Always happy, always positive . . . that was my internal dialogue when I asked myself who I was. It wasn’t just lip service. I felt it in my soul. Maybe I got lucky? There were plenty of other people I had met in this world that didn’t operate from the same safe place. I had a track record of leaving people feeling better about their day after they hung out with me and I loved it. It filled me up. Sure I had down days just like everybody else, but they were few and far between.
Fast forward a couple of years. When I look back and reflect, I’m not really sure when it changed. It seems as if it was very gradual and completely justified by me. “I am in a demanding, stressful job,” I thought to myself. “Surely anybody in this situation might be struggling the same way“, but my struggle was different. My body was slowly breaking down on me. I just couldn’t see it.
After all, I worked out three times a week with my buddies from work. These were hard workouts . . . I was in good shape . . . so why couldn’t I catch my breath? I held out for a couple of months, but it only got worse. Finally I caved. Maybe I had some sort of chest cold that wouldn’t go away? I had chest colds that wouldn’t quit the previous two winters, so maybe this was more of the same? It wasn’t.
One day after visiting my general practitioner, I was being escorted by a lady in a hazmat suit down a hospital corridor. She was informing me that if I did indeed have Tuberculosis that I would immediately be placed in isolation. Twenty minutes and one CT scan later; I was told I could go home. I wasn’t; however, told anything about what they had discovered.
Next, a rather pathetic experience in a plastic surgeon’s office where I had a nodule in my arm biopsied (remind me, I’ll tell you the tale sometime). They didn’t find what they were looking for. Later, it was a biopsy of my lung tissue. I remember quoting Airplane to the two doctors who were about to snake instruments through my nostrils, past my vocal chords and into my lungs, “I just want to say good luck; we’re all counting on you”.
Apparently they found what they were looking for this time. They even had a name for it, although it was nothing I had ever heard of before – Sarcoidosis. “The good news is that it is VERY treatable.” This seemed to be the first thing in the handbook to tell a patient with my condition because I heard it a lot. This sentence represented a lot of different emotions to me over the next two years. In the end, it has become my source of hope and of truth, but not in the way it was ever intended from those who told me.
So I did what I thought I needed to do. I listened to my doctors. I went to a pulmonologist who started me on a high dose of prednisone, 60 mg. My lungs were in stage 4, which meant I had fibrosis (scarring in laymen’s terms). What else would I do? These people knew what they were doing. They had seen this before.
Four months later, things were different. I was different. I had put on weight, was distant from my family and I was still in full blown denial that this was really happening to me. Soon after, a bacterial infection showed up on my shin. This worried my doctor. He started me on an antibiotic and had me begin the taper off of prednisone. Three+ months later, I stopped the prednisone and the antibiotic. I was taking an inhaled steroid now – Flovent.
A lot happened over the next year. I worked a lot. I endured a lot of stress. I drank a fair amount with my coworkers to deal with the stress we were enduring. I learned about meditating. I tried a few different antioxidant juices. I experienced panic attacks, depression and anxiety (or the magical trifecta, as I like to think of them). I had a short stint with a counselor. I tried two acupuncturists and eventually settled on a third. She has helped me in ways I never thought possible.
Then the hives came. It was my arms. It was my legs. It was my stomach, my chest, my butt. I seemed to be allergic to my clothes, my bed, my carpet, even my underwear. My body was breaking down on me. I was barely holding it together at work (although my coworkers had my back and were picking up the slack). Somehow, I was still denying that anything really needed to change on my part. I was still detached from this experience. I didn’t want to accept that any of this was real.
It was real. My pulmonologist said he couldn’t help me with my hives or fatigue. I told him about my shortness of breath and how it was the reason I came to see him, but my blood oxygen level was fine, so he sent me home. When my acupuncturist said she wanted me to go get my heart checked out, because she was concerned about the signs my body was giving her . . . EVERYTHING CHANGED. I went home and I sobbed and I wailed. I don’t remember ever crying like this before in my life. It sounded like a walrus giving birth to an elephant (or what I imagined it might sound like). My body was releasing everything. All of the things I had packed away in my denial trunk over the past two years were suddenly coming to the surface and I had to face it all.
That was the moment I took ownership of what was happening to my body. It was clear to me that I needed to start fighting, but I was worried I was too late. I was desperate. My mother, wife and a coworker all suggested a naturopath for my hives. I was willing to try anything. What I got that day in my ND’s office was the glimmer of hope.
I wanted her to fix my hives; she wanted to focus on why my immune system was so out of whack. A couple of tests later, it was clear I had a gluten issue and that my adrenals were under performing. She started me on a paleolithic elimination diet and an adrenal support supplement. An amazing thing started to happen, I began to improve.
Sure I knew that what you put in your body affected things, but I ate pretty healthy . . . didn’t I? Seeing my diet change my health conditions opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me. I was like a sponge, reading websites, books and watching movies. I suddenly realized that maybe it wasn’t too late to fight this disease. What other information could I find to help me out of this health spiral? I learned about monitoring my pH balance. I learned about juicing vegetables. I learned the importance of diligent hydration (my horrible issues with dry eye literally disappeared overnight!). I learned about the studies correlating cancer and heart disease to eating animal products.
As week has stacked upon week the changes in me are dramatic. As of May 24th, 2013, it has been 5.5 months since I changed my diet. I have been on a strict vegan and no grain diet for the past 3 months which is where the most dramatic changes have come. I am taking no medications. I have no dry eye. I have no hives. I have no depression, anxiety or panic attacks. I have little to no fatigue. I am energized at work again. I am happy and I am present for my children and my wife. Most importantly, I now have hope that this disease IS treatable. The main repercussions of this new lifestyle have been dropping 50 pounds and feeling healthier than I can ever remember. Now those are side effects I can live with!