This photo is about 30 years old. It’s one of the last ones I have with both of us before her cancer diagnosis. In older photos she wore those awful turbans to cover her nearly bald head.
My mother was diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy (DM) circa 1990 before there was a DNA test available. When my parents told me of this diagnosis they never mentioned it was a genetic condition nor that it was serious. All I knew was that she appeared before medical students at the University of Miami School of Medicine so they could see that one leg calf had less muscle tone than the other. She had more severe health situations than thin calf muscles and had been repeatedly hospitalized.
In 1990 there was minimal information available about DM. As it turned out, so many of her health issues (gallbladder and GI problems, early cataracts, daily fatigue, respiratory problems, etc.) were related to the disorder. In the last few years there have been scientific studies looking at DM and cancer which suggest that people with DM are twice as likely to have certain cancers. My mother smoked her entire adult life, was often depressed, and drank alcohol daily — creating a fertile environment for the lung and brain cancer which caused her death.
We have also learned through scientific research that myotonic dystrophy, in addition to being passed on with 50% probability for each offspring, has a component called anticipation. Essentially this means that the severity of the condition increases with each generation and often with each birth. My parents had another daughter nearly two years after I was born but she lived only three days. Now I know this child had the more severe congenital form of DM.
So tomorrow I turn 56 years old; my mother died 6 weeks before her 56th birthday.
Searching the Internet, shortly after I was diagnosed in the late ’90s, I discovered a table with data showing the average life span for adult-onset DM being between 48-55. My mother fit that data set.
So tomorrow is bittersweet. I like to think that all of my self-care and positive attitude has pivoted me beyond the dire expectations. Yet these past few months have proven to be physically and emotionally challenging. My respiratory issues, and subsequent sleep study, show that I need breathing assistance at night. My energy has a marked decline and I worry that I won’t be able to recapture it.
Birthdays can be difficult for anyone after a certain age but perhaps more so when you have this anticipated early decline…each year represents more loss to come. I’ll be celebrating with a few friends at a karaoke bar and hopefully that will kick my butt into a more glass half full perspective.
This week I had an appointment with the neurologist who diagnosed me twenty years ago. (I talk about my diagnosis in the first podcast episode.) It’s really been great having the continuity but three years ago I had to leave my insurance plan. My spouse got a new job and Kaiser wasn’t an option. My 3-year experience with another healthcare system is a long story which I need not go into now. Suffice it to say, I’m thrilled to be back with Kaiser and my neurologist, even though I’m her only DM1 client.
Before she came into the exam room I noticed several new informational posters tacked up to the walls. There were articles and classes promoting different types of exercise and movement for people with Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and stroke survivors. Kaiser even has special support groups for adults with MS. But this poster was the most impressive — all about stress and how it manifests both physically and emotionally. That’s really the basis of my self-care treatment; whatever I can do to mitigate stress in my life so that I feel better. And there are so many stressors in life. Thankfully I continue to add to my tool case of de-stressors.
In the past I’ve always had a long list of questions and issues to discuss with my neurologist during our annual appointment. There have been periods when I saw her more frequently than once each year. But now, I feel like I’ve got a good handle on things and only had a few questions. We talked about many things — travel, my experience with a different healthcare system — and she did her routine exam which seems kind of subjective since she’s manually checking my strength and range of motion. She’s done this every year and takes notes so perhaps it’s less subjective than it seems.
To my surprise, she was surprised. With just about each test she remarked that I’d improved. She even said a few times, “you’re stronger!” I don’t want to get too excited; I won’t be signing up for any marathons or Himalayan treks. What I will do is continue the program I have cultivated — gentle yoga, Pilates, qigong and a multitude of other healthy physical and emotional behaviors.
I walked out of the doctor’s office feeling quite full of myself. I know I have a progressive muscle disease. I know it’s dramatically changed the course of my life. But I’m going to do whatever I can, for as long as I can, to live the fullest life possible.
I’m not shy. Well, sometimes I am but if I/we win this WEGO Health Award, there won’t be any shyness. I’ll appreciate a few seconds in the limelight but mostly I’ll look at this award — any award — as a way to reach more people out there. Because I’ve got a message and I don’t want to keep it to myself.
What’s my message?
The pithy message is — you can live a life filled with quality and dignity in spite of having a diagnosis. At least that’s how I’m trying to live my life post-diagnosis.
Over the years I’ve explored so many avenues learning about ways to increase my health and vitality. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve gathered a lot of tools and resources. I’ve developed a few practices and some routines worked for awhile until they no longer served me while others did not resonate for me. But I continue to maintain an open heart and mind.
While I feel pretty blessed to live in the San Francisco Bay Area where there are at least two excellent medical schools and many, many talented alternative health care practitioners, I realize not everyone has this access.
My hope is that with each podcast episode you’ll be able to take something away to help you on your health journey — your mental, emotional, and physical health journey. If you find something that sparks your interest, go deeper to explore it. I’ve heard of many people that have learned a new practice by watching YouTube videos.
If you know what you want to learn more about, take a look at the word cloud (tags) on this web page. If you don’t see what you want, let me know. You can send me a message (Leslie at GlassHalfFull dot online) or on the Facebook page.