Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Choosing [to remember]

I'm certain it's something I'll never forget. September 2009. I was less than a month into my senior year of high school and it was an ordinary school night. Homework, studying, dinner - the usual things. My parents had a meeting with David's teacher that night so we stayed in the back.

Thirty minutes after I finished dinner, I found myself doubled over in pain. It felt as if someone was repeatedly stabbing me with a knife, right under my right side rib cage. "Deep breaths," I thought. "Must've eaten too much - maybe the food was bad," I convinced myself. After about 20 minutes, the pain subsided. It was as if nothing had ever happened. Over the course of the next couple of months, these episodes would increase in frequency, intensity and duration. In December, my mom practically dragged me to the doctor's office. My mom had previous gallbladder issues and had a hunch I was experiencing the same thing.
This picture was taken during my senior year

As I sat in the pediatrician's office, the nurse asked me a series of questions about my health history. Each answer was "no" and I kept thinking "I've never had any health problems. I'm totally healthy." After the doctor's examination, I was referred to the GI clinic within Womack Army Medical Center. Several months of testing ensued and sure enough, "mother knows best!" I had no gallstones, but my ejection fraction (%) was 19%. It's supposed to be at least 65%. On April 6th, 2010 (my senior spring break), I had my gallbladder removed.

In the weeks that followed that procedure, I learned to adjust to a new way of "normal." If you've ever had your gallbladder removed, you totally understand. If you haven't, count your blessings. I went on my senior trip, graduated, went on a missions trip and was excited to start a new chapter in college.

Remember the little line where I mentioned I went on a missions trip? It was my first missions trip and I was elated. A group from my church travelled to Guatemala in July 2010. I had an absolute blast and burdened for people on the trip. It couldn't be all fun and games though. Given the fact I had just had GI surgery, I developed Traveler's Sickness. Due to the sickness, I lost a couple pounds. No big deal, right? Wrong.

Two weeks after returning from my trip, that intense stabbing pain returned. However, this time violent vomiting tagged along. At first, it was every few days. As time passed, the frequency increased to the point that I could no longer hold ANY solid food. No doctor could figure out the problem and I went through months of testing. It was even suggested to me that I should quit fooling people and admit I had a (self-induced) problem. I drank so many milkshakes just to keep my head above water. I was miserable and losing weight rapidly.

After several episodes of vomiting bile (and stopping several times on my way home from UNCP every day), I called my mom and told her to meet me at the ER. It was the first time I ever called into work. While that visit didn't result in anything extremely substantial, that doctor was able to prescribe me Zofran to control the vomiting. I'd live on that medication for the next 6 months.

In December 2010, I sat in a GI's office and he told me they had done every test they could and that nothing was physiologically wrong with me. My mom looked at him and said "You haven't done a CT scan." After some coaxing from my mom, he agreed to order a CT with contrast. Three days after that CT scan, I received a phone call from the doctor himself. From his voice, you could tell he was in disbelief. It was then that I received an official diagnosis. "Candace, based on the findings of your CT scan, you are being diagnosed with Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome." He explained to me that surgery was the last option and that he wanted to try and see if conventional weight gain would work.
Long story short, it didn't.

Because Womack is not a specialty hospital, they referred me out. Over the next 5 months, I would have 3 doctors "argue" over my diagnosis and who was going to see me. Finally, Dr. Theodore Pappas at Duke agreed to do an exploratory surgery. No one really knew what he was going to find or what the outcome would be, but by this point I was desperate. By this point, I was 104 pounds (I'm 5'7") and I couldn't bear to vomit another time.

On May 27, 2011, I went under the knife. That surgery forever changed my life as I said "good-bye" to a foot of my small intestine, including most of my duodenum. Because the risk of infection was so high,  the intestine was not removed, but was bypassed and is no longer functional. (You can see on the diagram below). As I was waiting in recovery, my doctor came to me and said "I'm so sorry." I asked him why he was sorry and he said "Because we waited so long. Two more weeks and you would've suffered an intestinal rupture. It would've killed you."

After five days at Duke University Medical Center, I went home. And then the real fun began. Everyone talks about the physiological aspects of a condition. No one talks about everything else. For the next 18 months, I was mostly terrified of food. I was scared that it would put me back where I was. I was scared of the unknown. So, I ate very little. I managed to get by with maintaining my weight and gaining a little bit back. I was still in an intense amount of pain, but because there was nothing "wrong" with me, my doctors kind of washed their hands of me. I had wonderful family and social support that never faltered. They were my biggest fans.

In February 2013, I was given some gentle (sometimes it was a little less than gentle :-)) prodding by my family and some good friends to make a positive change in my diet and exercise habits and to see what happened.  It didn't happen immediately, but after a few months, I started to notice a change.

In August 2013, I moved to Charlotte, NC to pursue my Master's Degree at UNC Charlotte. During this time, I made the choice to focus my efforts on getting healthy. Over the course of the two years I lived in Charlotte, I gained 15 pounds and a new confidence. The tough love I received in February 2013 was one of the biggest turning points in my life. Those who loved me enough to tell me what I didn't want to hear and ask me what I was eating every 3 hours, thank you! I am forever grateful.

The long term effects of a duodenojejunostomy (the procedure I had) are unknown. Life is full of uncertainties and that's one of mine. What I do know, however, is who holds my tomorrow. He has never failed me and I don't anticipate him starting now. So for now, I'm redeeming the time and enjoying the ride. I've got goals and dreams - there's no time for fear to slow me down.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Choosing [to change]

It's no secret - I'm no athlete. In all reality, I count it as a good day when I don't trip over my own two feet. Up until a few years ago, the heaviest thing I picked up was a gallon of milk. I'll let you in on a secret, though - I've always wanted to be an athlete. I never knew how to get there, but a girl can dream.

In high school, I was interested in sports, but I was mediocre at best. After high school, I was given a few years of bad advice by ill informed physicians and I avoided structured exercise altogether. Each one of them said "Exercise will only make you lose weight" or "Follow the most unhealthy diet you can - that'll make you gain weight."

In 2011, 104 pounds on my 5'7"frame was pretty sad. They were right - I did need to gain weight. They were wrong - I didn't need to avoid exercise or eat everything in sight. In fact, I so desperately needed regular exercise and clean eating. If you've ever suffered from GI dysfunction, you know the importance of maintaining both of those things.

Fast forward to March 2013. Following some strict guidelines, I picked up a pair of dumbbells and did my very first strength training workout. I was barely 21, and I couldn't even curl 8 pound dumbbells 10 times. I tried to squat the bar and couldn't stand back up. I did one push-up and was sore for three days. You get the picture. It was at that moment that I realized the consequences of the "abuse" my body had been through in the past 3 years. I was supposed to be the example, but my some of my patients were able to do more. I needed a change. Bad. Right then. No, 5 minutes ago.

Shortly after this time, I moved to Charlotte to pursue my Master's Degree. This was the perfect time to really delve into a lifestyle change. Over the two years that I was in Charlotte, I put on FIFTEEN pounds. Some of that was the gym, a lot of that was food. Most of it was healthy weight, some of it was not. In spite of that, I found a new confidence and glow. I found that some things were working, but I knew little about strength training programs so I got frustrated a lot.  My body composition changed the most it has (thus far) while I was in Charlotte. I personally think I got really lucky because heaven knows I didn't know what I was doing. I refused to give up.

After (almost) two years in Charlotte, I was fortunate enough to be hired full-time where my heart had been the whole time - Southeastern Health, in Lumberton, NC. It's at this place my life changed in 2012 and I'm excited to be back. About the time I started back full-time, the facility I work for opened a brand new CrossFit box (CrossFit QFE). 

Now, refer back to the first sentence of this post - I'm no athlete. Picture a baby giraffe and you've got it pretty close. Hearing that we were opening a CrossFit box was pretty terrifying for me . "I can't do that," I thought. "That's for people in really good shape," I kept telling myself. The confidence that I had gained living in Charlotte was not showing up when I thought about CrossFit. On April 11, I showed up to our "soft opening" and was convinced to try the WOD (workout of the day). I reluctantly agreed. After the 20 minute team WOD, a new love was born.

I'm now 5 weeks into a regular routine at CrossFit QFE. I can honestly say it's been one of the best decisions I've ever made. Whatever you've heard about CrossFit, you can forget about it here. Do I do every move perfectly? Nope. That's why we have coaches. Are there days when I don't want to go? Yep. That's the beauty of community. There hasn't been a day yet where I left without a quality workout, new knowledge and tons of encouragement from the staff. If you're in the Robeson County area, you're cheating yourself by not checking this place out. They want you to succeed.

I may never be an athlete. But how will I know if I never try? I do know I'm happier and healthier than I've ever been. The sky's the limit when it comes to fitness. You decide where your fitness journey takes you. I can guarantee you this -  the only workout you'll regret is the one you didn't do. Start moving today!

Monday, June 3, 2013

The cool kid astronauts

Pre-dinner picture :)

Hello, there! It's Monday and we've had a full few days! We have done SO much, so I'm going to recap everything for you. I promise that I'm not a slacker with this whole posting thing-- we have super shoddy internet service here at the hotel and it's just not cooperating with me.

Thursday: We got into Webster, TX around 1:30 pm. We immediately went to our rooms and DIED. Kidding, but we did sleep until we were almost late for dinner. We had the pleasure of meeting the woman who got UNCP involved the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program. The company was awesome, and I wish I could say the same about the Mexican food we ate. She also introduced us to "bubble-tea-shaved-ice-stuff." Basically, they took shaved ice and put whatever flavors (not syrup, but jellies and poppers) you wanted to have mixed in. I didn't personally try it, except for aloe vera jelly that Tiff made me try and it was gross. Everyone else pretty much liked it, though. Then we just decided to go back and crash for the night since Friday would be an early morning.

Friday: 5:00 am came early after such a long day Thursday. We reported to Ellington Air Field at 7:45 am. First on the agenda was receiving our badges (which preeety much makes us VIPs :)). Then we all received a safety briefing before we could do any work. After the safety briefing, there was more meetings and setting up our experiments.

                                                                       Team collaboration

After our experiments were all set up, we ate lunch (priorities, people) and then headed back to the Ellington. Oh, and just FYI, it's HOT in the hangar. Houston, June, hangar...you get the picture. Anyways, after lunch, we had to go through a pre-TRR (test readiness review). This practice run involved about 8 of NASA's engineers critiquing our project after the nitty gritty of the project was explained to them. Since I'm the team leader, I was the representative who voiced all of this to the engineers. My girls are awesome though and cheered me on the whole way. Thankfully, there were very little comments from the engineers on our project. Some of the teams had quite a few critiques. This wrapped up the Friday at NASA since government agencies close at 4:30 :) Then it was dinner time. We ate at Fuddruckers and besides me getting sick from the stupid veggie burger with rice in it, we had a great time.

Saturday: Woot! Party time! To the beach we trekked (after sleeping in of course :)). Galveston Island is only about 30 minutes from us so we spent the whole day there. It was all fun and games until we got back and poor Molly and I realized we were cooked. Alex and Tiffany got burnt too, but their little tanned-skinned-selves didn't get it covering their entire bodies. Being pale sucks! After going our for Samurai japanese and a quick run to Target for aloe vera and cocoa butter, we headed back and...uh...slept.

Sunday: Great balls of fire. We all forgot how much sunburn sucks. We decided to all be lazy bums and catch up on Law and Order SVU and eat pizza. Of course, we could barely move, but we still enjoyed our day. Oh and of course we went to Target again. Don't judge, it's a super cool Super Target.

Monday: Ah, finally to Monday. It's has been a day! We were up early since we had to be at Ellington at 7:45 again. After the morning meeting I'm required to attend, it was straight to work on a few last minute things for the box. It was also a really exciting morning because the plane we'll be flying on pulled in and we all got to take a group photo in front of it. Then, at 10:30 it was the big-tail-full-blown-you-better-be-ready Test Readiness Review. This time, instead of 8 engineers, there was 30, a photographer and a videographer. I can honestly say I wasn't nervous until I started talking to all of these people. Again, all my girls were awesome and were so very supportive. They rock and I'm blessed to work with each of them! After the review, there was only one comment and it was resolved quickly. Again, this was VERY unlike many of the teams surrounding us. Since our review went so well, our only tasks for the rest of the day, were lunch and a visit to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab.

The Neutral Buoyancy Lab is a 100'x200'x40' pool with giant replicas of the space station in the bottom. Because of the neutral buoyancy within the pool, they can actually suit up the astronauts and allow them to "practice" for their mission in space. There's also a hyperbaric chamber in the facility so they can determine symptoms of hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) for each person.  After leaving the NBL,  we ate dinner at TGI Fridays and then it was time to crash. Well, sorta. I went for a super good swim and did some strength training stuff and forgot what a good workout swimming can be. And now, my friends, it is time for B-E-D. Good night and I'll update in a few days!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ten (okay, eleven) things.

It's been almost a year since I've blogged anything. To say that the last year has been a whirlwind would be an understatement, but I'll save that post for another time. In light of the fact that I'm heading to NASA in 10 days, I thought I'd go ahead and restart my blog. All of our updates will be on here (except for short status update on FB :)). Tonight, I'm taking a break from thinking about TEDP's, glove boxes, 0-g (and the impending motion sickness) and the million documents NASA wants signed. Just a little fun tonight :)

I've been told (only by the people that know me the best) that I'm incredibly easy to read. Yet, there's always random facts that people are clueless about, even after spending months or years around me. With that being said, I'm going to post 10 random facts that you may not know about me. Here goes nothin'...after a picture of course :D

1. I'm incredibly stubborn. I will argue with you until I am blue in the face, even if I know I'm losing the argument.

2. I am TERRIFIED of the dark, except when I'm sleeping. Then, I prefer it pitch black.

3. I'm not quite a fan of plane take-offs...or plane rides...or plane landings. This whole NASA thing will be an adventure for sure and I've put the details of the plane ride out of my head.

4. I wish I was meaner (I'll pay for admitting this). I have an innate ability to be incredibly sweet and charming, but it's apparently funny when I attempt to be mean. It drives me nuts.

5. I'm borderline obsessed with elephants. No joke, ya'll.

6. I have no doubt that when I find "the one," I'll know fairly quickly. The first one not to completely annoy me within a couple months, wins.

7. I haven't been able to bend the toes on my right foot in almost 4 years. Long, painfully embarrassing story.

8. I've killed 2 rats in my life, but I've never touched a rat. I despise them and killed them by screaming at the top of my lungs. They both (2 separate occasions), died instantly.

9. I'm thankful I didn't grow up with a sister. Having brothers is awesome and I didn't have to share my stuff. God added my sister at the perfect time :)

10. I hate true-false questions with a passion. I'm convinced they're of the devil. Seriously.

11. Yeah, I know I only said 10, but one more won't hurt. I am insanely passionate about exercise and sport science, especially clinical exercise and I love to know that I'm making a difference in other people's lives through the field.