Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Raynaud's Scleroderma, Rare Disease, Olympian - Nicola Whitehill

Summer 2016 saw the Olympic games held in Rio de Janeiro with 206 nations participating. I have often likened my diffuse scleroderma experience / existence to being similar to that of an Olympian athlete, but without the athleticism and without any competition with anyone else. 

The ‘gold medal’ being to feel better, stop the progression of disease within my body, and return my body to wellbeing. I am more than aware that the medical outlook and the textbooks give my ‘gold medal’ vision a rather different outlook.

However, given that my diagnosing Doctor gave me a 15month prognosis back in 1997, I am independent to the ‘expected’ medical outlook of what symptoms my body should now be displaying due to the time duration, and remind myself that I am not my body, or a text book definition. Read more here 

I have written about the importance of an early diagnosis here

The comparing of my scleroderma experience to an Olympian lies in the forward planning and preparation required to complete the most basic and simple of tasks, which are my sporting events. Along with a winner’s attitude where I want to feel good, and one day, be able to say ‘I used to have scleroderma’.

My main current scleroderma health challenges, now, relate to my:
musculoskeletal  'tin man' symptoms, mobility

I have managed to control my skin involvement to a tolerable manageable level by daily bathing in liquid paraffin, followed by moisturising with a thick emollient. 

I am delighted that my skin has reversed back to normal skin by 95%. I can stretch out my arms without any tightening to my chest. At the height of my disease activity, this was impossible for me to do and was excrutiatingly painful. In 1999, I had a most unpleasant experience at a friend’s wedding reception when dancing in a circle whereby everyone was linking arms, and my tight skin made me unable to take part.

Tri-colour change in my fingers during a Raynaud's episode - VERY PAINFUL, PREVENTION as there is no cure
Now, my daily routine is dedicated to addressing my symptoms to make my day as easy as possible. My mermaid bathing routine not only helps my skin, but also, my swollen joints and circulation. Due to me having little success with the medications used to treat Raynaud’s, I am always mindful to prevent a Raynaud’s attack in the first place. For me, this is helped by a warm bath within an hour upon waking, otherwise it is likely that getting undressed to get into the bath will prompt a Raynaud’s attack. 

Getting into the bath also brings along challenges to a tin man body, requiring caution and alteration in style. Sadly, my days of being similar to Daisy Duke getting in and out of her car in the TV program The Dukes of Hazard, are a distant memory.

Whilst in the bath I will drink my squeezed lemon and water which activates my gastro-intestinal system. I have detailed my daily smoothie and juice ingredients here

Although my skin has reversed almost to healthy skin, it can sometimes itch and is very sensitive. This makes for wearing tight clothes a ‘no go’, as well as, I can only wear certain materials next to my skin. I am no longer able to wear jeans as the denim is too harsh- even my soft Armani jeans, which have remained in the bottom of my wardrobe for too long…. 
I am not able to wear tights, leggings or the like. Track suit / sweat pants are more comfortable, as well as my pyjamas, which has to be my preferred choice of clothing. I discussed more about the absconsion of my inner Bond Girl in my Column

The actual reality of getting dressed is no longer the simple task which it used to be. Buttons and zippers can bring along levels of frustration way disproportionate to their actual size. I now remove this anger / patience trigger by buying and wearing clothes which are easy to put on and wear, with my fashionista pride pushed to the wayside.

All in all, the entire routine for me (my body), to be ready to be able to leave my front door with all controllable symptoms at a tolerable level, takes me 3 hours upon waking. I have tried to hone a quicker routine but my body dictates the pace, and usually feels as though it has been covered in barbed wire and dipped in concrete.   

Living with scleroderma has made me have to be mindful of managing my time. Medical appointments take priority in my diary, with me needing ‘rest’ days before and afterwards. The ‘rest’ days must be interpreted as that- ‘rest days’ and not ‘being lazy days’, as ‘rest days’ are extremely important for the body to recover. To read my article on 'Mobility' Click here 

I have had to very much become independent of the good opinion of others when it comes to ‘rest days’ and ‘not getting dressed days.’ Especially whereby an observing person may think that they are trying to be helpful with their comments of ‘you have to push yourself’, when in actual fact, they have not got a clue and are in no place to be offering such judgements, since they are not living with my diagnosis. Sadly, I have experienced this from fellow patients also. This is an important reminder that there are no two scleroderma patients who present with the exact same set of symptoms.

So, although there were no sporting events in the Olympics which this scleroderma raynaud’s patient could actually take part, not even in the paralegal events, I was fixated to my TV screen for the duration of the games.

The dedication and commitment to make an Olympic athlete are most definitely the golden hallmarks of the long term scleroderma survivor. Along with attitude, which is everything, so pick a good one. I want to feel good.

The pinnacle day of the scleroderma patient’s year is most definitely 29th June World Scleroderma Day. Read more here

To view my presentation ‘Systemic Sclerosis – A Patient’s Perspective’ which I gave at the British Society for Rheumatology (BSR) 2015 annual conference click here

This article is an update to that published by Scleroderma News August 2016

In November 2016 I was delighted to have been told by Prof Denton that 'My skin is now cured from scleroderma'. Read more here

Living the dream, scleroderma style, hoping for a cure.

To read my articles:

  • the importance of an early diagnosis click here 

  • the role of medical research click here
  • the importance of expert specialist centres click here
  • diet and nutrition click here
  • taking part in research trials click here
  • the UK guidelines for management and treatment of Scleroderma click here    

Please DONATE to help fund medical research at the Scleroderma Unit at The Royal Free hospital where 100% of your donation will be used to fund vital medical research. Thank You.

  #SclerodermaFreeWorld #RaynaudsFreeWorld

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