SPS Mother – Love Shows The Way

“Mother love is the fuel that enables a normal human being to do the impossible.” 
~Marion C. Garretty, quoted in A Little Spoonful of Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul

“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.” ~Sophia Loren

I always wanted to be a mother, loved raising my children, still love being a Mom.  My second child, my oldest daughter, was born with a terminal, genetic, neurological disorder, no medically known association with Stiff Person Syndrome.  I refer to her as my “shooting star.”  Her short life taught me patience, joy in the simple, appreciation for ordinary, and to cherish the moment.  My faith was strengthened.  With her death, I experienced profound loss.  She helped prepare me for living with Stiff Person Syndrome on many levels, except how to be a disabled mother.

When I was diagnosed, my son was seventeen, almost grown.  My youngest daughter was only four, still needing a “hands on” mother.  Grief and fear were part of my emotional shock at diagnosis, not just for myself, but for her.  How was I going to be an effective mother when I could not walk, barely crawl while in continual spasm?

In my website, Living With Stiff Person Syndrome, I share a pivotal moment.  From the car, I watched my little girl struggle to open the heavy preschool door during a rain until a schoolmates’s grandmother opened it for her.  As drops of rain trailed down the car windows, tears streamed down my cheeks . . . unfit.  Back home, I struggled into the recliner.  I prayed, cried, and thought of how I was going to mother my youngest child.  Love will show the way.

Not one of my children came with a “how-to” manual.  It was a learn as I go.  I was young and inexperienced with my son, religiously followed healthy baby guidelines that are now outdated.  With my second, learning/implementing medical procedures for her care, while coping with my son’s and my emotions were daily challenges.  Love showed the way.  With my youngest, I started thinking about how I could mother with a limited body.  Imagination is wonderful and has no limits.  It was day by day, struggle by struggle, wonder by wonder.

Books, movies, Barbie mall, beauty shop, doctor, dentist . . . we laughed and played.  “In spite of ” SPS, I greatly enjoyed my daughter.  She did not see my limits.  She only saw me as Mommy, her everything.  She made the syndrome magical in some ways — spasm was “spazzle.” Scooting down the stairs on her behind, she told me she wanted to have fun, “just like Mommy.”

As she grew, love not only showed the way; love made a way.  In a parody of a spy thriller dodger, I would slide against walls, look for vertical tangible support with some sort of gait aid to attend her school functions solo.  She was never ashamed of me, always thrilled for me to show up.

I did not discuss SPS with her much, just answered the few questions she may have had.  Considering the personality of my youngest child, that is saying a lot.  She did observe though.  Recognizing distress, she learned at an early age how to help me.  In many ways, my SPS was an unforeseen blessing/teacher in her upbringing.  Strong and individually unique, she has an understanding heart, deep compassion, and wisdom; but zero tolerance for deliberate ignorance.

Now, she is a young woman with a family.  I am in awe of her capabilities.  My worried tears of so many years ago are now tears of pride.  Since she grew up with my SPS, more than anyone in my life, she understands a potential trigger for my symptoms and instinctively knows how to aid me — shopping, hikes, neighborhood walks — finely tuned in to any quiver, startle, or stumble from me.  As I held her hand when she was little, I still hold on to her for stabilization as an adult.

My children, my jewels from heaven.  My son, my firstborn, is an accomplished man.  To quote my son, “We did alright, Mom.”  My second child, my angel baby, taught me so much about God, life, and myself during her brief life.  My youngest, my blessing, gave me reason to live forward with the onset of Stiff Person Syndrome.  With the innocence of childhood, she walked a difficult road with me. Through her eyes, she saw me. 

To my children, who only see the best in me because they are the best of me.  With all my love.♥

                                                                       

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A Special Lunch

“To know someone here or there with whom you can feel there is understanding in spite of distances or thoughts expressed. That can make life a garden.” ~Goethe

An extremely rare diagnosis of Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS) also comes with loneliness and isolation . . . a never-ending need to explain with only a glimmer of hope for understanding.  My first communication with another person with SPS was via an Internet support group in 2000, six years after my diagnosis.  Euphoria filled the empty void in my life to have an outlet of mutual understanding.  In the following years, I have personally met 24 or 25 individuals with SPS.  While the Internet can be a wonderful communication tool, I still prefer “real life” to virtual.

Jennifer Trednick & I met on Rare Disease Day as participants for the awareness event in our area.  It was coincidence that we both have Stiff Person Syndrome.  Jennifer told me about Kathi Rose, another lady with SPS, suggesting we all meet for lunch.  After some email tag and schedule shuffling, we had a date, place, and time.  Jennifer, Kathi, and I met a few weeks ago — lunch at an upscale Italian restaurant, located in an Emerald City shopping center.  Instant rapport.  Both ladies are intelligent, optimistic, fun, and full of life.  We share the desire to live forward, know the ugly realities, but embrace the possibility of each day.

Over lunch, we shared diagnostic stories, similar symptoms, differing symptoms, physicians, movement issues, off days, good days, and strategies.  Considering the gravity of SPS topics, our animated conversation could have been on the latest fashions, shoe sale, or hair salons to onlooking patrons.  Dialogue was void of self-pity, negativity, or victimization.  Talking with two women who genuinely understood was liberating, validating, and cathartic for me . . . a good time!

In sharing medications, Jennifer pulled out a sheet of paper to take notes on a certain med — similar to scribbling down the ingredients of a recipe — this one for a batch of unhindered movement.  We shared thoughts on coping.  Physically, we all jump through medication hoops and push personal limits, but yield to the flashing SPS stop sign.  Though emotionally painful, cutting toxic people and situations are necessary for health.  Limited ability is on a timer.  Drama, if a choice, gets taken to the curb.  Laughter, positive people, goals, and “doing” are as necessary as medication.

We learned the general personal details of one another’s lives while validating and learning from each other about the cruel syndrome we share — “the tie that binds.”  (Figuratively and literally.)  Shared female laughter and girl-talk made a few appearances into our lunch talk.

Jennifer and I are both insulin-dependent diabetics with insulin pumps.  If I remember correctly, Kathi is borderline.  Diabetes was another topic of conversation.  Sharing included a show-and-tell of one another’s rigid back.

We had our picture taken outside of the restaurant, normal-looking ladies having lunch.  I greatly enjoyed meeting Jennifer and Kathy, two amazing ladies.  When our busy lives align, we hope to get together again.  It was a special lunch.

 

Hand In Hand – Rare Disease Day

Rare Disease Day - February 28, 2013

Rare Disease Day – February 28, 2013

“The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” ~ Mitch Albom

“As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way.” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher

I have Stiff Person Syndrome, a diagnosis that afflicts one in one million.   It is estimated there are 300, possibly 400, individuals in the United States with SPS.  We are a very small community in the definition of “rare.”  A rare disease is categorized as a diagnosis of fewer than one in 200,000.  There is estimated to be 7,000 rare diseases.  (NORD information)  Collectively, one in ten individuals has a rare disease — 30 million Americans.  Living with social misunderstanding and isolation, finding knowledgeable healthcare, and facing daily struggles and challenges are issues I share with everyone diagnosed with a rare diagnosis, not just Stiff Person Syndrome.  We are the Rare Disease Community.  Together we are strong.

Jacksonville Landing - Inside Display

Jacksonville Landing – Inside Display

February 28, 2013 was very special to me.  I was involved in Rare Disease Day.  From my personal endeavor of running a 5k and honored as a guest blogger for the NORD blog (National Organization for Rare Disease), I participated with others in my area on the 28th.  Cynthia did an amazing job organizing the first-time event.  Meeting another individual with Stiff Person Syndrome was an unexpected and rewarding experience.  Sharing was an encouragement for each of us in the group along with being informative for interested onlookers.

Knowing other groups/individuals, world-wide, were doing an outeach of awareness knitted us into a global fabric of unity — one voice.  Hear us, see us… understand, care.  In Washington DC, the Rare Disease Legislative Advocates (RDLA) had several days of hearings on our behalf.  To be a participant, in the equivalent of The Rare Disease Olympics, gave purpose and meaning to my diagnosis.   With thoughts swirling in my mind for next year and the months leading to it…

Hand In Hand

Hand In Hand

Copyright © 2013

Dedicated to the Rare Disease Community — Olympians, every day, with every breath.♥

5K – A Run For The Roses

Resting for a week after the 5K, sunshine and mellow temperatures were hard to resist.   I wanted to go for a walk.  Unloading my jogging stroller, the training area greeted me like an old friend.  Aching muscles had recovered but my heart still swelled at the enormity of accomplishment.  In private celebration, I jogged a victory lap.

With the stress of the run behind me, I was able to savor visual details of my running track.  Fuchsia blooms clustered around the pond.  My quacking hecklers weren”t around, a disappointing first.  Stiff Person Syndrome permitted an impressive, though rusty, practice run the week before the 5K.  Out of respect or intimidation, the ducks remained silent or ran from me.  I was hoping they would be a cheering crowd for my victory lap.

Many thoughts swirled through my mind — the tortuous early years, ever-present uncertainty, struggles of training, appreciation for the good, relived euphoria of the 5K.  Stiff Person Syndrome, a rare disabling disease, stole many things from my life.  Crossing the finish line of the 5K was so much more than just a run for me.  It was a moment of victory over years of abusive submission to a cruel diagnosis.  The Donna Deegan 5K was my Kentucky Derby, a “Run For the Roses,” as a lame thoroughbred.

During my victory lap, I pass the tree with a few clinging stubborn leaves.  I see the promise of budding sprouts, making my heart smile.

…And it’s run for the roses
As fast as you can
Your fate is delivered
Your moment’s at hand
It’s the chance of a lifetime
In a lifetime of chance
And it’s high time you joined
In the dance
It’s high time you joined
In the dance —

~Dan Fogelberg

Copyright © 2013

Febrary 28, 2013

Febrary 28, 2013

Racing Against Stiff Person Syndrome

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
-John Bingham

My limitations with Stiff Person Syndrome made training for the 5K extra challenging, daunting at times, a few days impossible.  Fear was consuming because of SPS unpredictability. Publicly announcing my intent to do the 5K committed me without knowing if the starting line would be approachable that day.

After two weeks of intense anxiety interrupting my sleep, an unexpected calm settled over me the night before the Donna Deegan 5K Run. I drifted off to a peaceful night’s sleep, briefly interrupted by a nocturnal sugar drop.  After a small snack correction, I went back to sleep.

I woke up at 4:30, alert, excited and looking forward to the 5K experience. Packing a backpack with my half case of water (weight stability for my stroller), diabetic supplies, snacks, and medication; my preparation resembled a wilderness trek instead of a city run. One thing I learned from my six weeks of 5K boot camp was having a strategy for optimal food intake and medication timing.

Banter with friends helped keep my mind preoccupied. I felt a connection with the crowd: running in tribute, support, or in memory — several survivors. Though their advocacy was for breast cancer, mine was for Stiff Person Syndrome, Rare Disease Day, and Lulu (breast cancer and SPS).

As the starting time neared, a few jitters started to poke at my well-being. Since I had a jogging stroller, I was delegated to the back of the pack, a sensory relief for me. With my beginning steps, I felt comfortable with the pace, the crowd, with me. As I started to pass the walkers, my confidence grew.

As in my early running days, I entered a mental zone, aware of my pace, in sync with my breathing, focusing on the pavement in front of me. SPS sensitivities often crank up the volume on my sensory intake, but navigating around the crush of people with my stroller was a mental diversion. Agoraphobia was not an issue… just concern over ramming someone in the backend.

A personal competitiveness set in, not against the other runners, against Stiff Person Syndrome. Hitting the second mile mark at 25 minutes, I exhilarated in the possibility of finishing.  Just one time… taking something back that diagnosis had stolen from me. Crossing the finish line was a personal victory over Stiff Person Syndrome for me.

At home, I wept for many reasons, but mostly with gratitude.

Photos – Donna Deegan 5K – 2013

My racing stats:
Gun time:   38:03
Chip time:  37:10

Copyright © 2013

Febrary 28, 2013

Febrary 28, 2013

Two Days Before the 5K

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”
~Joseph Campbell

Thursday was my last practice run. Checking the clock, 4:00 gave me ample time to drive to my outdoor training ground and back home before dark.  My heart sank as I did my routine blood check before leaving — 54 and dropping.   Turning off my insulin pump, I ate a snack, but needed additional sugar for the carb expenditure of exercise.

Topping off my tank with a protein bar, two Reese cups, and two boxes of apple juice, I did not have time to allow my food to settle before the sun set.  Starting with a brisk walk escalating into my geriatric trot, the contents of my stomach were a nauseating reminder.  “In spite of” the hypoglycemic episode, I finished in an impressive time for me with a glucose reading of 115.

Today was busyness.  A lengthy errand involved a trip into the city and dealing with the mayhem of getting my race packet.  Fate smiled on me with a close parking spot.  The Donna Deegan Marathon for Breast Cancer is a national event.  The Convention Center was jammed with various aisles and booths, colors, people, and noise everywhere — a continual movement of pastel confetti to my syndrome perception.

There will be over 1,000 runners in the 5K, more participants in the marathon and half-marathon.  Excitement and camaraderie reverberated throughout the building… Every person, a story.  How appropriate this race is for me, for Stiff Person Syndrome, paraneoplastic syndromes, Rare Disease Day.

I wavered between angst and excitement all during the day, my neurons subtly firing with medicated suppressed “snap, crackle, and pop.” Several times I practiced a deep inhale, slow exhale to calm my racing heart.  With the familiar security of my jogging stroller navigating me through the crowd, it gave me a sense of calming confidence.

Before SPS, the racing “if” always concerned time.  Since SPS, the big “if” has become if I will be able to do it.   Tomorrow morning will involve planning the timing of my medication, food intake, packing my medical supplies, and anticipating having fun.

Copyright © 2013

Febrary 28, 2013

Febrary 28, 2013

Guest Blogger on NORD – Rare Disease Day

Debra-Richardson

 STIFF PERSON SYNDROME: A FIGHT TO THE FINISH LINE
February 14, 2013

I already view tomorrow as a triumph, crossing the finish line will mean many things to me.  Whatever happens, it is such a priviledge to reach a point in my 20+ years of daily living with the challenges of SPS to attempt something I thought was forever lost.  Whoever reads this, whatever life throws at you, the future is always speculation.  Never lose hope, heart, or the desire to try.

With love,

Debbie

Dedicated to many who have left prints on my heart & to God, my “refuge & strength.”

Febrary 28, 2013

Febrary 28, 2013