Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Million Thank Yous from the Heart

Family. Friends. Community. These things are on my mind as I sit down on my 13th Birthday to write what I hope to be is one awesome thank you letter. These three words are so important. Your
community is your home base, they're all the people who you haven't met yet but are just waiting to become friends. They're like the space around an atom, they're there but they're invisible until you go looking for them. Then you have Friends, who are like the electrons surrounding the nucleus. They help to bring energy and support the nucleus, consistently there even though they might move around a lot. Then you have family, which is like the nucleus. It's tightly compacted, full of possibilities and serves as the heart of the atom. My nucleus, my family, grew huge over the weekend!

This weekend I hosted Jacob's Birthday Bonanza, my drop-in birthday fundraiser for Jacob's Healing Rooms to redo the outpatient treatment rooms (4C) at Sick Kids Hospital. It was a huge success but only because of family, friends and community. Without the help of a lot of people, most of whom were strangers to me, Jacob's Birthday Bonanza would not have been the success that it was. I owe a lot of thank yous. It's this outpouring of generosity that inspires me to keep going, to keep trying to make Jacob's Healing Rooms become a reality, to keep dreaming of changes I can make to help this world be a kinder and more welcoming place. 

To Mayor John Henry, MPP Granville Anderson, and Councillor Willie Woo, thank you all so much for taking the time to come out and take part in my birthday. It means so much to me, and I was happy to be able to share my special day with you all. I can't imagine too many other 13 year old have the honor of saying that they celebrated the day with their local politicians!

To the amazing Durham Regional Police Services - THANK YOU! Your
attendance made me feel pretty extra special on my special day. I don't know too many other 13 year olds who have a whole bunch of officers show up at their birthday parties. It was so overwhelming that you all would take the time out to come and support Jacob's Healing Rooms. I look forward to my tour!

To Pepper the Clown and Bob the Magician - What an amazing surprise for you
both to donate your time to help keep my guests and I entertained. And
entertained you did! Not only are you guys fantastic at what you do, but you're also incredibly warm and generous people. I felt so incredibly lucky to have you both at my party!

To Boston Pizza Oshawa - Wow. Your support of making Jacob's Healing Rooms come true is absolutely amazing. Thank you for going so much above and beyond what anyone could possibly hope for. The pizza donations were a huge hit with everyone (we were only left with 1 slice!), and I love the idea of selling the kids club meal cards with $1 going back to Jacob's Healing Rooms! I can't wait for our Celebrity Serve Night!

To Jack Astors (Whitby) - Incredible. Every now and then you run into extremely special people that
really make a difference. Thank you so much for jumping on board to support Jacob's Healing Rooms from the moment you heard about my project. The outpouring of love from your staff has been so overwhelmingly amazing. The huge tray of cookies was so very thoughtful and yummy! I look forward to working with all of you around the Jacob's Healing Rooms server shirts - I have some ideas! 

To the Whitby Curling Club, thank you for donating the space for a discounted rental price! We were able to transform upstairs into a fun-filled party room quite nicely. Your support of Jacob's Healing Rooms has meant a lot to us! 

To Karen, Marilyn and Ken Easby from Gold Reflections (Bowmanville Mall), thank you for your never ending support. From running around with my mom to ask for donations, to making sure we had everything we need and helping with the set-up, donation table, our special surprises and clean-up, you guys were there to help us out. 

To Jen Doolan, Doug Hamilton, Doug Izard and Robyn Minnikin - Thank you for helping in the set-up and clean-up, and arranging things for us during the party to help avoid crises. It was hugely appreciated! 

To Trisina at Skippy Cakes (Hamilton) - Your cake is a work of art. Not sure if I or my mom told you,
but when I was younger I used to re-read the Lorax all the time, it's one of my Dr. Seuss favorites. Thanks for being so awesome, driving all the way from Hamilton just to come out for my special day. And helping to clean-up afterwards, even though we mostly chatted rather than worked! 

To Jen of Jennifer Rue's Photography, thank you for taking such beautiful pictures of my guests and I.  You have a special talent with that camera. Thanks for being a part of my day. I can't wait for our next photoshoot! 

To Andrea Kirkwood-Look, Emiko Balazik, and Alison Smith (Ali Katz Cookies) - Thank you so much for providing such yummy snacks. Our bellies much appreciated them! 

To all the companies and individuals who donated such amazing prizes - Mandy Rusk, Clare Izard, East Side Mario's Whitby, Party City Whitby, Bev Bradbury, Buffalo Wild Wings Oshawa, Wild Wings Whitby, Melanie Pringles, Putting Edge Whitby, Boston Pizza Oshawa, Billie Jax's Whitby, Mastermind Oshawa, Scholar's Choice Oshawa, Edible Arrangements Whitby, Swiss Chalet North Oshawa - Thank you for being part of my special day. Without the generosity of people like you, it would be so much more difficult to make my dream into a reality. 

To those special people who took the time to come and hang out with me, thank you for making my day so very special. We may have started out as strangers, but you are all now my family. I couldn't be luckier to have such an amazing and supportive team of people cheering me on. I will always treasure the memories that we created. 

Jacob's Birthday Bonanza has raised $3674.65 so far thanks to the kindness that everyone has shown to me. Thanks for sharing in the best birthday I could have asked for! And Thank you for joining my family. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

What Happened When I Thought No One Would Attend My Birthday

My life is anything but normal, or at least what people think of when they think "normal". It always has been, I'm pretty used to to it by now. I've spent the majority of the last two years unable to attend school because of being sick, or in pain, or both. It's really put a huge downer on my ability to make friends at school or elsewhere. In order to make friends, you need to see each other once in awhile. That's something that just doesn't happen all that often for me.

So the topic of my 13th Birthday came up a few weeks ago when my mom asked me what I wanted to do to celebrate entering "Teen-dom". My birthday is December 13. Let me be the first to tell you that it's not a great time of year, because of this other little holiday called "Christmas" being so close. But the real problem for me isn't even competing with Christmas.

I haven't been well enough to have a birthday party since grade 4 (I'm now in grade 8), this year is shaping up to be the same way. Since I haven't been at school to build friendships, I don't think that anyone I invite to come hang out with me would come over. So I had an idea.

Why not host a public birthday party? Invite whoever would like to come out, play some games with me, chill out, have a few laughs, make a few friends, and maybe have a few surprises along the way! Then I came up with the idea that if anyone did want to give me a gift, that I would tie my birthday to Jacob's Healing Rooms project at Sick Kids to raise funds to make my wish of updating the IV infusion treatment rooms come true!

So I'm hosting Jacob's Birthday Bonanza in real life this year!! Please join me on December 10, 2016 from 1-4pm at the Whitby Curling Club, 815 Brock Street North, Whitby.

Monday, October 24, 2016

I am WE!

Last week I had an amazing opportunity suddenly come up, something that has been on my bucket list since I first heard about it: I went to WE Day!

WE Day is totally my thing. It's a day that is held in various cities around the world that brings people together to create positive change. It's a day for sharing ideas, learning from one another, and knowing that you're doing something very special - you're going to help make a difference for other people in this world. Now that should be everyone's thing.

See, we all have the power to make a difference. We all see things all the time that makes us say "whoa, stop, that doesn't seem right", and we come up with a way of seeing things differently. It doesn't matter who/what/where we are, we all have the power to choose to do something to improve this awesome planet of ours. We heard from a man, Joe Roberts, who became homeless in his teens, and because of someone treating him with the humanity he deserves, is now walking across Canada pushing a shopping cart to raise money and awareness for other homeless people (Push for Change). We heard from Rick Hansen, who after suffering a spinal cord injury in his teens, went on to travel Canada in his wheelchair advocating for those with disabilities. I think one of the coolest things I heard all night came from him - "See my abilities and not my disabilities". We heard from the sister of Chanie Wenjack, whose family, despite years of pain inflicted at the hands of our governments of past, still wanted to give us all a beautiful Aboriginal blessing. All of the stories were just incredible.

A few highpoints - seeing Gord Downie perform. Admittedly, this isn't my generation's music, I don't mind The Tragically Hip, particularly the older stuff, but it isn't my first choice. But I've been interested in Gord Downie since learning about his cancer and arranging to go on one final tour. I've been struggling personally to be able to get through what I need to in a day, that I look to people like Gord as a role model to what "really living" is. To be facing the end of your life and still take on incredible projects such as The Gord Downie-Chanie Wenjack Fund to shine a spotlight on the treatment of Aboriginals in our country is incredible. The strength and courage Gord Downie has shown has been nothing short of inspirational.

We heard from Hani Al Moulia, a young Syrian refugee who escaped the current war situation in his home city. When he left, he had nothing but his high-school diploma and the clothes on his back. Hani suffers from an eye condition that has left him legally blind, but yet he has a huge passion for photography. His pictures have even been displayed amongst pictures taken by professional photographers. Hani may have left with nothing, but he has earned himself a full scholarship to Ryerson and become a Youth Council member to the Prime Minister. Hani represents the opportunity that we all have to overcome our challenges. One of his best quotes of the night was "I won't let obstacles stop me, I'll just go around them!"

But We Day isn't about what any one person has done to make this world a better place. It's about how we COME TOGETHER to create positive change. If one person can make a difference, what can 20, 100, or 1000 people do when they come together? This is what the world needs, to come together. We need to see the problems that exist and more than just acknowledge them, take action. Even the best idea that any one person has, needs to have a team to get it into action. As Commander Chris Hadfield told us "From space, there are no borders separating us".

Monday, September 19, 2016

I've Got This Feeling...

My life is complicated. At 12, my medication list is at times longer than those of senior citizens. I have more specialists than there are teachers at my school, or at least close to it. I have seen a doctor or health professional at minimum once a week for the last few years. I spend more time in a waiting room or doctor's office than I do anywhere else. My health prevents me from going to school for extended lengths of time, which does nothing to help build my friendships. This is my life, for better or worse. I am the one who has to live with having severe Crohn's Disease, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Psoriasis, and other conditions. I'm the one who has to live with an ostomy after my colectomy, as well as a feeding tube. This is just the way my life is

I had a recent experience which has been on my mind a lot and really bothering me. I had an encounter with a few mental health professionals who had completed an assessment focusing on the way illness has "invaded" my life. Because let's face it, chronic illness is just like an invasion. During the initial assessment meeting, my eyes had started to tear up from the dust or lighting in the room, or else from trying to hide a yawn. One of the mental health professionals was quite quick to point out in front of the group that I started crying when we started talking about a certain subject (I can't remember what it was). He went on to place all of these feeling words on me, and to make sweeping statements that in no way applied to what I was feeling. But I'm one of those kids who won't disagree with adults, at least right away without thinking about things first, so I didn't jump up and say "whoa" even though afterwards I certainly did. 

On our recent follow-up with them to receive the results of their assessment, it left me wondering who the heck they were talking about, because it certainly wasn't me. Another mental health professional said that I was likely internalizing my feelings because I didn't want to burden anyone with how I felt, and that when I started crying during the meeting it was a sign of deep, buried feelings. I think I'm pretty clear with my feelings and have expressed them plenty of times in very public ways such as being published on The Mighty about my experiences being bullied, and living with an ostomy. 

I'm also "too accepting". It is thought that I jump to accepting my health problems too quickly and don't allow myself time to feel the negative. That acceptance is the way that I use to escape from everything that life has thrown at me.  And I jump too quickly to acceptance because I feel "why bother" talking about the negative. Which goes hand-in-hand with me being "too positive", which I also use as an escape route. 

This has been really upsetting for me. I've worked hard to accept that my "old self" is just that, my old self. My life has changed dramatically but it's still a good life. My mom has always said since I was born that I have a choice when it comes to bad things; I can either let it eat away at me and be miserable, or I can find a way to work around it, to adjust. 

Being chronically sick takes a lot of energy out of me. Just to get through a school day right now requires every bit of my super-human strength. Feelings require energy too though, and if I spend all of my energy on focusing on the negative, that's less energy I have for everything else. Don't get me wrong, I still cry, I still get really frustrated and go off on 30 minute rants. But then I move on. I have to. If I don't keep moving on, what good is that going to do? If I chose to stay miserable, to stay in that place of anger and sadness, wouldn't this have more of a negative effect? So I chose to go to my happy place. My happy place is helping others. The feeling I get when someone says "Thanks Jacob, you're a great friend", helps me. It gives me strength to keep going. It inspires and motivates me. It makes me feel like I can accomplish anything. 

What I am having a tough time accepting are the assumptions made about me without really getting to know who I am. Things like "Well a lot of kids your age Jacob feel that....", or "a lot of kids that we see like you feel....", are not predictive of how I'm feeling. I was more than happy to discuss my feelings directly when they were chatting with me. But they also needed to be willing to hear the answers that I was giving them and not put words in my mouth, or tell me what I'm feeling based on the way "most other kids" are.  I am not "most other kids", I am ME. I am Jacob, and I have feelings that I'm not afraid to share. This confuses me. I can't talk about problems I don't have, and because a lot of other kids feel differently than I do, it's a problem? Since I don't have problems with being overly angry, or depressed at my situation, that's also a problem? But then on the flip side, if I only spoke of the negative, wouldn't that also be a sign of problems? And if I deny that I feel this way, than I'm just stuck in denial. And here I thought that the goal of the game was acceptance and adjusting to your new life by using positive coping skills. 

I've decided to stay positive, that there's nothing "wrong" with being me. I like me. I think I'm doing an amazing awesome fantastically superb job coping so far. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Great Return...The School Year Begins

Stop the presses! This week I did something that I haven't really done in the last 2 years, I went to school. Not only did I finally manage to walk through the front doors, but I made it through two complete days!

It was almost like being a rock star. I walked around the corner of the school to gasps, and hearing my name over and over again. My old school friends hadn't forgotten me, which was clear since I was surrounded by people coming up to welcome me back. It's a weird feeling to try to pick up where you left off when it's been 2 years, something worthy of an episode of the Twilight Zone.

Physically, I'm exhausted. I'm in pain. And I'm constantly overheated since the class is not air-conditioned and it's hotter than India here right now. Which also means I'm constantly dehydrated. It's similar to the song about bones, except:

"The overheating is connected to the... dehydration.
The dehydration is connected to the... dizziness.
The dizziness is connected to the vomiting.
And around the loop we go". 

Yet I'm still lucky. I, at least, got to experience my first day alongside everyone else. There are some kids who don't get to have this experience because they're in the hospital, or at home too sick to go, or in some type of treatment room. For once I was able to do something so incredibly "normal", that it's often taken for granted by so many of my friends. Two years away from everything has taught me to be a bit more thankful for the "normal" experiences that I do have. I may not be able to run around the school-yard with my friends, join any sports teams, or even participate in some classes with my friends (I am not allowed to do gym, and I haven't had a french class since grade 4), but I'm at least there with them.

Being away from school so much over the last 4 years, also presents it's own challenges. For example, at my school we start learning to play instruments in grade 4. My instrument of choice was the french horn, which my mom went out and bought for me. Now, let's pause and consider my instrument of choice in terms of my health. I am constantly dizzy and nauseated. The french horn, for those who have never played, requires a great deal of air control and extremely strong lip muscles. When I start to play, within minutes my dizziness has me on the floor. Holding a note for an extended length of time....I won't say impossible but certainly difficult. So, because my music teacher has to start me off from scratch, she has given me the option of changing my instrument. Thankfully my mom owns most of the instruments already, so I have the flute, clarinet, alto sax, or piano to choose from. Now to decide what the least physically demanding instrument would be!

Anyway, the big thing is I made it through the first week. It's such a huge accomplishment for me!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The What's Eating Jacob Saga Conclusion?!

Is summer really over? I've been up to so much that I haven't even realised that this was my last week before school starts for another year. Have I ever got an update to share!

A year ago we started the "What's Eating Jacob Saga" which I nicely summed up in Bad To Worse to Horrific: The Graphic GTube Story, after living with some pretty strange and severe reactions to medical products. Last week, I think we have FINALLY found some answers!!

My Dermatology team from Sick Kids had referred me to another dermatologist at Sunnybrook Hospital for allergy patch testing in hopes of finding a feeding tube that I didn't react to. Unfortunately there is no direct scientific test to tell for certain if I am allergic to silicone, which we highly suspect I am, but in all we tested 90 different chemicals often found in medical products, as well as Tegaderm (IV tape) and Covidien Kendall AMD Foam Dressing.

First thing I can tell you about patch testing: It sounds easy enough. Oh yeah, we're just going to tape these little chemical extracts to your back for a few days and see what happens. It's tape, what's so bad about that?! Well not only does tape pull as you move, but if you should happen to react... I wasn't sure my skin would still be on my body by day 5.

Second thing I can tell you about the test: The results can be extremely helpful if you end up having allergies, so totally worth the annoying, itchy, burny tear-my-skin-off feelings the test creates.

We found out that I am highly allergic to:

  • Decyl Glucoside and Lauryl Glucoside - two products most often found in cleansers, ironically it's in a lot of stuff for sensitive skin. It causes the cleaning product to foam up. The problem here is that the foaming hand sanitizer at the hospital, I'm allergic to it. It also hides in a lot of commerical household cleansers. 
  • Limonen - This comes from the rind of citrus fruits and is used in products that have fragrances, anything with that "fresh clean scent" typically has Limonen. Such as my dishsoap. The unfortunate thing here is when products just say "fragrance" in their ingredients, it could very well contain this as a hidden ingredient. 
  • Propolis - This comes from bee products. It's often used in face creams to hold the moisture on to your skin. 
But most shockingly:

I am highly allergic to the Covidien Kendall AMD Foam Dressing. My awesome doctor who did the patch testing is trying to get his hands on the exact chemical as it's not available for commercial patch testing in Canada, but his best guess is that I'm likely allergic to something called PHMB. The long scientific name is Polyhexamethylene Biguanide. It's used in wound-care management to help prevent and heal infections. I've been using it since about 3 weeks after I had my original GTube inserted in November last year. I've written to my patient product representative for this area to see if she would be willing to send us a sample of the extract to test, so we're just waiting to hear back. I've stopped using the foam around my GTube and things have improved a bit. 

Which still leaves the question as to whether I'm reacting to the actual tube itself. One of my mom's friends came up with the idea of taping an old tube to a clear spot on my skin and seeing if it reacts. When my mom asked the million dollar question - If this could actually be done - the GTube responded that it was a great idea and that they had a tube for us! So, we're going to pick up the extra tube this week when we're there for the pain clinic. 

So things are moving forward and we're slowly getting some answers that I'm sure are going to make a huge difference to how I've been feeling. It's sad that it took the summer to get some answers, but there will be plenty more summers to come! 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

8 Things I Say Instead of "It's Going To Be Alright" as a Parent to a Medically Complex Child

"Don't worry, it's going to be alright".

It's an innocent enough thing that we say that is meant to offer support and encouragement. When I was small and played with dolls, and my dolls had a boo-boo, this was something I said to them. My mother said it to me all the time when a problem came up. And when I became a mom, on the countless nights I spent awake with a sick baby, I would be whispering "It's ok" as I soothed him back to sleep.

I thought my job as a parent was to make things better. I'm supposed to be able to take any problem my child has and be able to work together to find the answer. I'm the boo-boo fixer, whether that boo-boo is physical or emotional. I'm the one who is supposed to be able to assure my child that everything is ok, that things aren't as bad as they seem, that any problem can be overcome with a bit of work. I'm supposed to be the super-mom, cape and all, that with a single wave of my magic wand, make everything good again.

This was my vision of motherhood, as I'm sure a lot of other soon-to-be-moms see themselves being like this too. For awhile, my life as a mother was a lot like this. Colds, ear infections, sore throats would come and go, and everything would be alright again. Growing pains would come and go, and then another period of "alrightness". I could easily soothe my growing boy, telling him "it's going to be alright".

But what about when you can no longer promise this? What happens when you can't honestly say that things are going to get better?

My days of motherhood are now spent playing a lot of other roles, but my primary one is still "boo-boo fixer". 9 years ago, Jacob was diagnosed with epilepsy. Then 4 years ago, he was diagnosed with severe Crohn's Disease. Since then, he's been diagnosed with anxiety, ADHD, severe psoriasis, Long QT Syndrome, eye inflammation, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome/Joint Hypermobility Syndrome... He's in near constant pain, suffers multiple infections due to his immuno-suppression, and lives with daily vomiting and nausea. My vision of my role of motherhood, of being the one to help make it all right, has been completely changed.

I no longer tell my son that everything is going to be alright. That, in itself, is alright. Jacob knows enough about his medical situation to know that several of his problems have no cure, and can be difficult to manage. He was told that after he had his colectomy, things "would go back to normal, you'll be alright". That didn't happen. With each new medication we try that is supposed to "make things better" our hopes go up, only to come crashing down with severe side effects, or failure to help manage the disease it's supposed to treat. It is devastating to be promised improvement and then to experience this type of let-down. So we don't talk about things being alright in the future, instead we focus on the moment. The little things that we can do together to make each day a bit more manageable. Life has to go on, even when there is no magic wand. There's nothing "alright" with what Jacob lives with daily. There's nothing good that comes from watching your child suffer, other than the motivation it creates to keep fighting back.

How I see my job as a parent has completely changed. I no longer think that my job as a parent is to be able to take away his pain or to hide him from a painful reality. Don't get me wrong, I would give anything to be able to make him better, that still hasn't changed. My job though isn't to find a way though to take it all away, my job is to help my son to develop the skills to cope with the challenges that life has brought his way. My job isn't to protect him from all of the world's horrors, but to teach him to understand them so that he isn't afraid and to allow him to find his own way of making them better. My job is to help him appreciate the small things in life, to celebrate the small successes, and to focus on the moment rather than the long-term bigger picture.

I've watched my son grow in so many ways during his many medical crises, he's actually the one who is teaching me what it means to be a parent. Every time he has to have a painful procedure, and there's been many, he teaches me about bravery. Every time he has to try something new, something scary, he teaches me about courage. He's taught me what it means to be strong, to never give up on hope, to keep going no matter the size of mountain in your way. He's taught me about generosity through his fundraising and efforts to make a difference in this world. Most of all, he's taught me about life and love. I don't need to fix Jacob, he's the one who has fixed me. He's the one who's made me the best mom I could be to him, and also a better person. Things might never be the typical definition of "alright" so instead I say:

We can get through this.
You are so strong and brave, you can do it!
Just keep swimming.
Hold on.
This is just one moment, the next might be different.
Keep trying, keep hoping, keep dreaming.
Live for the moment, in the moment.
You are not alone.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Four Years Later

Four years. Four years ago, I received a diagnosis that has changed my life. It's taught me a lot about strength, survival, and fighting on even when met with disappointment after disappointment. It's taught me hope, love, friendship, patience. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with severe Crohn's Disease.

Actually, I should correct that. Initially I was diagnosed with severe Ulcerative Colitis. See, Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and Crohn's Disease, are both forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) but can be very difficult to tell apart. Ulcerative Colitis, effects just the colon (large intestine), whereas Crohn's can be anywhere in the digestive tract. In my case, the inflammation that they saw when they did my colonoscopy was limited to my colon, and since I didn't have any non-intestinal symptoms of Crohn's, or granulomas present, they believed that I had Ulcerative Colitis. Unfortunately, 4 years hasn't changed the fact that it's still very difficult to tell the two diseases apart, and many are still misdiagnosed.

In 4 years, I've had so many treatments and procedures that it's overwhelming. I've been to the OR 15 times. At one point I was taking handfuls of 18-19 pills at a time. I had a colectomy (removal of the colon), donated my colon to research and gained a fancy bag out of the deal for collecting poop. Each medication brought new side effects, some of them tolerable, some of them a nightmare, but treatment after treatment failed to control my Crohn's and I kept getting sicker and sicker. Four years, and it's still often trial & error to find the right combo that works for the patient.

After 4 long years, my Crohn's is finally starting to get under control. That doesn't mean that I'm "better" though. I will live with this for the rest of my life, or until there is a cure. Remission is an awesome thing to achieve, but it can so easily take a turn the opposite way. I'm focusing on the fact that at least my Crohn's is now controlled so that we can look at what else is going on with my health (because the answer to that is A LOT). But that's a whole other post...

The main thing I want to share with others is HOPE. After my colectomy, things were looking so bad inside that at one point, the doctors were thinking I might have to have a major part of my small intestine removed. The doctors were stunned at just how bad it was. After the Remicade dramatically failed, leaving me with bleeding psoriasis all over my entire body, I did worry that we'd never find a treatment that worked. I worried about my future and what it would be like. Would I still be able to achieve my dreams of being a scientist (physics, chemistry) if I couldn't regularly get to school because of this? Would I always have to spend the majority of my time with doctors and nurses? The Stelara injections that the doctor started me on were, and still are, quite new to treating IBD, and not always effective. But taking a chance to see if it helped without major side effects was worth the risk compared to doing nothing. A year later and I'm no longer at risk (at the moment) for losing part of my small intestine! In fact, things look almost normal inside! There is HOPE. Sometimes it's the things that you're least confident in doing that will give you the results that you want. Keep trying. Failure is not failure so long as you get up and try a different approach. Keep moving forward. Change is scary, but if you don't make changes, things likely stay similar to the situation you're in now. Keep your head up, it does take time to find the right combo of treatments but when you do, it's a major accomplishment. You CAN do this.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A HUGE Thank You to the Ladies of Leaside Curling Club

Kindness. Generosity. Philanthropy. Charity. These are words that matter, words that will make our world a better, more gentle place for everyone. The wonderful, amazing Ladies at Leaside Curling Club have all of these characteristics, and then some.

I was honoured to once again be chosen by these ladies to have Jacob's Healing Rooms be the recipient of their annual end-of-the-season charity golf banquet. Jacob's Healing Rooms is my vision to create a more child-friendly place at Sick Kids Hospital for short-stay treatments, such as regular IV medication infusions. This is my dream and how I want to be remembered, as the person who did something positive to change other people's lives. It may be my dream, but it takes a whole village to make my dreams into a reality. I've heard a lot about how the curling community as a whole loves to help out special causes, and I've been so fortunate enough to experience this with not only Leaside Curling Club, but also the Whitby Curling Club and Oshawa Curling Club too! The response from the curling

community has been so overwhelming, but in a good way!

Our event was held on May 31 at the gorgeous Thornhill Golf and Country Club. The first thing that I immediately noticed was that a lot of the ladies and the staff were wearing my Jacob's Healing Rooms t-shirts! It was so touching to have people believe in my cause so much that they were
wearing t-shirts to promote it. I was so thrilled to be able to speak to the ladies about how Jacob's Healing Rooms will help children to heal and life as a child with a chronic disease. I hope that I was able to inspire at least one other person to go and make their own positive change in this world.

Thank you ladies for once again showing me what kindness can do. Together we raised just over $5000, which will go a LONG way towards making my dreams come true. We still have a bit to go, but you all have reminded me that if you can dream it, you can make it happen with a lot of work.

You can read more about my Jacob's Healing Rooms plans by clicking HERE.

Friday, June 3, 2016

It's Time to Get Gutsy!

On Sunday June 5, my team, Awkward Guts, and I will be walking in the 5km Gutsy Walk! The Gutsy Walk is the annual walk held to raise awareness and research money for Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. This will be my 3rd year participating.

Why is this walk so important to me? Because I have severe, refractory Crohn's Disease. Sadly, I am part of the fastest growing age group to be diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. I was diagnosed 4 years ago this month, when I woke up one day in severe pain and started pouring blood. It took the doctors about 3 weeks to figure out what was going on, as everyone we consulted thought I just had a bad stomach bug. Oh how I wish that was the case here.

Following my diagnosis, I was started on a lot of different medications to try to get this disease under control. The longer a person has active inflammation, the higher the risks of cancer mutants showing up, so controlling the disease is key in this whole battle. Within 3 months of getting my diagnosis, my disease was so bad that it had destroyed my colon, and we were consulted about our surgical options. It was becoming clear to everyone that I would need to have a colectomy and ileostomy created for my poop.

My battle continued after my colectomy and we started throwing more potions and pills at it. Each new treatment left me with side effects that were serious enough to lead to me stopping that
treatment. I'm also not alone when it comes to side effects. For example, 20% of people who take Remicade will develop psoriasis as a result. I was in that group, my body after Remicade was 70% covered in painful, itchy spots. It makes you wonder whether the medication's side effects are just as bad as the symptom it's managing (it's not, but it makes you wonder sometimes). I also started having liver problems, eye inflammation problems, joint pain. There's so much more that goes with Inflammatory Bowel Disease other than just bloody poop.

In Canada, the "three biggies" for pediatric Crohn's Disease are Remicade, Humira, and Imuran. I've taken the Remicade and Humira, but bloodwork has shown that I wouldn't be a good candidate for Imuran. So when my Remicade infusions caused the psoriasis, we had to go for an option that hasn't been used an awful lot - Stelara injections. I've now been on Stelara for a year, and later this month we will learn if it is working to control the inflammation. Unfortunately, I've had some challenges pop up that make me think that it might not be working that well.

Those are my treatment options in Canada, meaning that we're at the end of the road here. The Gutsy walk means HOPE to me. The funding from the day will go to research programs to help find a cure for this disease. And that will go a long way towards preventing other kids from going through similar battles as I have. If you'd like to donate, please click the link below.

Jacob's Gutsy Walk Page

Friday, May 20, 2016

#MyGivingStory - Giving Tuesday Plans to Help Sick Kids.

#MyGivingStory starts with a diagnosis. In July 2012, at the age of 8, I was diagnosed at The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) with severe Crohn's Disease, a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Over the next 3 years, I would have many ER visits, hospitalizations, medical appointments and have been wheeled into the Operating Rooms 13 times. One of those visits was to lose my colon which I donated to science to help find a cure for this disease so that others wouldn't have to go through these struggles.

Last winter, I was receiving Remicade IV treatments again. Remicade is one of the medications that is often used once a patient has failed to respond to other medications. Patients at Sick Kids will be started on Remicade infusions as an out-patient, and receive their first 3 sets of infusions in the group treatment rooms. Here's what the treatment rooms look like:

As you can see from the pictures, the rooms are very plain, and do little to offer distractions from the medical treatments or a source of entertainment for the kids. There are two televisions suspended from the ceiling but they are out of the control of the kids since the remote is attached to the bottom of them. And there's always a problem on agreeing what to watch since the person sitting next to you might not like what you want to watch. I've spent 8 hour days in rooms like this while getting my IV treatments.

If there's one thing I learned through my journey, it's that distractions help in the healing process. They can take away the anxiety that you feel when getting treatments, the worries about whether it's going to work, distract from the pokes and the pain. Having a positive outlook helps greatly in the healing process. When you are feeling "down", the pain and other symptoms can make you feel even worse. Feeling encouraged, supported and hopeful are extremely important in the healing process since the disease effects us emotionally as well as physically. So I came up with a plan to help make this happen.

I asked my mom if for Christmas I could ask for the ability to transform this place into a child-friendly place of healing and hope and the plan for Jacob's Healing Rooms was created.

For #MyGivingTuesday I'm asking for $1 donations to Jacob's Healing Rooms. Your money is going to help me to install tablets at each treatment chair so that patients will have a source of entertainment, be able to connect with other patients in the hospital and across Canada using UPopulis, check their e-mail and of course, play games. In each room, I'm going to purchase a colorful bubble-tube machine as a source of distraction and brightening up the room. I'm hoping to get a fresh coat of paint in a relaxing color (I find the yellowness of the room hard to look at), and put cloud panels covering the lights.

This past June I had a medical crisis that reminded me that life was short. I have been having some problems with the electrical activity in my heart. This has only renewed my determination to make a difference in this world and in the lives of other sick children. Jacob's Healing Rooms has become my #BeforeIDie wish.

Your $1 could help me make this wish come true. It could bring a smile to a sick child's face, give hope for a brighter future, and inspire others to make a difference in this world. Your $1 could make these rooms amazing child-friendly places of healing. Your $1 could take the stress off of parents who are also worried about their child and struggling to distract them during the long treatment day.

This #GivingTuesday please think of Jacob's Healing Rooms and make a $1 donation to help make my wish to help other sick kids come true. And please share my story with as many others as possible. Together we can make a difference.

Here is the link to my Sick Kids Donation Webpage: Jacob's Healing Rooms Giving Tuesday Donation Link
You can follow my story on Facebook: Jacob's Healing Rooms Facebook Page
And I'm on Twitter: @KidWithCrohns
And on Instagram: @JacobsHealingRooms

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Bad to Worse to Horrific: The Graphic GTube Story

This is a post that I wasn't going to write. It's a post about how we all deserve to know exactly what is in the products that we rely on to maintain our health. Sure, pharmaceuticals and supplements have to list their ingredients, but beyond that, it's really hit and miss. I am going to give a very clear warning right now, right here: If you are squeemish, if you have a weak stomach for graphic pictures:


This is a NG Tube
I had it for 9 months.
The "What's Eating Jacob" saga goes back in history quite a bit. It goes back to when I had my first NG tube (nasal-gastric tube for feeding). Even though obviously having a tube shoved up your nose is going to be a weird sensation for anyone, it was more than that for me. I had daily pain in the upper part of my nose and the back of my throat from the NG tube. I would get frequent nosebleeds and always had a constant sore at the corner of my nose where the tube touched flesh. The doctor at the time attributed the nosebleeds to just dryness and irritation from the tube, so said that I should just use some nasal mist to keep things moist in there. I never said anything more about it. 

How it started
Fast forward to November 2015 when the team decided that it would be best if we replaced the NG tube with a semi-permanent GTube (an implant into your stomach). Two days post surgery, I broke out in a widespread rash on my stomach and chest. It was so itchy and spreading so quick that the team thought that I had chicken pox. I ended up in the lock-down infectious disease ward for a few
weeks on IV anti-virals just in case it was chicken pox. I was also taking the anti-histamine medication Atarax for the itch. The team determined that I didn't have chicken pox and I was discharged home with a few weeks worth of Atarax while the rash went away. 

This is actually an improvement.
Picture taken about 2 weeks after insertion
Once the Atarax was over, where-ever the tube touched my skin would actually eat troughs through my skin where I would have to pull the line out of the "groove" which wasn't the nicest of things to do. But we came up with a solution for this, use DuoDerm (it's a special type of dressing that forms like a second skin) under the line and then tape it down. I no longer had problems with the line eating my skin after that, it was just around the opening where the tube touched that was raw and bleeding. The team said that I was likely reacting to one of the materials in the line, I was given Atarax again, and told to wait the 6 weeks from the date of surgery before we could swap it out. 

6 long weeks. 

My Mickey with granulation tissue
At the start of January, almost like a delayed Christmas gift, I had a new type of tube inserted, a low-profile MicKey button that sits pretty much flush against my skin. I was on Atarax at the time it was inserted and thought that things were going better. I mean, it had to go better than the last tube experience, right? 

Not so much. 

Worsening rash & reaction
I took the Atarax for the first few weeks after changing the tubes over, which helped to keep "stuff" from happening. Then I ran out of medication. We were going to see what happened. What did end up happening was another rash and a lot of granulation tissue (tissue the body sends out to heal an area) forming that was bleeding around the entrance to the stomach. I went back on Atarax and things improved for awhile. Until the dam burst. 

For the past few months, this area has been nothing short of torture. As you see in the pictures, I have a huge raw, bleeding and painful area around the tube. I start bleeding just with air exposure, but when I have to put up with the cleanings... yowzers. Things just keep going from worse to worse. 

My medical team believes that I'm having a reaction to the materials in certain medical supplies such as the tubes, some bandaids, Tegaderm film that is used to secure IV lines. My dermatologist sent a referral to an allergist for patch testing to determine what it is I'm reacting to. Then things started to take a weird, interesting and horrific turn.

The allergist called back and said that the dermatologist needed to supply a list of ingredients from the potential list of offending medical supplies before he could see me. It makes sense, in order to test for something you need to first have a list of potentials to test for. You can't just test every substance known to mankind. 

You would think that this list of ingredients would be available, after all these are healthcare products we're talking about. Would it shock you if I told you that that isn't the case? Would you believe me if I told you that medical product ingredients are extremely hard to track down? Even my doctor was met with resistance when she tried to find out what these tubes were made out of. 

My mom decided to try to track down the secret ingredients listings for some of the medical products I use daily. She called the makers of the actual products for my feeding tubes, as well as for a few of the dressings I use. Here's an example of the difficulties we faced: 

My mom called one company and asked for customer service. She explained the situation and asked to find out what exactly it was made of. Customer service replied that they did not know, and that she should call product development. They transferred her to someone else. That person said that she needed to call Customer Service in Canada (because we're Canadian) and they could help us. My mom called Customer Service again, who initially told her that any of the vendors could answer our question better, but then told us to call Product Tech Support. Yes, they have tech support even for medical supplies. The Product Tech Support, who you would think would know their product the best, was unable to find the answer for us. But he said that he would try to track down the information and call us back. When he called back all he said was "I spoke to the PRODUCT ENGINEER who didn't know the exact ingredients and couldn't confirm one way or the other if the product contained silicone" (The dermatologist believes it might be a reaction to silicone because that's the one thing we know for sure each product has in common). So, the product engineer, the one who actually physically makes the product doesn't know the ingredients? Mind-boggling. Perhaps, just perhaps, things might have moved faster if this information was publicly available. I think that anything that is used in healthcare supplies should have to have a product ingredient list available to the public. Anything short of full disclosure can seriously impact lives, I'm living proof of that. 

What it looks like now
Meanwhile, I'm left in a bloody mess and last week managed to contract yet another infection in the open, bleeding, seeping wound. I'm in so much pain that I have tears rolling down my cheeks often. I suffer through hourly cleanings to try to prevent it from worsening and new infections from developing. Something needs to be done!

Next week I'll be going in for scopes to see what kind of internal damage this tube is doing to me. It's suspected that there's likely problems on the inside too given how severe the reaction is on top. There is another tube available, but they want to make sure that I'm not allergic to the materials of it, so they've referred me for patch allergy testing. Unfortunately, I got the worst news ever about that today, it's not until the end of June. I can't imagine living in this much pain until sometime after that appointment. See, that appointment is just the consultation, then I'll have to wait for the actual testing to be done. Help seems so very, very far away right now.

It's my hope that sharing this, even though it's graphic can help other people. I can't be the only one who has ever experienced something like this. Perhaps if my team is able to pinpoint the answer, then perhaps my story might help someone else who is experiencing this. I also hope that this can bring light to a bigger problem: the problem of full disclosure in healthcare. As someone who has to purchase products to supposedly benefit my health, don't I deserve the right to know what is in the products that I am using? 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Welcome to the Dark Side

I've been struggling to put these words down on paper. Struggling to get them just right, just perfect, just exact enough to tell a story that you will want to read. With the way my ADHD brain jumps from idea to idea at speeds that make warp speed seem like standing still, combined with my awesome perfectionism (I've mastered the art of feeling the need to be perfect) and my dyslexia, putting words to paper can sometimes be a very slow go. Especially when it's a part of my life that I don't normally share. And especially as talking about all of this brings a flow of tears. This is a post about life on the Dark Side.

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I don't normally share the darker side of my feelings. Why? One easy answer: I care what people think. I want to inspire others. I want to be uplifting. I want to help others see that there is hope, that there is light, at the end of the tunnel. Then I got to thinking about the reasons I blog in the first place; to help other people. Sharing our stories is a way of connecting to others, a way of saying "Hey, you're not alone, look at my story". Our stories, good and bad, are part of our journey and people need to see the good, the bad and the ugly. Life isn't all unicorns and leprechauns. Real life has the good and the bad with it, and sometimes the bad does feel like it overpowers the good.

In another month, I will celebrate an anniversary. It will have been 4 years since the onset of my Crohn's Disease symptoms. In two weeks, I'm going for my 16th trip to the Operating Room. Until that time, I'm trying to avoid my 8th major hospitalization. I can't even tell you the number of pokes, painful tests, painful procedures like rectal ultrasounds and painful treatments that I've had to live through. That seems like a lot but in reality, that's just the physical stuff I have to go through daily. There's also a lot of emotional stuff that goes on in the background.

In 4 years of treatments, I haven't caught a break. I haven't felt any major improvements no matter what combination of drugs the "team" throws at me. In fact, since November I would say that I have physically felt even worse than I did when I was so sick that I needed my bowel out. I have been living every day in constant tear-inducing pain, unable to get quality sleep, having severe problems with nausea and vomiting (I feel like I should carry a bucket with me everywhere I go for emergencies), and oh yeah, did I mention the pain?! Every week brings a new health challenge, and it's hard to know when, or if, it will stop. I get people saying "if it were that serious you'd be in the hospital" or "you must be feeling better since you've been to the doctor". Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that in healthcare. When you are a chronic patient, you get stabilized at the hospital and once things are stable, even if they are stable on the horrible side, you are released and wait for the next step on your medical plan. Going to the doctor doesn't always make things immediately better.

 I've been to see at least 1 doctor every week for so long that I can't remember a week without a doctor's appointment. Every time I see a doctor, I hope beyond hope that this will be the visit that will change everything. I hope for relief, for some type of improvement. I hope to be able to describe perfectly what is going on with my body. I hope for the doctor's to listen and believe me, and to be patient with me when I break down into tears as I'm talking simply because it's overwhelming to talk about every single little problem all at once. I know that my confusing, complex health problems are overwhelming for health care professionals, but they're also overwhelming for me to live with daily.

I know I'm going to live with Crohn's Disease for the rest of my life. There is no current cure for it (and yes, I've tried different diets, supplements, medications, meditations...). I know that I should say that "I haven't let it control my life", but to be honest with you, it sortof does control my life right now. I'm not sure how it couldn't. I've had to give up being a Scout, as it's hard to go out and do physical activity like rowing a canoe, or going on an hours long hike, when it takes all of your energy just to get out of bed. I haven't really been to school yet this year. I can't go into the classroom and throw-up on my classmates, and I fear my tears and yelps in pain would only distract my friends. I've been away from school for so long (most of the last 2 years) that I don't really have any "normal" friendships. My life has become a series of waiting rooms, and waiting for waiting rooms.  And waiting for treatments to work, or more accurately, waiting to find a treatment that does work.

Welcome to my Dark Side.

It's heavy. It's crushing at times. I ask "why?", I ask "what's the point?". I get angry, frustrated, and exhausted. I cry. Nobody wants a dark side, and it's not something that we just go up to a stranger and start talking about. It's definitely not a conversation starter. In fact, most people get uncomfortable when you even come close to talking about the negative side of chronic disease. The socially acceptable answer to "How are you today?" is definitely not "Horrible, thanks, and you?".  Yet that is the honest response. Some days I really don't have much to say that is positive, other than "I'm alive, breathing and with a heart beating". And that truth makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I don't mean to be negative, I just mean to be real. It's always okay to be the real you, and real people have real problems.

How do I combat the Dark Side? Purpose and Belief. There has to be some point to it all. I believe that all of my experiences have had to happen for a greater reason, that there has been a purpose behind the suffering. Jacob's Healing Rooms fundraising project gives me purpose. It lets me take the ugliest of situations, the worst nightmares, the stuff that the Dark Side is made of, and make something beautiful come from it. It's a symbol of my Light Side doing battle against the forces of evil. Doing something to help improve other people's lives is my way of taking back a little sliver of my life. Every positive word someone shares with me, lets me know that what I'm doing is making a difference. In turn, that makes my Light Side glow a bit brighter. That keeps me motivated to keep doing what I'm doing. It's one of the better cycles that I like getting stuck in. The Dark Side might be scary, but it's not the whole picture when it comes to who I am. It's simply a part of me that reminds me of where I come from. It reminds me of the mountains that I've already climbed, and that my scars are symbols of battle wounds. My Dark Side makes my Light Side all that much more brighter.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Short-comings in health care

5 long months ago, I started documenting a journey that I referred to as "The What's Eating Jacob" saga. Nobody at the time could predict that 5 months later, we're still playing the What's Eating Jacob game. Here's a brief recap for those that are new to my story:

In November 2015, I had my Cook Entuit Gastrostomy Tube (GTube) inserted into my stomach. In English now, that's a fancy way of saying my "permanent" feeding tube. At this point, I had lived with a Covidien NG Tube (a tube from your nose to stomach) and the frequent, heavy nosebleeds that I was having with it for about 8 months, as well as a persistent sore where the tubing touched my nose. Two days after having my GTube inserted, I broke out in a widespread rash that the doctors believed to possibly be chicken pox. I spent 2 weeks in the hospital on anti-virals until they determined that I didn't have chicken pox and almost jokingly tabled "perhaps it's an allergy to the tube materials". Atarax (anti-histamine) helped to take away the rash, itch and pain. Until even that stopped working and you could see that wherever I taped the line to my skin, had blistered so badly that it ate a trough through my skin and I had to literally gently pull the line out of the mess. Thankfully, there's an "easy" fix for that: avoid touching the tube to the skin. I used DuoDerm, a protective sticky that forms like a second-skin, to prevent the tube from touching me, and it was no longer a problem. Unfortunately, I still had a lot of soreness and inflammation around where the tube came out of me that wasn't so easy to fix. I had to wait until the beginning of January to be able to switch the tube for a different one because you are not supposed to do any tube changes until the hole into my stomach heals - 6 weeks post-surgery.

By the time January came, I was really struggling with the pain from the tube and was really looking forward to replacing it with Halyard Health's MicKey Low Profile Gastrostomy Button. It's so small that there is no way to tell that I have it and the best part was not having a tube hanging off of me, and the massive amount of tape used to secure it. I thought that this would be the end of the What's Eating Jacob saga. I looked forward to that a lot.

But the saga didn't end. I stayed on the Atarax medication for a few weeks after I had my MicKey placed just to deal with the leftover rash. I then stopped it. Big mistake. A few days after stopping the medication, I started to break out in an itchy rash. It turned out this time that it was an infection. The doctor gave me more Atarax for the itch and antibiotics to deal with the infection. 2 weeks later I was again off the Atarax and had finished the antibiotics. Guess what came back? No, it wasn't the cat, it was the rash. Worse.Than.Ever. And back we went to get some more advice. This time there was no infection present, but Atarax was clearly helping to keep the rash response down to a minimum. Then it started to lose it's effectiveness. I started having problems with granulation tissue forming, and having breakthrough rashes come out of nowhere. Clearly, something was going on here. Our hospital's GTube team said that my mom was doing everything perfectly for managing what was going on, but things just kept getting worse. I think we were all feeling pretty stuck in trying to come up with solutions.

About two weeks ago, things reached a critical point in this journey. I started to have major leakage of stomach acid from the GTube site. So much that even with sponge dressings, I'd quickly soak through my shirt/pants, etc. With the help of our GTube team, we ruled out a problem with the tube itself as a potential cause. Again, we were feeling pretty stuck on figuring this out.

Fast forward to yesterday, the GTube area had started seeping blood for 4 days at this point, and it was majorly painful. I couldn't sleep more than 3 hours without waking up screaming in pain and screaming from the itch. There was clearly something very wrong.

Yesterday I met with Dermatology and the GTube team. Dermatology had referred me to an allergist for patch testing back in January, and the allergist said that he wouldn't see me until the dermatologist sent him a list of ingredients that are used in the medical products that were the likely offenders. So my dermatologist went on a research mission. You would think that a doctor could access this information easily, right? At least I would assume that as a medical provider (or even a medical consumer) you could easily access a product ingredient list. The answer is quite shocking: this information is often hard to come by and a strictly guarded secret.

Imagine this, a medication you take comes in three different brands, each with a slightly different formula. You use each medication for a one month time period, one after the other, and note a similar reaction to all of them. You would want to know what ingredient was in common to all of these products so that you could find out what was likely causing the reaction so you could avoid it in the future, right?

Well, for medications they do list all the ingredients, but for medical products such as feeding tubes, or dressings, the answer isn't so easily found. My doctor attempted to contact these providers and found that they wouldn't give up their secretly guarded information because other people could copy their patent.

Whoa, wait a minute here. You mean to tell me that I, the consumer who pays (or at least my mom pays) mega money on medical supplies doesn't have the right to know ALL of the ingredients that are used in my own medical supplies? I understand that all medical products have to be safety checked and approved, but don't medical companies have an obligation to disclose this information when it causes an adverse effect? I can't imagine that I'm the only one in the world that has had such a reaction.

I sit here now, in pain, with tears forming at my eyes with no immediate end to this saga in sight. The dermatologist is going to try to push us into an allergist ASAP for patch testing. There is a different tube available that does not contain silicone, but at $500 a shot they want to make sure I'm not allergic to the materials of it first (I'm thankful for that!!). They have scheduled me for my next set of scopes and biopsies on May 17 which will tell them not only how the Crohn's treatment is going, but will allow them to have a good look at what's going on around the GTube site on the inside of the stomach. There is some speculation that whatever is causing the reaction on the surface is likely going to be causing some problems on the inside too. What I do know is that we could have had a direction to go to find answers earlier if we could have found out what was in my medical supplies, and it might have helped me to avoid so much pain and tears.

*I was going to place photos for a clear picture of what I'm talking about, but have decided that no one wants to see that. Essentially, I have an orange-sized circular patch of raw, bleeding, inflammed skin surrounding the tube, and a blister-type rash spreading on the edges. It pretty much looks like a pretty bad case of road rash. I have stomach acid pouring over it constantly so it burns no matter if I have cream on it or not. It's extremely painful*

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Jacob's Song of the Day (4/20/2016): "Invincible" by Hedley

So.... last night I went to see one of my favourite bands, Hedley, who I've now seen a total of 3 times, although it really does seem like I've seen them more. Listening to one of their older songs, "Invincible", really jumped out at me and I looked over at my mom and said "that's tomorrow's blog post". So have a listen and read why I chose Invincible as my song of the day:

I had a hard time picking only one part of the lyrics to share with you, the whole song is pretty meaningful to my life, but this is what I ended up choosing:

"This time / I'm a little run down / I've been living out loud / I can beat it, beat it / That's right / 'cause I'm feeling, feeling / Invincible"

The last several months have been among the most difficult of my life. Yes, what I'm going through now feels even worse than at the time that I had my colon taken out because of the severity of damage from Crohn's Disease. My body is simply falling apart, or at least it really feels like that most of the time, and the doctor's are kind of at loose ends grasping for straws that could help me get back on my feet, back being a kid again, and back into the game of life. I'm learning patience during this straw grasping game. What other choice is there? I wait for tests, for more surgeries, for more specialists to get involved, to get answers that MIGHT help. I've learned to hold no expectations, which to some might sound like a very negative thing, as though I'm giving up hope. But rest assured, this has nothing to do with hope. I still cling to that like a lost soul in the Gobi desert. What I mean about holding expectations is that I have no expectations that tomorrow will be better, or that my doctors will come up with the miracle, that researchers will find a cure for my disease. If you hold expectations like that with a chronic illness, you get disappointed real quick. Especially when you have such a severe form of the disease, that there are very few treatment options left. Instead, when something goes right, it's now become a pleasant surprise.

Last night was physically the second-most physically exhausting concert I've attended, right after the Train concert where I was rushed to the hospital before Train even took the stage with a major heart event. Despite having eye pain from suspected uveitis (waiting on the opthamologist appointment), extremely painful joints, my GTube allergy that I'm fighting, a painful hernia in my stomach, and vomiting over 40 times, I managed to stay for the whole concert, even if I wasn't able to get up on feet and dance my heart out.

That just shows people just how invincible this kid is. 

Oh, and how did I like the concert? The music was great but I didn't really get to see much of the performance even if I was only 6 rows back in the stands. Instead, I learned that when I'm sitting at a concert (and I have no choice but to sit right now) that I'm the perfect height for the people in front of me to stick their butts in my face. That's the view I had for all of Hedley's performance. Hopefully the next time around, I might actually be able to see the concert. Or even better, I might be able to actually be on my feet dancing.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Why Giving Matters to Me

Just over a year ago, my dream idea was born. After spending several long, boring days in treatment rooms receiving IV medication for my Crohn's Disease, I decided that a change was necessary. I wanted to make a place that encouraged healing, that helped kids feel as relaxed during their treatments and distracted from the reality of having a chronic, incurable illness. I wanted to create a way of changing the treatment experience so that kids that came after me, wouldn't have to dread their hospital trips. When I started out, I had this single picture in mind, a vision that I call Jacob's Healing Rooms. You can click here to read more about the changes I want to make. In the year that I've been fundraising, I've raised a total of $17,000 to create child friendly places of healing. But along the way my vision became something different. 

Through sharing my Crohn's, ostomy, and bullying experiences, I've found that Jacob's Healing Rooms is about so much more than just transforming a space; it's about hope, kindness, friendship, encouragement, and inspiration. My vision has changed into something bigger over time, I want to be able to inspire other people to find their own ways of giving back, whether that's as simple as holding a door open for a stranger, or as big as ... well, as big as you can dream up. It's people that offer the world kindness that change this world for the better. 

One day I won't be here. I've often thought of what I want people to remember about me after I pass, whether that's tomorrow or 90 years from now. I want people to remember me as someone who made a difference. Someone who no matter the personal challenges, never gave up on achieving their dreams. I want other people to see that every single one of us are capable of creating change and making this world a better place for all of us.

I'm 1/3 the way to my fundraising goal of $60,000 but I'll never be done giving back. Creating change is something positive that I can focus all the negative stuff in my life on. It creates a purpose from all the negative medical things in my life. Giving matters because giving feels good. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Ultimate Deception

It almost sounds like I'm writing a spy novel from the title. But sadly, this is a work of non-fiction. I've been thinking a lot lately about appearances, and how we as a society are quick to jump to conclusions about people based upon what we are seeing. Appearances can be deceiving and seeing isn't always believing.

I am disabled. I have an incurable, difficult to treat disease - Crohn's Disease - that has caused a lot of interference in my life. When I was first diagnosed, June 2012, you would likely look at me and have said "Well there's a skinny kid, he needs to eat more". I was small, but for good reason, I wasn't absorbing my nutrients correctly so I wasn't keeping up with my friends in the growth department. And here I thought it was just because I was the "baby" of the class having a birthday in the middle of December. Oh how I wish that was the case.  When my disease started, while the pictures show me smiling, the reality was that there was massive damage and heavy bleeding going on inside of me. I was so sick that my body was a toxic wasteland, but the only thing you would see is that I was thin.

Then I was diagnosed, put on steroids (the dreaded pred) and people started to treat me differently as my weight nearly tripled. I've wrote before about how I was bullied at school, called the "fat lady", and made to feel really bad about how I looked. But I would also get a lot of stares and "double takes" when I was out and about, people looking at me and making comments about how kids these days ate too much junk. They didn't know that at that time, I was fighting to keep my bowel. That the steroids were the only thing keeping me from bleeding to death. Or that during this time I would have to wake up and take anywhere between 12-18 pills, and that's just to start the day. I didn't look "sick" to a lot of people, but my doctor's were really worried that my colon could bust apart at any time, so the reality was a completely different story.

February 7, 2013 I had a colectomy, the complete removal of my colon, and an ileostomy was performed (taking the last part of the small intestine and tunneling it through the stomach to create a way of eliminating wastes). I finally had something that changed my appearance, my so-called proof that I was indeed sick. Yet it's still something that at the time, I kept hidden from public view because nobody wants to see poop. It changed the way that I could dress though, as there are few trendy clothes that fit right and worked to conceal the bag. Fashion designers don't make cool clothes just for people with an ostomy. But I found that pants that buttoned up or with zippers were just out of the question with my new medical fashions.

Since the time of my colectomy, I have used a wheelchair at times just so that I could enjoy some events that otherwise I wouldn't have the physical energy to do. Such as going to the fair. What I really noticed is that when I was in the chair, people would move out of the way, hold doors for me, and generally treat me differently, but when I got up to go on a ride, I heard people saying "can't be too disabled" and other hurtful comments. There are plenty of people who are capable of walking small distances at a time but don't have the physical ability to be on their feet for hours. My wheelchair wasn't used just because I was lazy, it was used so that I could once again take part in life.

Last February, I could no longer tolerate solid food, so the doctor put me on complete bowel rest and I was fed through an NG tube running from my nose to stomach. I finally really looked the part of being sick with this tube taped to my face. People stared, they asked
questions, they offered to give up their seat on the train at rush-hour so I could have a place to rest. They treated me a whole lot differently and it was only the tube that caused this change. People often let us go in front of them in a line-up. The train gave us a discount because they could visibly identify me as a "person with special needs". At concerts, the staff of the venue would ask us if there was anything we needed to make our experience more enjoyable. People could see that I fit their belief of what a sick person should look like and treated me different.

Now the thing that really bothers me is when people who have seen me struggle say to me "You're looking great, you must be feeling so much better". Whoa. Huh? I've gained a ton of weight (leading to my doctors saying it was a medical emergency), I no longer have tubes taped to my face. All of that is true, but since when is that an indicator of actually feeling better? Why is it that the only time strangers go out of their way to be helpful, is when I'm visibly sick? For the past year and a half, I've lived with paralyzing nausea and daily vomiting. Unfortunately, unless I make a really big mess in front of someone, they're not going to be able to see this. Unless the tears of pain that I try so hard to hide, are falling down my cheeks you can't see the fact that my joints hurt so bad that they make me want to scream. Just because I'm trying to be happy, planting a smile on my face, or able to laugh at a joke, doesn't mean that I'm not sick or that I'm feeling better. Yet, I've met some medical professionals who judge how sick I am based upon whether I'm smiling, laughing, talking, etc. I might look great on the outside but my insides tell a completely different story.

So instead of assuming that I must be feeling ok because I look "normal" on the outside, how about asking me how I'm doing instead? And please, always keep in mind that other people might be fighting against their own invisible demons. Kindness, patience and understanding can make this world a better place for everyone.