For the first time in my life, things were not in my control.

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Day 21 of Blogging for TSC Awareness

by guest blogger Debdatta Bhattacharya  (Portland, Oregon)

I had always been in control of my life. I faced challenges but I knew if I work hard I will get over them. I was born in India into a loving family and had an amazing childhood. After I completed college I wanted to come to the U.S.A. for pursuing my PhD in physics. My parents were not happy with my decision because it was so far away from home. But I was adamant; it was my life right ? After a couple of years of coming to U.S.A, I married my college sweetheart. Six years later, both of us got well paying jobs at Intel in Portland, OR. Life was good. Finally it was time to sit back and relax and enjoy all those years of hard work at grad school. In 2010, our first born, our daughter Bartika arrived in our life. Oh what a joyful time that was, the exhausting but delightful days of nurturing her and caring for her, the ecstatic feeling of bringing new life into this world.

In 2013, I got pregnant with my second child. We found out it was going to be a boy. Everyone was excited, “oh you will have one of each”. We personally didn’t care; we just wanted a healthy child. I started planning, like I have for all other major events of my life. We sorted through all our daughter’s toys, separating infant toys from toddler toys, packed them in separate bags. I hired someone to help me out in the first few weeks after baby #2 arrived. I can’t believe it now; I even almost planned the weekly menu with her so that there would be one less thing to do.

On my 37th week of my pregnancy, we went for a routine ultrasound. I was excited to see him one last time before actually holding him in my arms. After the ultrasound, my doctor came in the room and told us “there is something wrong with the baby’s heart.” Those words and her voice still ring in my ears. We were quickly packed off to be seen by a neonatalist. He had no idea what was going on other than the fact that my baby had unusual thickening in the wall of his heart. We were told that there is no guarantee he will make it out of my womb. Such cruel words told with such heart wrenching indifference. I felt like someone just stabbed me in my chest. My child was still kicking inside me; how could any of this be true? Later that night, we got a call from a pediatric cardiologist. He said it looks like your baby has “tuberous sclerosis” (I first thought he said tuberculosis). That was the first time we had heard this term. The doctors wanted to do a c-section, but they wanted to wait a few more days to give him a chance to grow a little bigger. The little signs around the house that showed our readiness to welcome the new baby came back to bite us. The new baby clothes delivered at our door step, the unopened car seat, the toys, the laid out crib seemed to mock us. For the first time in my life, things were not in my control.

The inevitable question of “why me” kept me awake at night. We were told “law of nature” by the doctors. But we had been good to nature, recycling, reusing, installing solar panels, driving a Prius, you name it, then why us? We have given to charity, been reasonably polite with everyone, been sincere and honest in our job, then why was our dream of a perfect life being shattered so ruthlessly. I haven’t found any answers yet. But with time I have realized that most people are basically good and nobody deserves to go through this pain. But life happens and other than gracefully accepting it we don’t really have much of a choice.

blog-2We had a faint idea that TSC could affect our child in multiple ways but at that point of time we were concentrating on his heart tumors. We went to Seattle Children’s Hospital so that he had all the heart surgery options if he needed any. My beautiful boy Arij, was born on 7th April, 2014. Miraculously he did not need any surgery or medication. All the doctors had told otherwise but he proved them wrong. It was overwhelming because my arms were empty and my baby was in cardiac ICU (just in case) and a bunch of MRIs and ultrasounds were being performed on him. I had about 48 hours of absolute happiness till the doctors came back and told us he had tumors in his brain. For the first time after his diagnosis, I opened the internet and started reading about TSC. I had intentionally stayed off because before his delivery there was nothing much to do with all that information anyway. I saw terms like, seizures, developmental delay, mental retardation, autism, mentioned in a matter of fact way all across the internet. My heart sank and I cried and cried. Was I not allowed to enjoy even a few hours of my baby’s presence before being engulfed in worries again? While I recovered from my c-section, I tried to make sense of all this information. We came back home after staying for 12 days in the hospital. The first night we spent at our home as a family will always be etched in my memory. It was such a happy feeling to be home as a family for the first time, no hospital smell, no monitors, no doctors.

My husband spent the next few weeks in doing extensive research on infantile spasms and what it looked like. We had realized that we can’t control everything but we will control whatever little we can. We installed a motion detecting video camera over our son’s crib so that we could detect the first signs of infantile spasms. We prayed that we never detect anything but unfortunately around two months of age he showed some early symptoms of infantile spasms. He was started on sabril and everything was under control again. I took time off from work and took care of him. A bunch of therapy sessions started around 4 months. He was doing wonderfully till he was about nine months. That is the time when new seizure activity started. More tears, more heartbreak and more panic followed. He started falling back developmentally. The local neurologist was unable to control his seizures. Arij being his sweet self, of course just smiled through this all. We finally decided to take him to Cincinnati TSC clinic. I am so glad that we took that decision. The medicines were changed and he was put on new medicine. It took a while for him to react positively to the medicines. Patience is not my forte but life taught me to be patient. He is doing much better now but he still has some seizure activity. He is still delayed developmentally but he is making steady progress. We celebrate all his milestones. We have learnt to find happiness in the smallest of moments. We are going to start him on afinitor soon with the hope that it will control the remaining seizure activities that he is having.

blog-4It is still difficult for me write down the positive aspects of this experience. I have lived most of my life without TSC and I was quite happy. TSC has taught me a lot of things but I wouldn’t have minded leading the rest of my life without these learnings 🙂 One of the key things is of course that I have to let go of things and situations and I can’t control everything. The other is patience. I keep working with my son on a certain skill, day after day without seeing the desired result. But when I get there, I can’t describe the satisfaction and sense of achievement that I get. I also got to know the true color of many of my so called friends. Some have abruptly discontinued all contacts with me and some have stepped up to give me emotional support. We will continue fighting this battle with Arij. Amidst all these uncertainties, there is one certainty; he will always be surrounded by unconditional love.

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In Memory of Dee Triemer

I’m taking a break today from the Blogging for TSC Awareness project. Thank you so much to everyone who has sent something in the last few days. I promise they will be posted soon.

Yesterday we all received the shocking news of Dee’s passing. Even knowing how serious her diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer was, I still never dreamed it would happen so quickly. I had told her I’d bring dinner as soon as we got rid of the sicknesses that have been circulating our house for the last month and half. I never made it.

Dee was an incredible advocate for TSC and her daughter Ashley, even taking a position at the TS Alliance, though she was able to stay here in Georgia.

She had a great sense of humor, even in the face of cancer and chemotherapy.

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It was just March that we were in DC for the March on the Hill and she felt bad she couldn’t make it to the offices with us because of the back pain; the cause was not yet diagnosed. She was fretting over the fact that she had a formal event coming up and she would have to wear flats. “I can’t wear flats to a formal event! I love my heels!”

Dee, I hope you are wearing the most stylish, glittery 4.5-inch heels anyone ever saw.

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Grateful

Day 19 of Blogging for TSC Awareness

by Shannon Hanks-Grandia  (Riverside, California)

DSC_0244Twelve years ago I first heard the words tuberous sclerosis complex and my life was forever changed. I do not have TSC, but my husband and three children do, Rob (38 years old), Rylee (14 years old), Jake (11 years old) and Luke (8 years old). Each is unique in their manifestations and levels of severity. As a spouse and a mom, I have been to countless doctor appointments, lived through numerous hospitalizations, watched my son fight for his life, attempted medication after medication and a diet to try and control seizures, battled and continue to battle the school district, had my child scratch, bite and yank out my hair in an attempt to communicate and felt defeated more than I care to admit. But through it all I have been surrounded by an incredible family, friends and a community that supports with love and understanding.

I did not ask for this journey, and to say that I would not change a thing would be a lie.  If given the choice, I would NEVER choose this road. Yet, there are many things in life that we do not ask for, but life goes on. Our job is to find the joy, hope, strength and love to make a positive impact not only for those we love, but for others traveling a similar journey.

DSC_0208This last year my husband and I have been given the opportunity to be Adult Regional Coordinators with the TS Alliance. This is a position that simply allows us to try and support the adult community. In our attempt to support others, we have been given so much. It would be impossible to name the many extraordinary adults that we have met and the profound impact they have made on me as a spouse and a mother. I love my husband with all that is in me, and although his manifestations tend to be more on the mild side, TSC is there. To watch him speak to and connect with other adults is simply beautiful (not sure how else to describe it).

Then there is the impact these incredible individuals have made on DSC_0213
me as a mother. The future is uncertain, this disorder is unpredictable, yet our community is strong and filled with fight. I have met young women that will one day be my daughter. I hear about their trials and their triumphs and they teach me how I can help my daughter navigate her own TSC journey. I see young men whose manifestations are medically and behaviorally severe. Watching their smiles and joy of life, despite the obstacles and meeting their caregivers and how they have traveled this journey is empowering.

DSC_0222Over these last 12 years I have come to terms that my children will never be “normal,” yet that does not mean that I do not still mourn for what my children will miss out on life because of TSC. With that being said, it does not mean that I cannot celebrate the life that we have been given. I have a unique privilege of watching my husband and children make a positive impact each and every day. I see the people that are touched by their smiles and strength. And most importantly, I see them show the world that being different can be amazing!

Despite the obstacles there is so much to be grateful for. I am grateful that those of us traveling this road have the privilege of learning to celebrate the little details of life that most overlook. I am grateful for the amazing man I married and the three extraordinary children that he gave me. I am grateful for those that have traveled this journey before us and are helping to pave the way for a brighter future. I am grateful for the Alliance and the individuals that have committed their lives to the fight, and one day the cure, of TSC. I am grateful for daily smiles and the understanding and love of those around me. I am grateful God allowed me to be their mom. Simply said, I am grateful for life!

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TSC and Me

Day 16 of Blogging for TSC Awareness
by Victoria Newberry  (Texas)
IMG_1290As I prepare myself to write this, I thought about how to represent my son and I realized that I can’t do it. I can’t write for my son because deep down I am still hoping that he will be able to do it on his own one day and I don’t want to take that chance away from him. So this story will be about me, about a first time mother who came face to face with this unknown called TSC.
We waited a few years before deciding to have a child. As the youngest, I’ve never been around pregnancy or babies. Needless to say, I was nervous. I joined a pregnancy website, read anything and every thing, went to pregnancy classes; I even interviewed doctors to be my son’s pediatrician. When he was finally in my arms, it was the happiest and the scariest moment in my life. I was, and still am, responsible for this tiny human being. I was a mother. The pregnancy website continued to be an infant “guide”. When they should be doing this or that, what you should be doing this day or that day, what exercises to do, what to feed, everything was planned. Then, he developed severe eczema at 2.5 months and I felt my world shattered. I did everything right, didn’t I? Did I use the right soap? Detergent? Did I let his skin get too dry? I kept on blaming myself, I got angry a lot, I was frustrated. Looking back, I think this period prepared me to face what was about to happen in a few months. My control-freak self would’ve lost her mind had it not been for this “transition period”.
March 2014, we got our diagnosis, my son has a genetic disorder 20140207_125126called TSC, it’s incurable. I remembered feeling numb, my head started organizing my thoughts. That’s how I cope: I analyze, I make plans, I figure it out. I asked for an explanation on what we would be expecting, how wide is the spectrum, what’s our game plan, what do I need to do in the immediate future. I had to get into action cause I knew if I stopped to think for a second, I would break down. I allowed myself to cry one time when it was just me and my husband, our son asleep in the metallic crib. I started reading about the disorder, gathering all the information I could to prepare me for what was to come. Joined facebook groups, talked with other parents in the same boat, trying to somehow convince myself that it will work out.
One year later, I’m a changed person. We never got seizure control, except for a few weeks earlier this year, after going through 6 medicines in different combinations, and I’m okay. My son is severely delayed and we recently had to put in a feeding tube because it was not safe for him to eat by mouth, and I’m okay. My days are filled with therapies, doctor appointments, keeping a journal (seizures, sleep, feeding, diaper count, body temperature, etc.), and working with my son at home. Guess all the skills I learned being an admin paid off, I have excel sheets full of tables and charts. My smartphone calendar became indispensable. I learned to let go of things I can’t control, and to maximize my efforts on things I can do something about.
I learned to not let fear of the unknown conquer me. Sure I get stressed out every now and then, and I feel like I sometimes I can’t breath, but then I gather myself together and put a smile on my face. They say a smile goes both ways, sometimes it comes from the heart and other times it warms the heart. I smile cause my son needs me, I smile cause my husband deserves support just like the support he’s given me. I refuse to drag them down in my sorrow and frustration, so I learned to let go. I learned to fight the battles that can be fought, and not worry about those that are not here yet. It doesn’t mean I don’t prepare myself for them, for the chance that my son might develop a new type of seizure one day or that he may never be verbal, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. I learned to trust more in my support system, to listen to their counsel, to be open to suggestions, to accept help. I am alone, yet I’m not lonely in this journey.
IMG_0879TSC made me a better stronger person. I just wish that it didn’t have to be at the expense of my son’s health. I am hopeful still that he has a chance at “normalcy,” but I’m prepared to face whatever comes our way. After all, what is “normal?” Merriam-Webster defines it as “usual or ordinary.” Life with my son is our “normal” and I wouldn’t have it any other way (well, that’s a lie, I would want him to not have TSC). You may be in our lives, TSC, but you do not define who we are!

Tuberous Sclerosis Complex Awareness Day “Thingie”

Day 15 of Blogging for TSC Awareness Month

by guest blogger Julia Gray  (Atlanta, Georgia)

I’m supposed to write about my identity.

Frankly, that’s easier said than done.

I’ve been told that INFP personalities,

Like me,

Have a hard time getting their thoughts and feelings

Out of their heads and into real life.

In the words of Holden Caulfield,

I can’t explain what I mean.

And even if I could,

I’m not sure I’d feel like it.

But I might as well try.

I am tumors

Surrounded by a body

A brain

And a vast imagination.

I am an annual MRI visit.

I have to lie completely still, quitting my twitching and itching for an hour while I lay inside a huge metal cylinder that takes pictures of the problem areas.

I am an uneven heartbeat

Belonging to a heart that wants to dance away from its problems

Or just write or draw them into oblivion.

I am the constant fear that when I zoned out just now I had a seizure and didn’t notice.

I am a lot of things.

An imagination.

Unending passion.

Personality.

I’m not just a cluster of tumors.

They say I’m a rarity,

An unfortunate privilege for people like them.

Unfortunate for me, that is.

They love it.

When my disease, my tumors and I walk into a room together, and the putrid medicinal smell pervades my nose,

We are involuntarily attached,

And they thrive on it.

I’m like a scientific oddity.

They are an undesired gift

For them and their white coats to gawk at and inspect.

I am known as my disease.

But I am not my disease.

Or my tumors.

I am a victim of it.

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Bailey

Day 13 of Guest Blogging for TSC Awareness

by Becca Patterson  (Greenwood, Mississippi)

My name is Bailey and I am 5 years old. I was diagnosed with TSC when I started having seizures at 5 months. I’ve had almost every type of seizure there is but currently my seizures are under control.

I have tumors & tubers in my brain, small tumors in my kidneys, and every skin abnormality associated with TSC. I am non-verbal, physically and mentally delayed, and autistic.

I am also beautiful, silly, sweet, and a spit-fire. I am TSC.

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The Great Seizure Wait

Day 12 of Blogging for TSC Awareness

by guest blogger Hannah Lorraine  (St. Louis, Missouri)

I was standing in the nail polish aisle in CVS when I got the call.  I rarely ever paint my nails, so that was odd enough, but getting a personal call from my OB was even stranger. She had news, she told me. They saw a mass at our 20-week ultrasound.  In her heart.  Maybe nothing, maybe serious.  A specialist, she said.
And I don’t remember taking in a real breath after that for a very long time.

Elise 3 daysI held my breath through the first appointment with the cardiologist when he told us he saw not one, but two tumors taking up a large area, one in each ventricle. I held my breath three weeks later when one of the tumors grew so large that they sent us to consult with a surgeon.  I held my breath through learning the ins and outs of what heart failure looks like and praying I’d make it to at least 30 weeks without seeing any signs of fluid build-up around my baby’s tiny heart. I prayed and wept and pleaded with God that he would have mercy. I had so many ultrasounds, I learned how to look for all the markers myself. I always felt so relieved to see her heart pumping away, the largest tumor dancing inside rhythmically.  I saw her little hands, always in the fighter position, a good sign I thought.   I held my breath when they told us that she probably had a genetic condition that caused the tumors and that she could have them in other parts of her body as well. And still she kept growing and thriving.

Through the incredible fog of hope, confusion and fear, I gave birth, Elise 4 monthsagainst all the odds, to an otherwise healthy, full-term baby girl. Not to a genetic disorder, not to a defective heart, but to a person. One whom I had loved so intensely through it all, but had only just begun to know. A person with my eye color and her daddy’s chin and a personality as unique as her fingerprints. A person with countless other genes besides the broken one–all making up bits and pieces of the whole beautiful baby that is my daughter. And I am so unbelievably grateful. To know her, to have her as a part of my life. To have the honor of being her mother and walking with her through life. I can barely remember what I was thinking before the day that 2015-05-06_14.20.48everything changed, before hope and fear became two almost indistinguishable sides of the same reality for us.
Then a part of me shattered when we found the tumors in her brain, too. Oh, please, God, not her brain. The diagnosis was confirmed now: tuberous sclerosis.  I had never heard of it before this, never met anyone with those kinds of symptoms.  Sometimes I look at her soft, fuzzy head and cry, wondering how it could be filled with tumors when she looks so normal, so beautiful.

Elise is now seven months old and our waiting game has changed.  Instead of worrying about her heart, we wait and watch for the seizures that usually result from the brain tumors she has. Every day that goes by without one is a joy. No healthy moment is taken for Elise 3 monthsgranted.  Elise is growing and developing beautifully.  She is babbling and sitting unsupported and already crawling.  I have learned to enjoy these healthy days, and yet in my weak moments, I find the familiar fear returning and worry that she will lose the milestones she’s gained. I worry that someday seizures will steal the clarity in her eyes and dull the sparkle from her smile. And so we wait. And refuse to let it define our lives.

We had an EEG this week that showed a number of spikes while Elise was sleeping, upping our concern and our seizure watch. Our neurologist told us that if those spikes turn into seizure activity, the likelihood is that it’s going to happen in the next few months. Statistics are not our friends, but they are not our story either. I am scared and sad, but I refuse to allow the seizure wait to steal my joy in the healthy days. My girl is a fighter. We decided to name her Elise so that she would always know that she is “dedicated to God” and that God is her strength, no matter what suffering she might face. None of us are certain of our tomorrows, but we will rejoice in gifts we have been given today. And carefully watch and wait.

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Living in Atlanta, loving travel and watching my son kick tuberous sclerosis complex's butt.

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