large enough disparity, only because many of these people’s conditions are self inflicted.”

First of all, self-inflicted or not, you still treat a patient.  If you were a doctor and someone came into your emergency room after trying to commit suicide, would you save them?  Of course you would.  I understand the limited number of livers available makes this a little bit more of an ethical question, and I will digress for a moment to say UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) and transplant centers have extremely stringent rules for listing an alcoholic for a transplant.  If you are an alcoholic and need a liver, you wouldn’t even make the waiting list until they were sure you were sober with a low chance of returning to old ways.

It is very hurtful when someone holds a prejudice towards you or one of your kind – your race, your health status, your financial situation, whatever it may be.  Our instructor in this course has specifically asked to know about anything being said by our peers that is “uncomfortable” to us, so I wrote her an email to say I was more than uncomfortable.  I am just posting this so that all of you know that people dying of liver failure waiting on organs are not a bunch of alcoholics.  The majority (90%) of us have, or had, diseases that we in no way, shape, or form, have/had given to ourselves.

I’m extremely uncomfortable with [my peer's] reply to my paper topic idea, health disparities affecting access to liver transplants. He ended his post by saying, “I personally don’t agree there is a large enough disparity, only because many of these people’s conditions are self inflicted,” referring to drug and alcohol abuse.
This is a huge myth. I became sick with an autoimmune liver disease at age 5. I was not an alcoholic; my body simply attacked itself. I’ve done research on indications of liver transplantation, and alcoholism/drug abuse account for an extremely relatively small proportion of all transplants. When I was a teenager (before my transplant in 2010 at age 23), I had an emergency room nurse flippantly say, “Why do you have liver disease? You must have been an alcoholic for years!” I was heartbroken as it was the first time if had experienced that prejudice. Not one ounce of alcohol had touched my diseased liver. Ever.

Maybe I’m overreacting, but I am hurt by my peer, a student in the advanced stages of a health degree, no less, being condescending toward patients with liver disease.
I tried to politely respond and tell him the truth so that he could learn from this experience. I hope we all learn something from this. Preconceived stereotypes are extremely hurtful, and we must be extremely cautious never to have them with our patients/clients.
Maybe you don’t believe this myth about liver transplant patients but you think all people with diabetes gave it to themselves by eating junk food, all the people in that neighborhood are drug addicts, or even that another race is just a little less “worthy” than yours.  Well, I would like to firmly propose that no one should say anything negative about anyone unless they have done extensive research and know it to be 100% true, 100% of the time.  Which pretty much would eliminate any stereotypes because none of them meet those criteria.  And if you can somehow outsmart me and find something that meet those criteria, and want to voice your prejudice, don’t.

Gratitude

Gratitude by Nichole Nordeman

Send some rain, would You send some rain?
‘Cause the earth is dry and needs to drink again
And the sun is high and we are sinking in the shade
Would You send a cloud, thunder long and loud?
Let the sky grow black and send some mercy down
Surely You can see that we are thirsty and afraid
But maybe not, not today
Maybe You’ll provide in other ways
And if that’s the case …

We’ll give thanks to You with gratitude
For lessons learned in how to thirst for You
How to bless the very sun that warms our face
If You never send us rain

Daily bread, give us daily bread
Bless our bodies, keep our children fed
Fill our cups, then fill them up again tonight
Wrap us up and warm us through
Tucked away beneath our sturdy roofs
Let us slumber safe from danger’s view this time
Or maybe not, not today
Maybe You’ll provide in other ways
And if that’s the case …

We’ll give thanks to You with gratitude
A lesson learned to hunger after You
That a starry sky offers a better view
If no roof is overhead
And if we never taste that bread

Oh, the differences that often are between
Everything we want and what we really need

So grant us peace, Jesus, grant us peace
Move our hearts to hear a single beat
Between alibis and enemies tonight
Or maybe not, not today
Peace might be another world away
And if that’s the case …

We’ll give thanks to You with gratitude
For lessons learned in how to trust in You
That we are blessd beyond what we could ever dream
In abundance or in need
And if You never grant us peace …

But, Jesus, would You please …

Hope & Mercy

Surgery is over.

Praise God, they are all over.
It’s been almost 6 weeks since I had my reconstructive surgery, and I’m back to real life.  I don’t see my reconstructive surgeon anymore, and my transplant surgeon saw me last week and gave me a clean bill of health.  We are all hoping (realistically) that this was my last surgery.
I did have some complications and ended up in the ICU but recovery has been pretty low-key.  I’m thankful for that, too.  God has showed Himself on many occasions.  His grace is overwhelming.
I attended a Beth Moore simulcast with my sweet friend Chelsey last month and her writing on grace was so beautiful to me:

Grace is an inflated raft that can submerge to the floor of a sea to save you.

 Grace is the silver thread that stitches up the shreds of mangled souls.

 Grace is the eye that finds us where it refuses, there, to leave us.

 Grace calls the waitress to the table and sits her down to wash her feet.

 Grace sees underneath the manhole on a street of self-destruction.

 Grace is the air to draw a breath in the belly of a whale.

 Grace is the courage to stand in the shamed wake of a frightful falling.

 Grace is the only fire hot enough to burn down a living hell.

 Grace waits with healing in His wings when we’re too mad to pray.

 Grace is the gravity that pulls us from depravity.

 Grace races us to the Throne when we make haste to repent and always outruns us.

 Grace treats us like we already are what we fear we’ll never become.

 Grace is the doorpost dripping red when the angel of death grips the knob.

 Grace is the stamp that says Ransomed on a life that screams Ruined.

 Grace sets a table before me in the presence of my enemy even when my enemy is me.

 Grace is the cloak that covers the naked and the palm that drops the rock.

 Grace is divine power burgeoning in the absence of all strength.

 Grace proves God true and every self-made man a liar for the sake of his own soul.

 Grace is the power to do what we cannot do for the Name of Christ to go where it has not been.

Grace is a room of a thousand mirrors, all reflecting the face of Christ.

 Grace is…

The eye popping

Knee dropping

Earth quaking

Pride breaking

Dark stabbing

Heart grabbing

Friend mending

Mind bending

Lame walking

Mute talking

Slave freeing

Devil fleeing

Death tolling

Stone rolling

Veil tearing

Glory flaring

Chin lifting

Sin sifting

 Dirt bleaching

World reaching

Past covering

Spirit hovering

Child defending

Happy ending

Heaven glancing

Feet dancing…

 Power of the Cross.

Jesus Christ, Grace Incarnate.

Copyright 2013 Beth Moore 

I have never in my life experienced God’s grace as I have in the past three years.  I feel so unworthy but so blessed.

 It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.  Lamentations 3. 22-23

God’s in the tremors

With my surgery early in the morning, I cannot find rest.  In the meantime, I’ve been reading through some old entires and found this one.  God is so close by, even in the dark places, even in the tremors.  What mercy.

I don’t have much to say other than I’m afraid.  Honestly? I’m tired of all of this.  It’s not the life I would have chosen for myself, but as my mentor always reminds me, just like Jesus, we must say, “This is my portion and my cup.”  (Psalm 16) As nervous as I am, and as much as I look for God’s glory in all of this, I believe it will end up just fine (Romans 8), and I pray that God would use me and my story to bring Glory to His Kingdom.

Ann Voskamp posted a beautiful article on her blog yesterday entitled The Horse Principle and I dare you to read it right now.  A couple lines that resonated with me:

How did he know? That even when we’re broken, we battle onward, all the fixing coming in the moving forward… From where we stand, we can’t see whether it’s something’s good or bad. All we can see is that God’s sovereign and He is always good, working all things for good… My focus need only be on Him, to only faithfully see His Word, to wholly obey. Therein is the tree of life.

“Whatever You may do, I will thank You.
I am ready for all; I accept all.

Let only Your will be done in me…
And I’ll ask for nothing else, my Lord.“

~Charles de Foucauld

Do any of you feel like you’re with me right now? We don’t know why life is how it is, but despite that, we know that our beautiful Lord is sovereign and always good. If we know that, then why should we worry? Has he not come through again and again?

I truly believe: “All the fixing in the moving forward” (Ann Voskamp)

May we breathe in and out, YWHW, or Yah weh, calling our Lord with each breath even when we are too weak to utter words.  [How to Breathe Through Hard Times] He is with us, orchestrating something much bigger and grander than we can see right now.

Please pray for me tomorrow (Wednesday) and through the coming weeks as I recover from a very invasive surgery.  We are hoping this will be the last.  May God be glorified in our sufferings.  Only then can we endure the pain with joy and gratitude.

Remember, “God is always good and we are always loved.” - Ann Voskamp

Gifts, grace & gratitude

When someone dies so you can live, it has a profound impact.

Look at our faith.

God gave His Son to die so that we are forgiven – John 3.16, one of the most popular Scriptures of all time. Yet do we really understand the simplicity and complexity of it? We love Him because He first loved us; it almost seems hard not to. We may feel forever indebted to Him, yet we could never repay the gift. So we try our best to live up to what has been given to us, the blessing and securities of life here on earth, and more importantly, the eternal life we have to come. All because we did nothing, and He gave everything.

After I received my liver August 31, 2010, something similar happened. While this temporal life isn’t nearly as important as the gift of the eternal life and the heaven our Lord has in store for us, I believe it is the next highest gift one could ever receive. Yes, God numbers our breaths, but the gift of life is God’s way of extending them. And what a donor family chose to do for a stranger – someone possibly not even worthy of such a gift – is so selfless. My donor family lost their son and chose to help others through their tragedy. Not much is more beautiful than this. Again, I did nothing and received everything. Perhaps I wasn’t even worthy. What makes one worthy of a second chance at life, anyways? And how to we repay such a gift? Again, I don’t think we ever could.

How undeserving we are of the gifts the Lord gives us, yet how much more grateful are we to realize this?

This is the beauty of grace.

Will you join me on August 3rd in my annual Lifebanc Gift of Life walk/run team honoring our donors, our recipients, and the families that chose to give life? My three-year transplant anniversary is August 31, and this is a milestone. I’ve gone through so much, but I’m doing so well. I savor each day, each new experience, hoping my donor is looking down and smiling. I received one of the most tragically beautiful, profound gifts, and my miracle is my existence. I’m so grateful, and I’m asking you to celebrate with me. Three years… I’m speechless, in awe of sacrifice and providence.

2012 Lifebanc Gift of Life Walk & Run

I humbly invite you to consider supporting my team this year. We have a lot of fun, and the event is so beautiful. You can sign up or make a donation <<right here>>. We are grateful for each and every one of you. You are our friends, our family, and precious strangers who care. You all are my gifts, and I could not have made it this far without you.

Full of love and gratitude,
Amanda