10 weeks…

Tomorrow marks 10 weeks since I lost my dad. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since he left me. It still feels like it happened yesterday, but I’m coping so much better than I did when I lost my mom. I owe a lot of that to my dad because he wasn’t afraid to have the hard conversations with me about end of life. The bereavement class that I have been attending has also been a huge help. It is a place where it’s okay to grieve and mourn. So many of us share things that we don’t feel like we can share elsewhere and it’s a great atmosphere. I’m grateful for this safe haven.

Now to get you caught up a little bit on me and what’s been happening the last few weeks. I finished the ShapeGoal40 challenge on the 3rd. I’m sad that it has ended, but the support of the wonderful women I’ve met continues on in the group. I’m also happy to say that I was named the goal crusher for the last week of the challenge. I will come back later and share the video here. It’s a great feeling to see how far I’ve come in such a short amount of time.

Another plus is that I saw my doctor yesterday and she’s proud of the progress I’ve been making. Last year before dad died she wanted me to focus on losing weight because I had been putting on weight and pretty quickly. Then my dad died and I turned to food as a comfort, but knew that I couldn’t continue down that path. At my appointment yesterday she told me I was so close to being out of the morbid obesity range. I told her I didn’t even know I had hit that range and she said she didn’t tell me because she didn’t want that to be in my head and make things worse. She wanted to encourage me to move more and to work on eating better. We also talked about things that I’m doing coming up, like my first half marathon in April in NYC. I’m lucky to have a doctor who encourages me. It’s one more person on my team who I know I can turn to if I need support.

I hope you all have a great Tuesday!

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Real talk

A lot of this blog is about my journey as a caretaker to my dad, but I’ve also posted some about me trying to get healthy and focus on myself, which I have been doing with the #ShapeGoal40 challenge. It’s been a pretty bumpy ride because of having a head cold, now being on muscle relaxers for a pulled muscle in my back. I wanted to share a bit of my year last year and why doing this challenge is important to me.

A few years after losing my mom to a brain aneurysm I started to get this intense pressure in my head with changing positions, such as kneeling to standing. I didn’t think much of it or mention it to my doctor because I was terrified of finding out if something was seriously wrong with me. I needed to make sure my dad was taken care of, so I just let it go. The head pressure started to become more frequent over the year and started to have headaches almost every day. I did my best to just push through, but last year things got kind of scary for me. I was starting to get dizzy spells, and focusing at work was becoming increasingly more difficult. Within a three week span last year I ended up in the emergency room because of the headaches. One of those trips was me leaving work by ambulance because of how dizzy I was and how much pain my head was in.

The first hospital visit they tried Imitrex, which kicked in within fifteen minutes and I felt so much better, but the next day I was miserable again and the headaches seemed to be getting worse. The subsequent ER visits included a CT of my brain and an MRI/MRV of my brain. Thankfully nothing showed up on those, which was a relief, but my doctor was still at a loss as to what could be causing my headaches. I was referred to Neurology and spent about 10 minutes with the neurologist for a consult that was scheduled for 40 minutes. After replying to a message on if they met my needs, I marked no. I left without any answers or even a plan to help the headaches. The nurse talked to the neurologist and I was put on amitriptyline, which is mainly used as an antidepressant , but has also been found to help migraines.

You may be wondering why I’m sharing this and there’s an answer. Since starting the #ShapeGoal40 I’ve been eating so much better and drinking more water, but haven’t really had any of my weight come off. The head cold and the pulled muscle in my back have been small set backs, but then I remembered being told that a side effect of amitriptyline is weight gain. The hospital where I doctor at uses MyChart for patient’s to access their medical records online and I went back to see when I was started on the amitriptyline, which was 08/23/17. At that time I weighed 189. 32 days later at a follow up appointment with my primary doctor, 09/25/17, I weighed 202. Almost a 15 pound increase in weight in a little over a month time span. Since then my weight has been gradually increasing, even with eating better, drinking more water, and trying to be less sedentary at work. I think the medication is what is preventing me from losing weight. I’m eating enough of what I’m supposed to be eating, plus having healthy snacks throughout the day. I see my doctor in a couple of weeks and I’m going to see if I can trial going off of the amitriptyline to see if that helps me lose weight and to see if my migraines come back or not. If they do I will see what other medication I can try, but having this realization tonight was something I needed.

Self discovery

In a way I feel like this blog is turning into a self discovery blog along with sharing my story of being a caregiver to my father. This is a huge deal for me because I feel like my identity for the past seven years has been that of a caregiver. Putting my dad first, taking him to the ER when needed, doctor appointments, helping him with IV medication at home if needed, bandage changes for wounds. The list goes on.

Today is day 20 of a 40 day challenge I am doing. I’ve posted about it before and it’s called #ShapeGoal40. There’s an amazing private Facebook group for women who are encouraging women, getting real about their struggles, and what their goals are. My goals haven’t changed since I posted them in the last blog and I will post the link to that one at the end of this post.

Tonight’s check in with Jen Widerstrom was just what I needed. My goals didn’t advance a whole lot this week until yesterday and today. The last week has been rough with having the upper respiratory thing that’s going around, dealing with a migraine on Friday, being called an orphan by someone, and attending my first grief class after the passing of my dad. I just didn’t really have the energy or drive to be motivated to move a whole lot, but I didn’t sacrifice my healthy eating and getting my water intake in. Yesterday I was still feeling blah and didn’t want to do anything, but I made myself get up and do Jen’s week three workout for the first time and I was amazed how much better I felt mentally after doing the workout. I pushed myself more today with the workout again and as the reps decreased, I made it a point to increase the weight, even if that meant taking a pause in between reps. I was proud of myself for pushing through and getting it done. I’m getting back on track this week and hitting the gym on the days I promised myself I would.

Another part of tonight’s check in was what do we look for in an accountability partner and what you need in your support system. What I’m looking for in an accountability partner is someone who will go to the gym with me and who will challenge me while I’m there. I also want someone who can help make sure I’m staying on track with my eating and water intake. So far I’ve been doing well with this on my own, but you never know when one bad day can start you back down the rabbit hole of bad habits. As far as me being an accountability partner to someone else, I think that I’m good at being a cheerleader for others. I had to be my dad’s cheerleader when he broke through a milestone in his health, like when he quit smoking after more than 30 years. I’m good at celebrating successes. In this process I’ve also learned that I need to celebrate my own successes as well, which can be hard, but I’m slowly learning that celebrating the small things will help when I reach a milestone goal.

As promised, here’s the link to my original blog post about #ShapeGoal40: https://lifeofacaregiver87.com/2017/12/30/shapegoal40/

 

A couple of easy(ish) years…

After all of the “fun” we had in 2012, 2013 and 2014 were a walk in the park in some ways, but also more challenging. Dad was in and out of the hospital for small things related to his congestive heart failure or cellulitis infections, but nothing too crazy health wise for him. Of course there were also routine appointments and tests as well.

Where things were really crazy over this two year period was with him not being able to work anymore due to his heart failure and the lymphedema in his legs. At first we thought it would just be a short term thing where he would be able to go back to work, but it ended up being a permanent thing. He applied for Social Security Disability and was denied the first two times around.

Things were tough financially over these two years because it was just my income and I was making less per hour than my dad had been. We somehow always managed to pay the bills on time. If we were ever short money, I would do donate plasma twice a week to have an extra $50 to make sure we had food to eat until payday, even if it was just bread, peanut butter, and jelly. There were times that I would also have to take out payday loans, and I don’t know how we managed those biweekly payments on top of all of the other expenses, but we managed.

Having those experiences where we pretty much had nothing makes me grateful for all I do have in life. I don’t know that people really take a step back to think about what would happen if one of their loved ones were not able to work anymore and then you suddenly have to become the sole provider. It’s really eye opening and helps you to truly know where your priorities in life are at. You no longer are concerned about the latest fashion or new shoes; you really become grateful for all that you do have.

Growing up as an only child I used to act like a spoiled brat and I’m not afraid to admit that. I would beg for something at the store and if dad said no, I knew I could always go to my mom and she would say yes. And if she didn’t say yes I would throw a tantrum and it didn’t matter where we were. As I got older of course some of that got better and some of it didn’t. At 23 after losing my mom and then having to suddenly grow up real fast to being the sole income provider and caregiver it really opened my eyes. I know there are people out there who have had it a lot worse than I have for sure, but everyone’s hardships work themselves out in different ways. This just happens to be my journey and I hope that these blogs in some way can help others to know they are not alone out there, no matter what they are facing.

 

Looking back…

As I look back on this past year, I realize that I am a lot stronger than I ever though was possible. The year started with my dad in the hospital in January, then again in March, April, May June, July, September, and November. He went through so much this year and there was a period of three months that I had to take off from work because of running out of FMLA time and needing to be home with dad to administer antibiotics via a PICC line three times a day. In all of the hard times this year I realized that I am capable of so much more than I ever knew I was. I don’t know that a lot of people truly know all I went through this year and I will go into more detail in a later blog.

I never imagined ending 2017 without my dad. He was such a fighter this year with all of his health ailments, and while that didn’t help my generalized anxiety disorder, I still feel like I had some great moments with him. During  the three months I was off from work he and I would watch The People’s Court together during the day and a Cubs game at night. I’m thankful for all of the moments I was able to have with him over these last several years and I know how much he loved me. Maybe one day I will post the video I recorded of him telling me he loves me, but in my healing journey I’m not there yet.

While there were more tough times this year, than good times, I still managed to have some pretty good times. Some of the good times this year included me celebrating my 30th birthday with two of the best friends any girl could ask for. Justin and Katie had shirts made, we went to Sleepy Creek Winery, and did a whole lot of other fun stuff for my birthday. I’m so lucky to have these two in my life. They are more like a brother and sister to me. I’m so excited for more adventures to come with them in 2018, and of course Max and Bentley, their German Shepherds. I know this next year is going to be a lot of fun!

Also this year I got to meet Jen Widerstrom. I drove up to Naperville, IL for her book tour and after her book talk and answering some questions from attendees, she was signing her book. She is one of the most down to Earth people I’ve met. She and I talked for a few minutes, and she remembered me from winning a DietBet she hosted in 2016. I’ve been lucky enough to keep in touch with her over the last year and I can’t wait to see her at the retreat she is planning in 2018.

I was also blessed enough this year to spend Christmas with several of my cousins in Indiana. And while I wish my dad could have been here to celebrate as well, I am glad I was able to go up for a few days. This was the first time I had really experienced a big family Christmas. Getting to help make treats, and meeting other family that I haven’t met was a lot of fun. The best part of the trip was when my cousin Shanna surprised my Aunt Joyce with a trip to Hawaii. It was a three part gift with the last being a shirt that said, “I can’t keep calm, I’m going to Hawaii”. She didn’t have the shirt completely open and at first thought it said, “I can’t keep calm, I’m going to y’all.” It was such a great experience to see her face when she realized it said Hawaii on the shirt. This has been her dream vacation, so I’m happy for her that she gets to go.

As 2018 approaches, I’m looking back at this last year with a lot of emotions. I never imagined I lose my dad so soon, but he and I had talked about his end of life wishes a lot over the years. At the end of 2016 he told me there was a good likelihood with his heart failure that he wouldn’t be here this time this year. He was right, but it wasn’t due to his heart failure. Signing a DNR for him was literally the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’m grateful for the nurse who took care of him in his final hours and let us use her phone so he could listen to Elvis.

In the new year, I’m going to be focused on living life again. I put myself last in order to make sure my dad was taken care of. I’m ready to rediscover who I am and what I am capable of being completely independent now. I’m excited to do things out of my comfort zone, actually go on a vacation this year (Jen’s 2018 retreat), spend more time with family and friends, and focus on getting my health back in check. I’m looking into the new year with optimism and excitement. Let’s do this 2018.

#ShapeGoal40

I mentioned in a post I made a few days ago that I’m joining Shape Magazine and Jen Widerstrom doing their 40 day challenge. Being a caregiver so long I really didn’t take care of myself the way I should have. I ate like crap, gave into temptation sitting next to the person at work who is always bringing donuts, cookies, and candy in. As hard as these last four and a half weeks have been without my dad, I realize that this is a time in life where I get to rediscover who I am. I don’t have to constantly worry about my dad throughout the day or not get enough rest because he needs help with something in the middle of the night. Don’t get me wrong, I wish he were still here because he was the best dad I could ever have ever wanted, but I knew in the back of my head that I was putting my health on the back burner to make sure he was okay.

The timing of this challenge has been fantastic. Today is day five and since it started I’ve been cooking meals instead of eating out. I’ve been making chicken dishes, healthy sandwiches, eating salads, fruits, and going out of my comfort zone by trying new things like couscous. It’s amazing how in just five days I feel like I have more energy and that my body is functioning better because I am putting good stuff into it. I’ve also significantly cut back on soda, except for a sip or two to get medication down. When I was six I choked on a life saver and my mom had to do the Heimlich on me, so getting pills down has always been an issue for me, and the carbonation seems to help that. If you know of something else for me to try, let me know!

With the ShapeGoal40, there is a fantastic group of amazing people who are all supportive of each other from all over the world and many of us have posted our goals so we can all help each other stay accountable. I want to post that here on my blog as well, so that I make sure I am not only accountable for myself, but for anyone who may be doing this challenge who reads this, can also keep me accountable.

For the first time in almost seven years, I feel like this huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I love my dad dearly, but now that he’s gone and truly seeing the toll it took on me that I couldn’t see, but everyone else could has been a huge eye opener. 2018 is going to be focusing on me and rediscovering myself and my joy. As I look back in 2017, I don’t know how I managed to do all that I did for my dad. There were times that I was pretty much at rock bottom, but was able to put up this façade to make it seem like everything was fine. I’m ready to conquer 2018. I’ve got big goals and plans for some of the most special people in my life. I really couldn’t have made it through this last year without Justin, Katie, Bri, Gina, Kelly, Jen and so many more.

Here I come 2018 and here are my goals below!

shapegoal40

Surgery after surgery

2012 was quite the year for my dad, and little did I know we’d have more tough roads ahead. After my dad recovered from his mitral valve he was able to go back to work, but that didn’t last long. After the mitral valve replacement he started noticing swelling in his legs and he noticed that it was getting harder for him to walk because of the swelling. We went in to see his doctor and found out that he had lymphedema. Lymphedema is caused by your lymphatic system not being able to return fluid to the body as it should. During that appointment they discovered that he had congestive heart failure and with having CHF that can exacerbate lymphedema. There were times his legs would be swollen so bad that fluid would weep from them.

After learning about the heart failure a good portion of the summer was spent with appointments at the wound healing center at the hospital. They have specialist that deal with things like lymphedema. We tried all kinds of things to help with the leg swelling from ted hose to Jobst socks and nothing seemed to work to keep the fluid build up down. There were days where it would be better than others, but overall his left leg was always larger than his right because of a vein they had to remove for his heart bypass.

As fall and winter came my dad had more appointments with specialists including cardiology. They did arterial venous duplexes on his legs and a carotid artery duplex. The results from those tests came back showing that he needed to have a femoropopliteal surgery and surgery on his carotid artery. His surgeon decided to do these surgeries two days apart. His carotid artery surgery was first because it was blocked about 80%, which if plaque had broken off could have caused a stroke. Two days later he was back in the OR to have a graft placed to bypass his bad artery to help increase blood flow to his leg. Both of these surgeries took place about a week before Christmas and thankfully dad was able to leave the hospital on Christmas Eve day.

At a follow up appointment we pointed out to the surgeon that the area where they had made the incision was not healing and looked infected. The surgeon took a look at it and did some lab work and it came back that the area was infected, which meant yet another surgery in early 2013. Before they took him back to the OR they said that surgery could go one of two ways, either it was a simple abscess that they could drain and debride or the infection had reached the graft and they would have to redo the whole surgery. Thankfully it was only an abscess, but it left a pretty big opening on his leg. This is really when I started to learn a lot about the medical field and really paid attention to things and absorbed as much as I could. I had to learn how to pack the area with sterile gauze (wet to dry) and measure the area to make sure it was healing. While it wasn’t a fun situation for my dad to go through it was a great learning experience for things that were yet to come.