Monday, January 27, 2014

Almost Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies

Last spring, I decided I would try to follow the Paleo diet. I did this not to lose weight, but because I have always had a ton of digestive issues. I heard that this diet was very good for stomach problems and food intolerances. I thought I would try it and see how it went. If it worked great, if it didn't work, it would have been no big deal.

The Paleo diet consists of eating only foods that were available during the Paleolithic Era. Basically, meats, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are the only things that are allowed. Anything else including dairy, grains, legumes, refined sugars, and preservatives are all excluded.

Prior to trying this diet, my normal meals usually consisted of frozen pizza, pasta, rice, sandwiches, and hamburger helper. Switching over to this lifestyle was a pretty drastic change. I was skeptical, but it was amazingly successful. For the first time in my entire life, I could go an entire day without having any stomach pain. That, in itself, was remarkable. Besides the benefits on my stomach, my cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure all improved. I also have more energy and just feel better all around.

The huge drawback of the Paleo diet is that you have to make everything from scratch. I am not a cook, at all. In the summer, following the diet was easy. I would take fresh vegetables out of the garden and throw some meat on the grill and I would have dinner. Since winter came, I have kind of fallen of the Paleo wagon. I follow it about 70% of the time, but I need to get back to 100% of the time.

There are a ton of recipes available. What's amazing is that some of the recipes actually taste better than the traditional recipe. One recipe that I found that is incredible is for these Real-Deal Chocolate Chip Cookies. They seriously, taste better than any chocolate chip cookie I have ever had. I do not follow the recipe exactly. I do not use the palm shortening. I use real, unsalted butter. I also use real chocolate chips instead of the enjoy life chips and dark chocolate. So, my cookies are not truly Paleo, I usually burn them, and they do not look pretty, but they taste SO good!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Jig It!

Yesterday, I faced the cold and helped out at the 8th Annual Jig-It Fishing Tournament in Escanaba. The proceeds benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area. The events included the Fishing Tournament, a Kid's Koop, Raffles, Food, Music, Prizes, and Fun. Although it was extremely cold out, there was a great turn-out, quite a few fish were caught, and one lucky fisherman went home with a $2,000 prize!

My Little Sister came along with me to help. She has been my Little since April of 2013. We do many different activities together including going to parks, ice skating, roller skating, bowling, watching movies, building things, doing homework, doing community service, going out to eat, and just hanging out. She's a great kid and we always have a great time together no matter what we are doing.

My Little and I at the Jig-It Fishing Tournament

Prior to her, I had another Little for 7 years. When she graduated High School last year and went on to college, I started with my new Little. I also participate in the school Mentoring program. Once a week, I go to the local school and spend time with my Little there. We spend a half hour doing homework and then the next half hour we play games, go outside, read, whatever the kids want to do.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program is truly a great program and it does make a difference in the lives of both the Littles and the Bigs. For more information on becoming a Big or referring a child as a Little, please visit the BBBS website.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Steroids Suck!

I've been taking prednisone for the past 3.5 weeks for my ITP. The first two weeks I took 50 mg and although my counts went up, the side effects were terrible. I was then dropped down to 30 mg. I still am experiencing the side effects. They are not quite as bad as before, but I am still shaky, I get headaches, I'm very irritable, and sleeping is impossible. I've been averaging less than two hours of sleep a night. I'm sure that some of the side effects are actually from the lack of sleep. GRRR. I just want to fall asleep but my body does not want to!
The worst thing is that I have a feeling that my platelet count has dropped. I don't think it is dangerously low, but I have a feeling that it is lower than it should be. It's just a guess though since I don't see the hematologist again until the 31st. I'm just guessing based off some bruises that have appeared on my legs and my gums bleeding when I brush my teeth. I just hope that I'm wrong because these side effects suck if they are not going to help! I hate prednisone!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Meet Gibson!

Gibson and his tennis ball collection

This is Gibson. He will be 10 years old in March. Gibson is not only my best friend, but he is also my inspiration. His whole life he has struggled with medical issues, yet he has never let that hold him back!

Baby Gibson
I found Gibson at the Menominee Animal Shelter in June of 2004 when he was around three months old. Someone had found him and his sister in a ditch in Wallace, MI. He was completely covered in ticks, yet his sister did not have any ticks on him. As a result, they named him Brave Heart and they named his sister Sissy. They said that they imagined that he had protected his sister while they were out on their own. :-) Sissy found a home and I took Brave Heart to my house. I changed his name to Gibson. 

Gibson and big brother, Ripley
Even as a young puppy, Gibson had health issues. He had a tendency to eat everything. I don't mean food, but blankets, buttons, cat toys, money, pretty much anything he could get his mouth on. Initially, I thought it was just the normal puppy thing. When he was 7 months old, he got very ill. He stopped eating eating, could not keep even water in him and was extremely lethargic. I brought him to the vet and he had emergency surgery. Some of the things that he ate, had gotten stuck in his intestine and he needed surgery to remove them. The veterinarian actually told me to say good bye to him, at that time. They did not know if he would make it through the surgery. Gibson was a trooper and pulled right through. His incision did take a longer time to heal than normal, but it healed and all was good.

After eating more and more things and doing lots and lots of tests, they did find out that he had a problem with his digestive system. Whenever he ate, the food would go into his stomach, but would not move into his intestine for a very long time. It eventually did move on, but it could take several hours and in the meantime, his stomach would just churn and churn. This is why he would eat anything he could find. He was put on stomach drugs to help fix it and I quickly learned to keep peroxide and Milk of Magnesia on hand at all times. I also learned that it was better to feed him as much food as he wanted because it was better to have a fat dog than a dog needing surgery to remove the things he ate.

Gibson and Ripley enjoying a swim
Gibson grew up and was a happy and active boy. He is obviously part lab, but who knows what else is in him. I suspect that he has some kind of herding dog in him, because he has always made collections of things. When I would go to work, I would come home to a grouping of toys or pillows or shoes or whatever sitting in a circle on the living room floor. His favorite things in the world are tennis balls and he is obsessed with them. It is not unusual for him to have three balls in his mouth at any given time. When he wants me to go outside with him to play ball, he will line up every ball he can find right next to the door. His love of tennis balls also caused problems. When he was four years old, he was running around and playing ball and managed to tear his ACL. He had to undergo surgery again to fix the ACL. The surgery itself went well and having his back leg in a full cast did not slow him down at all. But again, he had problems healing. He started limping again a few months after the surgery and they had to go back in. He was having a reaction to the sutures. Again, he handled the surgery well, but did not heal well. So, by this time he was on stomach drugs everyday. And now he was on drugs for the arthritis. Even when he was in lots of pain, he still was always happy and ready to play! He eventually did end up injuring his other knee, but we choose not to put him through the surgery again. Especially, since he has his healing issues.

Gibson with Ripley and Sydney

Throughout this time, Gibson also had occasional allergy problems. He would get ear infections and chew on his feet. He also ended up getting weird skin issues, where he would be super greasy and flaky one week and the next week his skin would be dry and flaky. He would get these weird looking sores on him that were apparently very comfortable and itchy. He also sometimes would get muscles spasms in his back. With the combination of everything, the veterinarians pretty much knew that he has some type of auto-immune disorder. That explains all the issues, but makes it very hard to actually treat. They pretty much treated whatever symptom was happening at any given time and not the disorder itself. No matter how bad he felt, he always had a happy face on and was ready to play ball.
In January of 2011, he started having bladder issues. He needed to go outside constantly and would strain to go. I thought it was going to be a simple bladder infection. However, after lots of testing and trying different drugs, they found out that he has bladder cancer. There is no cure for canine bladder cancer. Untreated, he probably would've lived a week or so. Gibson has never given up on me, so I knew I could not give up on him. We started him on oral chemo. Unfortunately, it was not helping. I did a ton of research and found a few drug studies where they had tried alternative drugs to treat the bladder cancer. I talked with the vet and we decided that we had nothing to lose. He actually did pretty well on it for over a year. The drugs were hard on him and he needed to be on other drugs to combat the side effects, but he was still alive and was happy. Then the drugs stopped working...I again went back to doing research and found another trial study. It involved using chemotherapy that is normally used to treat lymphomas. I knew that there was a very strong chance that it would not work, but remarkably, it has worked! He continues to get chemo treatments every three weeks. The tumor is still there, but is not causing issues. He has been fighting this incurable cancer for three years now. He is absolutely amazing!!    

Even though he is not feeling well in this picture, he is still ready to play ball in the snow!
Lately, he has been having issues with his back legs and has been coughing a lot, so he is on antibiotics, in addition to all his other drugs. It kind of scares me because I know that every day I have with him is a blessing. I'm always scared that the cancer has spread. I know that his fight will end at some point, but I will never be ready for that day. But as long as he is happy, I will do whatever it takes to make his life the best that I can make it. He is a true fighter, never gives up, and is always happy for me. He is my hero!

Gibson's big brother, Ripley, lost his fight to splenic cancer in March of 2010. Ripley's sister, Sydney, also lost her battle to bone cancer in June of 2012. Please check out Sydney's webpage to learn more about her fight with Fibrosarcoma here.

If you want to help fund further research to help other dogs fighting canine cancer, please consider donating to the Morris Animal Foundation

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Little E's Garden Bench

I haven't been sleeping much lately, so I had to come up with a project. My youngest niece's 3rd birthday is in March. It's a long ways away, but I found a great build for her!

I am slightly obsessed with Ana White's website. I saw this cute plan and I knew it would be perfect!

I still have to fill in the screw holes and I need to sand the entire thing to soften up the curves. Then I have to deal with the painting. I love the building part of these projects, but I hate the finishing part.

Here are a few pictures of the build. Yes, I had to build it in my living room. My basement is not heated and it has been super cold out, so I did most of the building in my living room. Just ignore all the sawdust and wood chips all over the floor.

I'll have to add pictures once it's really completed, but that won't be for awhile because it is way too cold to paint in the basement right now. Here it is for now.

Side Trellis
Sides and Bench Together
Making the Arch
Arbor Completed
Back of the Bench
Oliver Trying it Out

Friday, January 10, 2014

Super Platelets!

I was diagnosed with ITP right after Christmas this year. At that time, my platelet count was EXTREMELY low and there was danger of internal bleeding if I hurt myself at all. I went to a hematologist and was put on 50 mg prednisone once a day.

While on the prednisone, my petechiae cleared up within a few days and almost all my bruises have faded away. I knew that the pred was working, but I did not like the side-effects at all! It made me very jittery, I could not sleep, my legs were twitchy, and I got really bad headaches. But, I just dealt with it because I knew it was important to get the platelet count up.

Today, I went in for my two week checkup. I knew my numbers had to have gone up, just based on the fact that most of my bruises were gone, but I did not expect to receive the news I got. My platelet count had gone from under 20,000 all the way up to 306,000 in just two weeks! I was very surprised, but very happy about it. I never expected to have that great of a response.

Apparently, the platelets that I have are a little bigger than what they really should be, but that is probably due to the fact that the platelets are brand new. So, at this time I am not concerned about that at all.

Anyway, the doctor dropped my prednisone down to 30 mg a day for two more weeks. So, that's a good thing. I really would like to get off of it completely, but we have to go down slowly or I could end up at the same point that I started. I'm hoping that the side effects will be lessened with the lowered dose.

Yea for my young, fat, happy platelets! If I was an artsy person, I would draw a happy, fat platelet with a super hero cape and mask because that's how I am imagining them inside me! :-)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Meet Oliver

Why do I bother doing laundry? As soon as I carry a load upstairs to fold, he jumps into all the warm fluffiness! 

Oliver is one of the four animals I currently have. He is 11 years old and he has quite the attitude! He either loves you or he hates you. There is no in-between for him. He believes that nobody is more important than him and that he should get all the attention all the time.

Oliver does suffer from seasonal allergies. Unfortunately, when they act up he tells me that he doesn't feel well by peeing outside of the litter box. It definitely gets my attention and gets me to get him to the vet right away, but I wish he would tell me that he doesn't feel well in another way. Trying to look on the bright side, I have become a master at cleaning up cat pee! Not really a skill I ever wanted to perfect, but a skill none-the-less. As a side note, I highly recommend using either Dumb Cat or Kids and Pets to clean up cat pee. :-) 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

ITP What?

Last Friday, I was diagnosed with ITP - idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. This was something I had never heard of, yet I have found out does affect lots of people.

I have always bruised very easily, so when a new bruise pops up, I think nothing of it. I just assume that I bumped into something. I am an incredible klutz, so bumping into the corners of tables and things like that, happen all the time. The past few months I have noticed more bruises than normal and the some of them were HUGE, very ugly, and took forever to go away. But, I still just assumed that I knocked into something.

Then a couple weeks ago, I started to notice red and purple dots on my lower legs. It kind of looked like a rash. It was not itchy at all. They did not hurt and there were no bumps. They really just looked like lots of red freckles. I thought maybe I was having a reaction to the laundry soap or something like that. I tried googling the rash, but I didn't find anything that really fit my situation. Anything that came close always had other symptoms and I felt perfectly fine. Well, the dots started spreading. Now they were all the way up my legs, feet, arms, belly,  and back. It was not solid, but patches of them here and there. I still continued to ignore them. If it was summer and I saw them all the time, it might have bothered me, but it's winter in Michigan, so I am in long pants and long sleeved shirts all the time. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind. I wish I would've taken a picture to post, but I didn't think anything was really wrong.

Then Christmas Eve rolled around. I woke up around 6:00 with what I thought was a stuffy nose. I have allergies, so this is a common occurrence. I got up, blew my nose and went back to bed. I did not turn the lights on at all. When I got back into bed, my nose was still running. This time, I walked into the bathroom and I noticed that I actually had a bloody nose. My house does get dry in the winter, so I do get bloody noses on occasion. I turned on the shower and sat down in the bathroom to apply pressure to my nose and to breathe in the steam. In the past, my nose bleeds have always stopped within 5-10 minutes. But this one kept going strong. I realized that I had blood on my pajama top, so I changed my clothes. Of course, in the process of changing I had to let go of my nose and I proceeded to get more blood on the floor, the couch, the clean shirt, etc. I stripped the bed, as there was blood on the pillow and the sheets. Apparently, the bleed had started before I woke up. So, I threw everything in the wash, the entire time holding tissues to my nose.

By this time, the dog was up and wanted to go outside. The cats wanted food and I was trying to do my normal morning stuff. Luckily, I was off of work this day, or it would have been even worse. I am not someone who will just sit and do nothing, so I was trying to take care of everything and hold my nose and it kept bleeding and bleeding. I'm not talking about a trickle. It would start dripping every time I let go of it. I knew that moving around was probably making it worse, so I resigned myself to just sit down.

I decided to search the Internet for ways to stop nose bleeds, because everything I had tried to this point was not working. Of course I started clicking around and I found all these health issues that can be associated with nose bleeds. I try not to take the advice of Dr. Google, but it was in the back of my mind that something with this nose bleed was not right. I eventually googled something about a nose bleed that would not stop and rash. If the nosebleed would have stopped sooner I would probably have never looked it up, but it took 5 hours before I finally got it to stop, so I had lots of time to play on the Internet. Anyway, in the process I found a picture of petechiae. This looked just like the "rash" that had now spread all over my body. At that point I realized that the petechiae and the nose bleed were definitely related and could potentially be a problem. The websites listed the causes of these symptoms from things that were very minor, like a virus or could be something serious like leukemia. Other than these two symptoms, I felt perfectly fine, so I didn't think it was anything serious.

However, I did think about making a doctor's appointment. But it was Christmas Eve, I still had some shopping to do and some things to get done so I just stopped by the fast care inside my local Shopko. They were backed up and after I read the list of things that they did at that location, I did not think they would be able to help me. So, I just continued on with my day. I did not think this was an emergency, so I didn't even consider going into the ER. I just carried on with my day. I was terrified to sneeze or even blow my nose all day long, but the nose bleed did not start up again.

The next day was Christmas and I made up my mind that I would go to the doctor the next day. Again, I did not view this as an emergency. So, the morning of the 26th rolled around. I called the doctor's office. My normal doctor was on vacation for the Holiday. Her back up was also on vacation and the other doctor had no available appointments. But they told me that if I had a nose bleed for that long, I definitely needed to come in. So they made an appointment for me at an after-hours clinic.

At my appointment, the doctor confirmed that the "rash" was petechiae and explained that it was basically bleeding under the skin, but that there were many possible causes. So, she ordered a ton of blood tests to try to figure out what the cause was. I left the office not really knowing anything besides the fact that I was bleeding under my skin and she told me that if I got another nosebleed, I should go back there or to the ER.

At 9:30 that evening, I received a phone call from the on-call doctor. I was told that the lab had contacted him because my platelet count was "dangerously low". He told me that I needed to go to the ER right away.

I went into the ER, still not really knowing much about what was going on. When they asked me why I was there, I told them that the on-call doctor told me I had to come in because of my lab results. But, I still felt absolutely fine. They did an exam and documented the location of the patches of petechiae and purpura (that's the big, ugly bruises). They took more blood and told me that they were calling a hematologist. They eventually diagnosed me with thrombocytopenia, released me and told me to call the hematologist's office in the morning. I still didn't know anything other than I had a low platelet count. When I looked at the doctor's contact information, I noticed that his office was located in the Cancer Care Unit of the hospital, which made me a little nervous, but I figured that since I felt fine, there was nothing to worry about.

The next morning, the doctor's office actually called me before I even had a chance to call them. It was literally at 8:02 am. They told me that I needed to come in right away. So, I drove over to the hospital and found the Cancer Care Unit. When I entered, it was actually the nicest waiting room I have ever been in. I am used to the standard waiting rooms with a bunch of sick people staring at a TV or reading old magazines that hundreds of other sick people had already touched and spread their germs on. But this waiting room had coffee, juice, water, snacks, etc. I was greeted right away. The people there were all talking to each other and laughing. It just seemed very comfortable. However, as I looked around, all the magazines that were in there were geared toward cancer. It made sense because I was in the Cancer Care Unit, but at the same time it made me wonder what I was doing there.

After a short period of time, I was called. I had to do the whole weight, blood pressure, temp, etc. thing and then the doctor came in. After introducing himself, the first thing he told me was this was not cancer, so I should not be worried about that. He then just sat and talked to me for almost an hour. He went on to explain the findings of my labs. A normal platelet count is between 150,000 and 450,000. The day before, I had only 25,000. This is not terrible, but it is not good either. He said that chances are, my count was much lower on the day that I had the nosebleed (3 days prior). Everything else that they had tested for came back fine. He still wanted to test me for some additional things that were not yet tested for, just to ensure nothing was missed, but he was fairly certain that it was ITP. This diagnosis is given when they rule out all the other causes of this. He explained how it was treated, what I could expect in the future, complications, and things to avoid doing.

I, ultimately, was given a prescription for 50 mg prednisone for a month. Then depending on the platelet count, it would be adjusted. I had some more blood drawn to rule out the last of the possible causes and I made an appointment for a two-week follow-up. Then, I finally got to go back home to digest it all.

So, far things are going well on the steroids. The petechiae is all cleared up and the purpura looks much better. I still have a bunch of bruises, but I think I am doing better. It's kind of hard to really judge since I never felt sick. The one side effect of the steroids that bothers me is that I cannot sleep, so that makes me a little crazy, but I figure I can live with that for a month if necessary.

So, I guess I just have to wait and see what happens at the next appointment. Until then, I am not supposed to do anything that could potentially injure me or cause straining. And if I do happen to get hurt or get another nosebleed, I am supposed to go to the ER.

In the meantime, I have been able to learn quite a bit about this condition. The most useful site I have found is I strongly suggest checking it out if you want to find out more.