I learned from a young age to not let my pain go in vain. In sports, the phrase “no pain, no gain” was often ironically words of comfort. Comfort that produced hope in better end results. Going through the pain of seeing my own father suffer from a terminal illness, my family found comfort in knowing God has a plan. A plan for the pain. Though I admit rarely did I enjoy those words while watching my father relinquish most of his time and energy on this earth. Yet I could see my father’s pain made him gain a stronger spirit and rarely did I see him unhappy despite having every reason to be absolutely miserable. “No pain, no gain.” I was conditioned to think this way. I don’t know why. It just grew inside of me. But nothing could’ve prepared me for the chapter I faced in fighting my own sickness. My own belief in not wasting any pain would be put to the test.
It all started last fall. I started losing my breath during the night. To this day, I have only small ideas on why. I took my inhaler thinking it was asthma. Scared it wasn’t working like it normally would, I prayed, tried to fight off feelings of anxiety and forced myself to go to sleep. This happened off and on every few nights. It was strange, but I was determined to not let it get in the way of all the important life events I had going on.
The next month was Thanksgiving. We had spent the night at my in laws house and again, I woke in the night. This time I woke my husband up. We debated about going to the Emergency Room, but knowing insurance wouldn’t cover this ER we were torn. Of course my husband didn’t care, he just wanted me alive. But this is honestly a real dilemma for many people and it was a real conversation for us. Everyone knows what big medical bills can mount up to, especially over time. Instead of actually going into the ER, we sat in the parking lot trying to determine if it was serious enough and prayed. We went back home and were able to sleep. Not to self: get better insurance. You don’t need it until you need it.
The next morning we woke up and I still wasn’t feeling right. I just wanted to go home and try to think and fix it. As we were headed home, I could barely breathe. I felt my throat closing in. My hands started to go numb. I looked at my husband and he focused on getting us to the closest ER. No one was there. A small town in the middle of nowhere with an empty ER. This was not going to work. We got in the car and had to drive 45 minutes to the next city with bigger hospital care. While in the car, I kept praying and speaking life over my lungs to breathe. Calling ahead to see which ones would accept our insurance, we finally found an urgent care and walked in speedily. They got us to a room quick enough, though nobody seemed to be moving in a manner that would interrupt their normal pace.
The doctor came in and dismissed all my concerns. “It’s your asthma. That’s what it is. You are fine. All your vitals are fine. We will give you some steroids and you should be back to normal.”
I responded how the steroids weren’t working and how this didn’t feel like asthma. I knew what asthma was and often fought it growing up. She replied with, “I would recommend seeing a specialist then.” And with that she discharged us. I guess I did feel better. The steroids were working, I thought.
We got set up with a nebulizer and several inhalers, ready and waiting for the next attack. They came frequently. Going to the ER became a joke. Every time we went in scared for my life, they dismissed it as asthma or anxiety. The worst was a doctor who plainly told me, “There’s nothing wrong with you. I am looking straight at your vitals, and they are fine. You are just stressed and anxious. It’s in your head.” My husband was enraged.
“Of course she is anxious, she can’t breathe! If something is obstructing your ability to breathe, you are going to be anxious. That’s not the problem. There’s something else.” He fought for me. This was hard on both of us. We were newly married and now found ourselves in this crazy scenario. It felt like a nightmare (as if I wasn’t having enough of those at night already).
Again and again, we saw over 12 different kinds of doctors and specialists. All of which wrote it off as asthma, anxiety, or acid reflux. I did numerous blood tests, stool tests, x-rays and more. At one point, I was on 15 different medications. Each one was supposed to do something different, and some of them were to offset side effects of the others. I didn’t get better. I got much worse. The inflammation started affecting other organs. Soon my thyroid started acting up and I developed goiter. After searching the internet on my own, I drank some iodized salt water and immediately the goiter went away. But absolutely nothing seemed to help or stop the need for ER visits. They recommended pills to relax my mind and body. I remember taking them and feeling so sleepy. I remember feeling so drugged and feeling so much pain (in every sense of the word). My heart, soul and body ached from months of torture. I remember looking at my husband and literally just praying and asking God to wake me up in the morning for the sake of my husband. It was a scary time. At this point, I had lost over 20 lbs. I wasn’t just wasting physically, but the anxiety and depression was overwhelming! I would often wake in the night with the worst anxiety attacks and horrible nightmares (2AM to be exact). I had never struggled with anxiety, so this was completely new to me. Thinking it was something spiritual, I prayed away demons, called out to God and turned my Bible app on during the night. It worked to some extent, but the attacks still happened. This was most bizarre! I hadn’t dealt with anything like this before. Was I supposed to pray all night and never sleep? How would I be able to work the next day? This was most confusing and I needed answers, or at least a direction.
Struggling to fight for my life and be my own advocate, I called numerous other doctors. The best in the nation. I didn’t care anymore. I had to figure this out! I was on every grandmother’s prayer chain at this point as I called on family to pray for me. I was in battle. It became my obsession and a focal point in conversations with friends, family and co-workers. I started living right. I got my diet in check. I tried exercising more. I thought I was living a healthy life. Then, one day at work, we threw a potluck. We always had the most delicious potlucks. But I got so terribly sick and my throat started closing in and again, I couldn’t breathe. Finally, someone pointed out, “Kate, it’s what you’re eating. You are allergic to this food.”
It all made sense. Every time I ate certain foods, I did seem to get much worse. Many late nights of research later, and lots of trial and error eating different foods, I started eliminating foods from my diet. It was torturous, especially during workday potlucks and family holiday parties. What’s worse, it was extremely hard to find support. Most everyone would encourage me to eat and often I felt like I was offending them by not eating food with them. I mean who doesn’t partake in the holiday goodies? Rude. I just couldn’t though. Nobody really understood the seriousness of life and death that I was fighting against! They meant well. They wanted to see me happy, enjoy good food and enjoy life! I just wasn’t there yet. Socially, I was very disconnected trying to pray, seek God and find my own answers. I could barely walk outside without being able to breathe. I would wear masks, and people would keep their distance. I think they thought I had some sort of contagious disease. Perfume became the devil. I would go to church and have to leave because I would get choked at the faintest scent. I used to love all my perfumes. My work, family and especially my husband made all sorts of accommodations to try to help me. Lots of air purifiers! I fought feelings that this is how the rest of my life would be. I just couldn’t accept that.
The diet helped and miraculously I was barely able to get off all the medications. After two months of constant physical and emotional pain, I went unconventional and saw a naturopathic doctor (recommended by my Grandmother from a friend at church). I explained my whole story. I explained my new diet. “All I am eating is all-natural meat, veggies, and fruit. I have eliminated everything else from my diet. If I stray off this diet even by one bite of a cupcake, I just can’t breathe. So, staying on this diet is helping, but I still wake in the night with panic attacks and I still have flare ups.” After listening to me talk for an hour (more than any other doctor had done at this point), he explained more about the bacteria, parasites, toxins, and viruses that can live in our stomach, especially after traveling internationally or a recent mold exposure (we recently flipped a property). I had already mostly came to this conclusion as well after researching multiple articles, videos, and podcasts. He prescribed a variety of supplements. One of them was wormwood. I will never forget that glorious night! It was the first night in months that I not only slept all the way through, but I didn’t have any nightmares. This was phenomenal! Around this same time, we started juicing. I started giving my body more of the nutrients it needed to carry out God’s good work on this earth. I wasn’t healed right away, but I was stable, and at that moment, that was all I really could ask for. Just one night breathing peacefully, just one night without falling asleep trying to cast away any fear, just one night laying my head on my pillow without worrying how I will get the next breath… It was a wonderful, peaceful night. Finally…. Finally, I felt like I was the road to find some answers!
I am still fighting through this battle, but I have gained many revelations through this experience:
1. Your body really is a temple. In the Bible, only choice meats and produce could be offered on the alter to the Lord. The Bible also says that our bodies are temples. Thus, if we wouldn’t offer greasy fast food on the alter to God (whom we revere and honor), then we shouldn’t be putting it in our own bodies. Believe me, this is the hardest one to understand. Not only did I not grow up going to temple, but I also grew up LOVING fast food (this cursed American diet). I quickly learned what we eat really can make a life or death difference.
2. You are your own best advocate. Your friends and family may help you, your doctor may mean well, but ultimately, you are your own advocate for your own health. If you get one response from a doctor that doesn’t sit will, get a second or twentieth opinion. If your friend is upset when you choose not to eat pizza with them because you are trying to stay healthy, then let them be upset. If doctors, friends, family, and others around you don’t understand, that is okay. You have to stay on it and do what is best for you and your health. A caring co-worker actually got in my face and engrained this into me, and it was a foundational truth for me. It’s hard. Peer pressure is real. Accepting a diagnosis you know isn’t right may be tempting, but it’s not worth it.
3. Find someone who understands. During this same time, I had a friend who was also going through thyroid issues. We would often text to keep up with each other and it helped just knowing there are others going through what I have gone through. As I went through the pain, I realized the feelings of being misunderstood by everyone and entirely alone in my struggle turned out to be just feelings that were lying to my soul.
4. You’re not alone. Actually, there became numerous women (and a few men), who I never would’ve imagined struggled with the exact same health story. I can think of 10 right now. Many of them are really amazing, God-fearing people. Had we not been open and shared our experiences out loud, we would’ve never have known each other’s hidden struggles and I don’t know if I would’ve ever found the path to get some answers. These women went through exhausting medical procedures, juice fasting, and traumatic life experiences much to the same extent (and some much worse) as mine.
5. You’re not crazy. If you know you are having troubles in your body and someone tries to tell you it’s not real pain and it is in your head, it can be very discouraging. There are millions of people who have struggled with mysterious illnesses and just because science doesn’t have a name for it yet, doesn’t mean you are delusional.
6. Give back. I never realized how people with traumatic illnesses really struggled. These experiences are painful in every way: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Going through this experience really gives you compassion to help others going through a similar battle. You can use that compassion to help others by visiting or volunteering at a hospital, checking on a struggling friend, or simply sharing your story.
7. Share your story. Of course, be smart about just sharing your medical information (this is why we have HIPPA), but telling others what you have gone through is powerful. It might help save someone else’s life and give them direction and encouragement; or it may save your own life and give you direction and encouragement. The more I learned from others, the more I was able to find the light in the journey.
I hope this story encourages you, especially if you are in the midst of a similar battle. I am praying right now for everyone who reads this. May you experience community, peace, comfort, and healing in the name of Jesus. May your pain never be in vain. Even more, I hope that as we all band together, our pain will be for others gain.
Resources that helped me:
1. Of course, prayer, meditation and Biblical scripture
2. Praying Grandma’s and their prayer chains
4. Amazon Prime Videos:
a. Hungry for Change
b. Is Sugar the New Fat?
c. Fat: A Documentary
d. Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead
b. https://goop.com/wellness/detox/a-new-years-cleanse-and-why-its-important/ New Year’s Detox – Why it’s important
a. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81Hsmhq73Uk Your diet is fine, your lifestyle sucks
b. Joel Osteen – to speak positivity over your life when you can’t or just don’t have the energy