Poltergeist Panic Attack

The most terrifying tree in the world!!!
The most terrifying tree in the world!!!

Have you ever had a panic attack?  If not, then imagine being absolutely terrified- heart racing, palms sweating, breathing heavily, feeling certain that something terrible is going to happen and that you could die at any moment.  Then, imagine that there is nothing around you to be scared of, that you are just in your room on a regular day and that this feeling came out of nowhere.  Sounds fun, right?

Everyone I have talked to who suffers from extreme anxiety or panic attacks has different experiences, but the one thing that we all seem to have in common is that horrible feeling of dread, of …well, panic.  It’s something about adrenaline releasing into the body and producing a “fight or flight” response.  Basically, your body thinks that a bear or a dinosaur or something is chasing you, so every instinct you have is screaming at you to run away.  But when there’s nothing to run from it really screws with your head.

In the past few years I have been through a lot (this is kind of an understatement, see A Brief Timeline of Crazy if you need the CliffsNotes) but my first panic attack was one of the most frightening things I have ever experienced.

I was between surgeries and having a pretty good day, so my mom decided to take me out to lunch.  We were driving and I started feeling nauseous (which I now know can be a panic attack precursor for me.)  I thought I was just hungry and asked her to pull over to the first place she could find.  We stopped at a La Madeline, with it’s pseudo-French décor and soft music- not really the type of place you see in horror movies.  While we were waiting, I started to get this terrible sense of dread.  It’s hard to explain other than that all of the sudden I was sure that something horrible (like a terrorist attack, or earthquake, or Zombie apocalypse) would be going down soon at this Dallas strip mall and that we needed to get out NOW!

I communicated this to my mom and while she looked at me a bit funny, she humored me and we grabbed the food and hopped back in the car.  On the 5 minute ride home my heart was pounding, and I began thinking that I might be having a heart attack or stroke- cue the “stroke symptoms” Google.  I got in the house and ran to my room.  Then I looked out the window and saw a tree.  I looked again and it was moving (like probably because of the wind.)  I then realized that it looked like the tree that comes alive and grabs the kid in Poltergeist and I told my mom to quickly shut the curtains before it “got me.”

I think it was at this point that she started to realize there was something really strange going on and she encouraged me to take one of my Xanax and call my therapist.  No answer, so I left a message and continued to freak out.  I could still see the tree through the sheer curtain and it looked even more menacing. I soon came to the conclusion that there was a distinct possibility I was going to die, like in the next few minutes.

I would like to pause here and note that there was still a small rational part of my brain that was thinking that perhaps the tree was not really going to come to life and strangle me with its branches, but it didn’t stop the panic.  I kept leaping up like I wanted to run, realizing I didn’t know where to go, and lying back down.  It was about this time that Sebastian came home and relieved my mother of crazy-person watching duty.

He suggested that I breathe into a paper bag.   So I did- I breathed into a Whole Foods brown paper wine bag for like 5 minutes.  I did not feel any better, but eventually I just felt stupid.  Like I was in some unimaginative rom-com and the girl gets so nervous before the big date that she starts hyperventilating and her sassy (but not as attractive because she wears glasses) BFF gives her a bag to breathe into!

Eventually we got my doctor on the phone and she helped me identify what was going on. With a combination of a licensed professional talking me down and a few more Xanax, the terror eventually faded.  Leaving me feeling exhausted and ridiculous.

See, that’s the thing, I remember the whole series of events and what I was thinking.  In hindsight it seems absurd and even a little funny, (I was scared of a tree!) but at the time the feelings I was having were real.  I can totally understand how a lot of people with panic attacks go to the emergency room.  And I think there is a sort of stigma to that, “Oh, it was just a panic attack.”  Like the person overreacted and the whole thing was no big deal.  But if it happens to you, believe me, it is a huge deal.

That’s why I wanted to share my story, so that if you have never had a panic attack, maybe you will be able to be a little more understanding to a friend or family member who is suffering from anxiety.  Also, if you are someone who has gone through this, you are not alone.  I’ll get it when you say that the crowds in a subway set you off, or a certain fabric stripe made you dizzy and fearful.  But don’t call me if a tree in your yard ever comes to life…that shit is freaky!

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5 Reasons I Donated My Hair

Will I look like a creeper when I go to the post office and tell them I want to mail my hair?
Will I look like a creeper when I go to the post office and tell them I want to mail my hair?

My hair has always been long and thick.  I mean, I hear when I was a baby I was a baldie, but for as long as I can remember it has been a distinguishing feature of mine.  I would get angst about cutting off a few inches and the shortest I ever had it is just below my shoulders.

During my long recovery I have spent a lot of time alone in my room, and since there are only six seasons of Gossip Girl, that gave some good thinking time.  At some point I came to the realization that I had never really emotionally dealt with my thyroid cancer.  I had my thyroidectomy and a few weeks later was back in surgery for my colon so there wasn’t a whole lot of time to process (if you need a reference for my unusual medical history visit A Brief Timeline of Crazy.)

But I started feeling this need to somehow acknowledge what I had been through.  So I came up with a plan- I was going to cut off all my hair and donate it.  It was going to be a big dramatic gesture and I was going to feel all self-sacrificing and noble like Jo in Little Women.  I told some friends and family about this plan and they were all like, “okaay, maybe you should take a minute to think about this cause you are hanging onto your sanity by a thread at the moment and the other day when I asked if you could write an email you flung yourself on the bed, covered your head with a pillow and said it was just too much to deal with.  So I’m not saying don’t do this, but maybe wait until you aren’t so physically and emotionally fragile.”

Well, those might not have been their exact words but I got the point.  A dramatic hair change can bring up a lot of emotions.  So I thought about it for months.  And I came up with a list of reasons that I was sure I wanted to do it:

  1. I am extremely grateful, I survived cancer without having to loose my hair to chemo.
  2. I have a lot of hair and it grows quickly, but my donation could really make a difference to a woman who is going through treatment right now.
  3. Getting rid of my hair is symbolic for me of letting go of some of the pain, depression, and trauma that I have suffered in the past few years.
  4. It feels appropriate, like a new start.  By changing my look I am celebrating the stronger person I have become.
  5. I still get to feel like Jo, or that woman in the story we all had to read in ninth grade who cuts off her hair to buy her husband a watch or something… anyway, I love big dramatic gestures!

So yesterday I did it!  My friend Chad Cline at Cline Salon chopped off fourteen inches of my hair and I am now rocking a really cute bob!

Before
Before

After!After!

And I love it, I feel lighter and free and hopeful and ready to start a new chapter of my life!  I am sending in my ponytail to Pantene Beautiful Lengths (in partnership with the American Cancer Society) and it will be used to make a wig for a woman who has lost her hair to cancer.  How cool is that?  If you get a wig from the Cancer Society’s wig banks it could be made from my hair, just treat it well- it needs a lot of conditioner.

If this has inspired you to donate your hair too, fantastic!  Let me know and we will be short hair buddies.  If you have ever gotten a wig from the banks, I would love to hear your story too.  If you don’t have enough hair and want to throw 5 or 10 or 1,000 bucks at your favorite cancer charity, great!  If you just read this and think I am amazing and want to be my friend, visit me on facebook and like My Super Crazy Life for more awesomeness (you can check out a video of the haircut) And if you just want to take a minute and think about someone you know who is struggling with cancer right now, or someone you lost, or a person who is just now getting their diagnosis and trying to figure out what to do, that’s cool too… although you should probably still like me on facebook!

Thyroid Cancer Sucks Too! (Part 2)

First of all, if you want to get caught up please read Thyroid Cancer Sucks Too (Part 1)  I’ll wait, if you want to grab a cocktail also,  go ahead, I’m sure it’s 5 o’clock somewhere… so picking up with my surgery to remove the tumor:

The surgery itself was a cakewalk, but I am probably a terrible judge because I have had 5 major surgeries in the past 2 and 1/2 years and this was the only one that did not include an overnight hospital stay.  My neck was really sore and I felt crappy for a few days, but my surgeon was wonderful and only a few months later I barely have any scar at all.

What no one was prepared for was my reaction afterwards.  See, my surgeon had never removed the thyroid of a patient whose colon was so recently yanked out (I’m special) and so did not realize that when my parathyroid (which processes calcium) went to sleep when it was separated from the thyroid (very common) I would go into severe calcium depletion.  The symptoms of this include sudden numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and face.  When this started happening, the Dr. said to take some calcium pills and I would get better.  But without a colon I was not absorbing enough of the calcium and it got worse.  And then I had a full on freak out.

I have had some minor anxiety issues my entire life, but basically since I found out I had to have my colon removed it has (understandably I think) been getting much worse.  When my hands and feet started tingling, I knew in the back of my head it was just the calcium but then my anxiety kicked in and I started panicking that I was actually having a stroke, ignoring it, and would be dead in minutes.   Then my whole face went completely numb, and the top of my head, and I couldn’t feel my legs.  I became absolutely certain that I was dying and that I needed to get up and run to safety, but was scared to stand up on my tingly legs.  Luckily I already had a therapist on board at this point and had a slight moment of lucidity in which I recognized the signs of a panic attack and called her.  One long phone call and an ass-ton of Xanax later, I was finally able to sleep and the next day my surgeon got me on some calcium that worked and I was feeling much better.  Basically, my mind took some very real symptoms I was having and expanded them to my whole body causing a full blown panic attack, which those of you who have experienced them know is pretty much the scariest thing ever.  (Pretty soon I’ll tell you all about the one when I thought the tree from Poltergeist was attacking me- good times!)

Once the calcium thing got sorted out, there was my medicine to deal with.  I no longer produce any thyroid hormone at all so I have to take Synthroid and it can be tricky to get the dosage just right.  Too little and you are exhausted and too much can cause major jitters, anxiety and sleeplessness (all of which are things I have just fine on my own.)  It took some trial and error but now I have my dose at a pretty good level and am doing ok.  Long term I just have to stay on my Synthroid forever and get checked once a year to make sure my levels are stable and no thyroid tissue has grown back.

The strange thing is that I went through all of this without knowing if I actually had cancer or not, we had to wait a few weeks for all the pathology to come back.  When I got the news that it was in fact Stage 2 cancer ( a follicular papillary variant, which is why it could not be diagnosed in biopsies) I had some really mixed feelings.  First of all I was grateful that it was encapsulated and my surgeon was reasonably certain that she got all the nasty cancer cells and that no radiation or chemo was needed.  I also had a weird feeling of relief that we didn’t take out a perfectly healthy organ for no reason.  But I didn’t really have time to process the Cancer part of the whole thing because my next colon surgery was scheduled in a few weeks and I had to focus on that.

It is only now that I am starting to get some of the deep realization that I did in fact have Cancer.  For a long time, I felt that I couldn’t really even identify myself as a cancer survivor because I didn’t have to do chemo or anything.  My cancer suffering was not as bad as it is for many people, so who was I to complain about it?  But then I realized that Thyroid Cancer is a real cancer and it is ok that I feel frightened that I had it and pissed off that my body betrayed me and let those cancer cells grow.  It is normal that now every time I feel a strange ache or a lump somewhere in my body I worry that it might be cancer.  Once that C word is attached to you, it changes your way of thinking.  Cancer is no longer something that only happens to other people, that you do a run/walk to support, or that you eat well to try and avoid, it is a real to you in a way it never was before.

All that said, I do realize how lucky I am.  I have no idea how long that cancer was growing but it was big enough to be felt by a Dr.’s touch to my neck.  I had no identifiable symptoms and would never have known it was there if not for that body scan and a really smart doctor who looked twice at a little blip.  That could have kept growing until it became a much bigger problem.  Of course, the timing was not ideal (being sandwiched in between two other major surgeries,) but I was happy to get that thing out of me as soon as possible so that I could move forward.

I have often felt that I need to do something to acknowledge that I survived, to celebrate that I am doing so well and to mourn the loss of my thyroid who treated me well for 33 years.  So today at 3pm Central time I am getting my hair chopped off and donating it to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths which makes wigs for women who have lost their hair due to cancer treatment.  So keep an eye out for tomorrow’s post with before and after pics!

Thyroid Cancer Sucks Too! (Part 1)

Did you know that September is Thyroid Cancer awareness month?  No?  Well neither did I and I am a survivor of it!  It is not one of the more “popular” cancers to talk about but it affects a startling number of people.

So I want to do my little part to raise awareness about thyroid cancer by sharing my story.  If you are interested in learning more about the types of thyroid cancer, signs and symptoms, treatment, support groups, etc, you can visit http://www.thyca.org/.

I have an unusual cancer story because I only found out that I actually had cancer after it was already gone.  I realize just how lucky I am that I had a type of cancer that is usually pretty curable and we caught it relatively early, but the truth is- it still sucks.

When I was getting ready to have my colon removal surgery they did a body scan as part of my pre-op.  Nobody mentioned anything strange to me but then I went to see my endocrinologist (for my osteoporosis- yes, I am 34 and have old people bones) and she said, “Hey, did anyone talk to you about this nodule on your thyroid?”

Um, nope.  I’m just here discuss my bone density because of all the prednisone I was on for my Ulcerative Colitis.  (By the way, if at any point you get confused about my host of bizarre medical problems, see A Brief Timeline of Crazy)  So she felt my neck and said there was definitely a lump there and decided to do an ultrasound.  The ultrasound was “suspicious” (was my thyroid nodule wearing a dark hoodie or something?) so she said it was potentially cancer and we needed to do a biopsy.

This is the point where I should tell you that this happened on a Friday and on Monday I was scheduled to go in to have my entire colon removed, knowing that I would be in the hospital for at least a week and would have to go back in to get a second surgery 3 months later!  She said I could wait until after I was recovered from the surgery for the biopsy, and not to worry too much because even if it was cancer, thyroid cancer is one of the “best” kinds you can have.

I’m sorry what?  There is a good kind of cancer? Look I understand that if you know you have cancer and are spinning a wheel to find out what kind it is you are probably hoping for something like thyroid that has a high cure rate rather than say pancreatic or ovarian.  But cancer is still cancer and it is really f-ing scary, there is no best kind.  I was lucky that my Wheel of Cancer landed on thyroid and it was caught in Stage 2 (before it spread), but I would much rather have been on a different game show all together… like American Super Ninja, I wish I were that cool!

But I digress, I managed to keep it together in her office and make it to my car before I had a complete mental breakdown.  I was crying and shaking so much that I could not drive.  I mean WTF, wasn’t I going through enough right now?  No, the universe decided to go ahead and pile on some more to worry about.

This is what I felt like when I heard the news, see bottle of wine!
This is what I felt like when I heard the news, see bottle of wine!

So I let myself freak out for a few hours but then I had to put on my big girl yoga pants and suck it up, I was going into the hospital in a few days for major surgery and had to make sure everything was set up and ready for my kids and myself during my hospital stay and intense first few weeks of recovery.

When I was recovered enough I went in for that biopsy, waited an excrutiating 10 days for my results only to find out that they were “indeterminate.” So basically there was a 50/50 chance it was cancer but no more tests that could help narrow that down.  Awesome!  All the doctors agreed that it was too risky not to operate and remove the lump but I got to make the choice of removing my entire thyroid (which if it turned out not to be cancer would be taking out a perfectly good organ that I really kind of need) or just removing the half with the lump in it (but if it was cancer, I would have to have a second surgery to take out the rest.)  Knowing that I would be having a minimum of 3 surgeries in 4 months at this point I made the choice to take the damn thing out and be done with it.  I could not face the prospect of a fourth surgery.

In part 2 (soon to be blogged) I will talk about my recovery from the surgery, the discovery that I did in fact have cancer, and the complications I came across.  But I just want to pause a moment and say here that thyroid cancer is a real cancer, that it can be serious and even deadly (the girl from The Fault in Our Stars had thyroid cancer) and that if you are having any issues that could be thyroid related (one of the biggest of which is fatigue,) please get them checked out.

I am praying for each of you that you never have to spin the Wheel of Cancer, but if you do, please know that it is ok to be angry and freaked, but that there is a ton of support out there for you.  I hope this blog becomes just that.  A place for inspiration, laughter, and comfort when things get rough.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty more crazy where this comes from!