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Thursday, August 14, 2014

I Am Not My Disease!

By Kiara Tatum


Kiara and niece being silly
I was reading a youth worker journal article, and the topic was identity.  I haven’t seen it yet, but the article was referring to the movie, “Fault in Our Stars.” The movie follows the growing friendship of Hazel, who is diagnosed with cancer, who meets Augustus, also diagnosed with cancer, at a support group meeting.  Augustus asks Hazel, “So what’s your story?”  She proceeds to tell him about when she was diagnose with her cancer.  But he interrupts her and says, “No, not your cancer story, but your real story.” 

That statement made me think about how I defined myself since diagnosed with PH eight years ago.  I was someone before I was sick, and I built friendships, had hobbies, and participated in activities that didn’t revolve around PH.  Sometimes we are so focused on our PH diagnosis and that PH journey that we forget that we are much more than that.  How I identify myself is important when sharing my story with others.  Do I start with I was diagnosed with PH in March 2006 after years of knowing that something was wrong with me.  Or do I start with: My name is Kiara, and I like to be silly and have fun.  I love to watch the ID Channel, sing songs out of nowhere, laugh and smile a lot.  I love the Lord because He loves me and He has brought me through such hard times such as these that I want to show that love to others, so they too will know who the Lord is through my actions which is easier said than done. 

So you see I’m more than just a girl diagnosed with PH at the age of 26 who had to leave her job because she wasn’t able to continue to work.  I’m more than that, and so are you.  You are more than a diagnosis that your doctor gave you, and you are more than this disease that wants to destroy every part of you.  We are PHighters, we are survivors, we are warriors, and we are strong.  And we should not let ourselves be defined by our disease any more. 


I love to listen to music from alternative to country to pop to r&b; I love to laugh and smile; I love to spend time with my family; I’m an aunt, I’m a sister, and I’m a daughter.  I sometimes get mad for no other reason than I woke up that way and will probably stay that way for a few hours; don’t take it personal.  I’m terrified of spiders, and I love to work with youth.  So that’s a little bit about me. So what’s your story? Not your PH story, but your real story?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Dealing with changes in your health

Guest Blog Post! By Sara Hunt 

Like sufferers of most chronic illnesses, PH patients have to deal not only with the symptoms and impact of PH itself but also with sudden changes in our health and lifestyles. Booking a holiday a year in advance feels like tempting fate. Life is suddenly so much more unpredictable and fragile than it was pre-diagnosis.
My health has been particularly unpredictable. Changes in my health have happened practically overnight on more than one occasion. Three years ago a lung haemorrhage caused a dramatic increase in my pulmonary pressures and I went from perusing a promising career as a dancer to using a wheelchair for any kind of outing. Then, February this year, I simply woke up with worsening breathlessness that never got better. I'm now on the transplant list.

There's something about breathlessness and fatigue that once you settle into a routine of avoiding the amount of exercise that makes you feel unwell, you don't really notice improvements in your health until you're forced to do something you don't usually do and find to your surprise that you can do it without extreme breathlessness or dizziness. Worsening breathlessness is easier to notice and you suddenly have to make changes to the way you live to deal with them. Of course it's always important to do as much as you can but PH symptoms are so unpleasant it becomes impossible to push beyond a certain point. You have to make changes and this can feel like your disease is controlling your life.

Given the increasing unpredictability of my life I feel I might be able to offer some advice here.

1. Stop comparing your life to the lives of those around you.
Everyone is guilty of doing this. We crave constant reassurance that our lives are good. Imagine a healthy person exactly how they are now, but everyone else in the world is Ussain Bolt. Their health and lifestyle would be exactly the same as it is now, it's only in comparison to all the Ussain Bolts that makes it seem mediocre. It's the old the grass is always greener on the other side. But if you constantly compare your life to others you'll forget to enjoy it. Do what you can, there are always things you can do, no matter how ill you are. 

2. Don't compare your health now to your health in the past.
On a similar note, it's important not to lament the past. Treasure the good memories rather than becoming bitter about them. Make good memories for the future, you'll probably need them!

3. Find ways of making things feel normal.
Although your life is going to be affected by your health, it doesn't have to control it. Making small changes and making an effort to go out and do the things you used to is important. From simply having a evening meal with your friends instead of a late night out to going to see a show instead of performing in one yourself.

4. Learn to adapt. It's easier said than done but humans are designed to adapt to change. It's much more nurture that gets us stuck in our ways rather than nature. We are designed to survive and do it to the best of our ability. It's not easy but it's completely possible and your mind and body is designed to do it well.


5. Help yourself feel in control.
We are all in control of our own lives and having a disease doesn't mean you're not. Making the effort to change the way you do things rather than cutting them out of your life completely is how I maintain some kind of control over my life. There are things you can't change but there are lots of things you can, concentrate on those. 

6. Get out and try something new!
So you can't do some of the things you used to but there are plenty of new things to enjoy. Go to a food festival, check out the local book stores and go to a reading of an author you've never heard of, go to a comedy show, visit the local zoo, do something you'd never have thought of doing before and take a good friend along with you. It's easy to get stuck in a routine but new things and regular outings are brilliant for maintaining your sanity. And spending time with people you love is an extra special bonus.

Hopefully these were useful. You're probably doing all these things already but this post should give you fresh drive to this summer and you can never have too much of that!

Feel free to post any advice you have for dealing with changes in your health or even dealing with a new diagnosis. 

For more blog post by Sara visit her site at http://thegirlwithheartdisease.blogspot.com/2014/03/big-decisions.html






Friday, July 11, 2014

Here Comes the Sun

By Marissa Barnes
As we enter into the warm summer months, I wanted to introduce myself as PHA’s summer intern in the Patient and Caregiver Services branch. The summer time is my first and foremost favorite time of the year, not just because I break from school, but because every day I feel rejuvenated by the warm air and happier with the sun shining.  A few years ago I read this quote and since has been my life motto, to
“Always bring your own sunshine.”
 I know for some, being in the sun can cause irritation and the time spent under the sun’s rays for others their summer might not even be all that sunny, for me, living in D.C. we have thunderstorms lined up every day of the week. Regardless of the weather, I try to find a little bit of sunshine in everything I do. I had made a post on the Facebook group asking what some of your summer plans are to be this summer, whether you are vacationing, spending time with friends, involving yourself in certain camps or groups, etc.

 Kevin Mayhood – Paskawych shares his summer plans saying, “I have a slogan and its ‘if I can do it, you can do it’ and I keep trying to push myself to attempt new things, despite this. I am 32, I was diagnosed in 2012, and I have IPAH currently, although there is a thought that we may have an idea as to a potential associative disease. I am spending my summer in my hometown of Marietta, Ohio, but it doesn't mean I am not excited. When I was going through my diagnostic process, I needed something to keep my mind off of everything, so I jumped into an idea a friend, and fellow theatre professional, had about starting a professional summer theatre company in Marietta. So, we formed a group, and over the last two years built up what we needed to pull it off”. (Mayhood-Paskawych).
Kia Thompson-Allen who is 39 and was diagnosed with PAH in 2007, tells us this summer she will be, “keeping my 8 year old busy, taking him to St. Louis to six flags and the zoo there”. Kia recommends staying in the water parks to stay cool, plus drinking icy beverages and finding shade when you can.  Kia explains, “you know it's hard on us PH'ers in the heat, plus my son being a severe asthmatic heat isn't good, so most activities we plan are indoors: library, Chuck E. Cheese, and an indoor trampoline facility; all those places are air conditioned :) and ways to  have fun and stay cool for us”!
Kristine and family at Detroit Zoo
Kristine Green is 35 and was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension in July 2011.  She says, “This summer, I am ALL about family time! I am blessed to stay home with my four year old son. So far, we have gone to Movies Under the Stars- where you watch a movie outside up on the mountain to support our local firefighters, library reading programs, both of the "splash pads" in our town and played a lot in our yard. I am most excited to go camping on the Umcompagre Platuea and for a rafting trip on the Colorado River. Too cool off, we load up our three pups and head to the river or swimming pool (minus the dogs)! We like to make our own Popsicles or freeze fruit to munch on to stay cool too. My son and I are supposed to visit family/friends in Michigan (where I am from) for 17 days- visiting numerous cities while there. However, I am not sure about going right now since I am experiencing troublesome side effects from meds. If we do go, we'll go to Lake Michigan, the Detroit Zoo, festivals and maybe a Tiger's game! I will need a vacation from vacation after that! I like a lot about summer, but harvesting fresh fruits and veggies from our garden, camping and spending time with friends are probably my favorites”.
We love hearing from all of you and your plans for this season. Sometimes the heat can be intimidating to get outside and have fun, but there are many ways to stay cool and still enjoy yourself. I hope you all can find a little bit of sunshine in each part of your day

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Generation Hope Goes to Indianapolis

by Kiara Tatum


It's almost time... conference starts on Friday, June 20.  And as people are traveling to Indianapolis for this year's conference, I see many postings from Generation Hope about their travels on Facebook. I'm very excited to meet up with PHriends that I haven't seen in two years, meet new PHriends, and see PHriends in person for the first time.  I"m a bit nervous about flying again.  My family isn't able to attend with me to conference, so I'll be traveling alone.  So as we all check in to the conference over the next days, don't forget review your conference program book.  There are many sessions centered around young adults that we hope you will attend.  There's also a special meet up for Generation Hope.   Generation Hope After Dark will be held on Friday, June 20, 8:30pm.  I hope you'll make it out. Previous Generation Hope After Dark in Florida was a lot of fun!  Brittany Riggins wrote about Generation Hope After 2012 in a previous posting.  This year we're adding a little game which you can win prizes, so you don't want to miss this one.  Join us for an evening of fun!!!

Safe travels to everyone!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Be Like a Kangaroo!

By Kiara Tatum


A few days ago, I was reading my daily devotional, and it was talking about how kangaroos -- due to their shape of bodies and large tails -- cannot walk or bounce backwards.  However, they bounce in forward movements very easily.  And I thought about how I move in my life, and how I can get stuck in certain places.  But the kangaroo can’t go backwards, and they move forward as part of their nature; I want to be like a kangaroo.  I want to always be moving forward.

This sounds easier for a kangaroo to do; since, it’s their animal nature, but it’s a lot harder for people, especially those with a chronic illness like PH to follow this concept.  To add this concept as part of our human nature; it seems almost unnatural.  As a PH patient, I’m always having thoughts about why did I get PH; what if I didn’t gain so much weight, would I have gotten PH; if my pediatrician saw the whole in my heart when I was younger, would I have PH now; if I didn’t decide to go back to work would I be dealing with Social Security complications; and so on and so on.  I don’t want to stay stuck on those things of the past because it's a lonely, dark, sad place to stay.  As I read in the devotional I can’t really live there, and I don’t want my PHriends to live in the past either.  I had to learn and I’m still learning these lessons in life:
  1. Leave the past behind you
  2. Reach for things ahead of you
  3. Think positively 
  4. Be hopeful
  5. And know you’re never alone
I will be like a kangaroo; always moving forward.  I will learn from my past, but leave it behind me, so that I can live a more fulfilled, joyous life.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Discussing PAH with an Inquisitive Child


Sadly, there isn't a flow chart that can adequately help us know how to discuss our disease with a child when they inevitably ask a spur of the moment, awkward question.  And for that reason I wrote this blog...



If you were a regular at my house, then you would hear on occasion me yelling, “La, la, la, la, la!”  I know it is a bit unusual so let me explain.  I have three small children and quite often trailers for scary movies are advertised during television programs we watch.  The remote is not always within reach so to keep our kids from getting scared, my husband and I yell and distract our kids until the commercial ends.  We do this because we like our children to have boundaries.

Boundaries are good.  It is good to exercise these boundaries when talking with young ones that are close to you as they ask you questions about PAH.  Auntie, why do you always go to the doctor?  Mommy, why does sister have that in her chest?  Why are daddy’s lips blue?  Not all of us are parents, but many of us have a relative, neighbor or a friend’s child that we love.  How then is the best way to discuss with a child the topic of PAH?

The most important key is to wait for them to ask and when they do ask have your answer ready.  The specifics of how to answer vary based on what you are comfortable with disclosing and the age of the inquisitive child.  Some things to avoid include death, life expectancy and the overall severity of the disease.  It is best to gear the conversation towards more positive aspects such as the quantity and quality of treatment available.

A few days ago while I was inhaling my Tyvaso, my three-year-old daughter looked up from playing and asked me, “Mommy, why do you have to do that?”  I briefly said, “Well because I need my medicine.”  Her follow up question was, “After you’re done can I have a snack?”  At the time that was all that was needed to ease her curiosity.  Her three-year-old mind is still developing, and it is best to keep boundaries on the depth to which I respond.  The questions will need a more in depth response as she gets older, but for now that meets her needs.

Her curiosity reached an all-time high when she found these paint tubes!
It has been difficult for me to process how I should introduce my children to the fact that I live with a disease.  The one thing that I keep going back to is the wisdom that “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” (Solomon)  We must implement boundaries on the information we disclose while also disclosing enough to educate them.  Some children will be very curious while others will barely notice, but as the adult, it is our responsibility to help them understand.

By Hannah Lahmeyer

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

PH Goes To College: Part 2

By Becca Atherton


When I was just a few months old, my parents were told that I had only a 13% chance of living to the age of five. High school, Prom, getting my license and graduating high school were experienced my family never thought I’d get to experience – let alone college! But here I am today, twenty-one going to college, majoring in Psychology with a minor in Family/Marriage counseling. While going to college is an amazing experience that so many of us with PH thought we’d never get to have, there are some things about the experience that will be different for us than it would other college students.

The first PH conference I went to, I was just sixteen years old and I sat in on the ‘PH Goes to College’ panel, wanting to get some tips on how to deal with the stress of college and my disease at the same time. The students on that panel had some wonderful advice such as choosing classes later in the day so you’re not waking up super early, get in contact with disability services, e-mail your teachers before you meet them to tell them about yourself and not over-scheduling yourself when it comes to classes and after school activities. The only thing I wished had been different about the panel was their array of colleges. Everyone on that panel chose to go to a four year university – some even lived in dorms!

Seeing all these young adults up there, some going to Berkley and some even going to college out of state – it gave me unrealistic expectations for myself. I felt that if I went to community college that I wouldn’t be doing enough, that I wouldn’t be good enough. If they can go to a four year with PH, why can’t I?

PH and its symptoms are different from person to person. The amount of stress someone’s body can take is going to be different than yours. I had to remind myself that, and tell myself that at least I was going to college because there are some PH patients who can’t even get out of bed. So if you’re sitting there, thinking about going to college but not sure if you can handle the huge campus of a four year, I want you to know that community college is an option and it does not make you any less of a college student if you go.

Some of the best things about community colleges are its smaller campuses; so your classes won’t be too spread apart and the class sizes are smaller so your teacher will actually know you. When you get into a class of 500, the teacher isn’t going to know you or your health, which means, if you miss a day and need notes from that day, they probably won’t even realize you were gone. I was worried about dorm rooms in college. What if my roommates are up too late? Staying up late and not getting enough sleep has a tendency to put me in a tired mess when it comes to my PH.  What if my dorm mates got sick? I shouldn’t be around that. Staying at home was the option I chose and I don’t regret it for a minute. So I don’t get the ‘dorm experience’, I can just have my friends sleep over on the weekends if I want that.

One thing I noticed was how much cheaper it was than a four year. Sadly due to medical issues, I had to withdraw from classes last semester. Imagine paying all this money and then not even being able to finish the course? I lost money last semester, but not nearly as much as I could’ve.

Because my health was still a problem by the time this semester rolled around, I am taking this semester off and it kills me.  College makes me feel normal. I’d get up in the morning, get dressed and go to classes, hang out after school, come home and do homework. It gave me something to do and it made me feel like I was actually doing something with this life that my parents and I have fought so hard for. Sitting at home all day, not only is it boring but it makes me feel like I’m wasting the precious time that I have. I know that its not my fault and I know that it doesn’t make me some lazy person but I hate it when people ask me how classes are going because I have to answer with, “Oh I’m taking a semester off.” And I worry that I sound like one of those college kids who just got lazy or flunked out so they aren’t going to school this semester. If you are in this situation too, we have to remind ourselves that we are doing the best that we can. The standards for us are going to be a little different and there are going to be times when we have take breaks from college. Yes it means getting our degree later, but at least we are working towards it.

College can be a bit crazy and stressful, but it can also be so much fun. I’ve met a lot of great an amazing people through college and I’ve learned so much. I’ve had amazing experiences and gotten involved in a great club after school. (I did not do more than one club at a time due to stress and activity level). Just take it slow, remember that you don’t have to get everything done at once and that you’re on the right track.