Monday, 17 December 2012

Of Grave Concern

A couple of weeks before I found out I was pregnant with our second child (yet to be born, and boy, am I counting down the days till Christmas Eve!!!) I found out that I have Graves' Disease (charming name, don't you think?).

Basically, Graves' Disease is an autoimmune (where your own body attacks itself) thyroid (an organ in your neck) disease, which causes the thyroid to become overactive.  Your thyroid produces two of the hormones that control your body's metabolism, so when you have an overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, your body is in overdrive and everything is happening a lot faster than it should.

It can impact your body in a lot of ways, but I first knew something wasn't right when I was feeding the Rosebud her breakfast one morning.  With every mouthful I was attempting to feed her I had to hold my right hand still with my left so that I could actually get it in her mouth.  I can remember holding my hand out, looking at it, you know, head on the side kind of thing, frown lines between eyebrows, wondering if it was just my imagination.  But alas, no, it was shaking.  Like crazy.

Looking back, I can see other symptoms that weren't as obvious to me at the time, but now scream, "Xanthe, what the heck are you doing??  Your body is trying to kill itself!!!" Ha!  Maybe not quite, but we were definitely on the verge of all out civil war.

In about a month, I dropped about 5kg which I just attributed to doing Weight Watchers for a few months before, even though I was eating like a horse constantly (not a bad problem to have, I thought at the time); my normally full hair was falling out ALL OVER THE HOUSE and was driving me crazy, but this I attributed to breastfeeding; and my heart was constantly racing, to the point that it felt like it was going to burst out of my chest, and it would actually stop me from falling asleep at night.  Ok, so the heart thing also started to make me think something might be wrong, but it was the shaking that actually made me go to my doctor and request her to do tests.

Now, at the risk of sounding condescending, if you've never had something serious wrong with you, consider yourself blessed first and foremost, but you can probably only imagine what it's like to get a phone call from your doctor telling you to come in immediately.  Your mind automatically goes to the worst possible outcome.  You're gonna die.  Your number's up.  It's all over, red rover.  Thankfully though, that wasn't the case; although, if left untreated Graves' Disease will kill you.  No doubt about it.  Your poor old heart can't handle running a marathon everyday.  Eventually it will stop working.  And that's not a good thing :)

(As an aside, can I just add how much I really would hate to be a doctor?  Apart from the fact that bodily fluids totally gross me out - and other people's bodily fluids, well, don't even go there - it must be really hard to be the bearer of bad tidings to people who have terminal illnesses, or even just life-affecting illnesses.  But then, I guess it must also be amazing to help people in ways that really does affect their entire life...)

So, as I was saying, I totally thought my number was up, and there was a period of further waiting to see if I had thyroid cancer which was also slightly disturbing, but thankfully that came back all clear - it was "just" Graves' Disease.  I was immediately prescribed Neomercazole, the usual treatment and was told to start using it as soon as I had weaned my daughter, which I managed to do without mastitis in under two weeks - wooo!

While going through the weaning process however, my husband and I spent some time talking together about the way ahead and we both felt to see what treatment avenues complimentary medicine held for thyroid disease.  Now, not many people may know this, but deep down inside me there's a hippy trying to escape.  I keep her well restrained, but she does like to whisper her opinions in my ear regarding health and medicine.  (I'm not so keen on her dress sense - all that flouncy, loose-fitting, no bra style just doesn't do a thing for my hourglass figure :)  I should stress though, that she "influences" my approach to health and wellbeing, rather than completely directs it, which is to say that I prefer a complimentary approach to managing my health, rather than one which is completely natural remedies or completely modern medicine focused.  My personal feeling (note: I did say personal, so please don't take my opinion personally!!!) is that we shouldn't disregard what nature can offer, just like we shouldn't completely disregard what research and modern technology has given us.  I feel that both have their place.  So, I started seeing a good doctor friend of mine who focuses on natural medicines in her treatments.  Yes, amazingly, there are REAL doctors out there who also think natural remedies have their place!!  This approach basically involved trying to help my struggling immune system to do what it should be doing, instead of turning on itself and consisted of taking lots of vitamin and mineral supplements.  And you know what, it actually started to work.  After two weeks my levels and symptoms had started to decrease, which was very encouraging, and so I was keen to continue trying the natural approach.

HOWEVER.  Yep, there's an "HOWEVER".  Then I found out I was pregnant.  It was a little bit of a shock.  Like, I had to do three home tests to actually believe that it was true, followed by one at the doctor's to make absolutely sure, followed by a dating ultrasound at approximately 7 weeks.  So, I am proof that everything has a failure rate :)  At this point, in conjunction with my obstetrician, endocrinologist and GP I made the decision to commence the mainstream approach to managing Graves' disease.  I didn't want to take any chances with my baby's health and felt that this was the best approach for me.  So, for the last 9 or so months I have been taking Propylthiouracil, which has completely brought my thyroid levels back to normal and is least likely to have a negative impact on the bubba while he's baking away ;)

At my last appointment my endocrinologist advised me that it is quite common for women to have a major relapse about 6-8 weeks post-partum.  Nobody really knows why, but for some wonderful reason having babies makes your body work the way it should.  Unfortunately, once the baby's out, all hell can break loose.  So, I have finally come to the point of my post.  Phew!  You see, at normal thyroid levels, on the lowest dose of PTU, I can currently breastfeed the little one.  However, if my thyroid levels go crazy as I have been warned, and I have to take a dose of medication that exceeds 200mg per day, I won't be able to feed the baby any longer, which is something I've been concerned about for the duration of the pregnancy.

So, once I have this baby, I am commencing a strict eating regime *sigh*; I'll be cutting out all dairy and wheat, and most other delicious things that generally fill my tummy *sob*; and Mrs Flannery's and the health food aisle will become my closest buddies *sniff*.

But, this is the sacrifice that I am prepared (ok, I'm not quite there yet, I admit) to make, if it means I can breastfeed my bubba.  I have done this before, mind you.  I mean, go on a really strict diet for an extended period of time, so I do know I can do it if I put my mind to it.  But, doing it with a toddler and a newborn, well that's another story.  So this morning I spent time writing down a shopping list of things to buy to stock up my pantry for after the baby arrives.  I figure that if I don't need to think too much about what to eat I'm more likely to stick to the 'lifestyle' (it's not a diet, it's not a diet, it's NOT A DIET!!!).

Anywho, I wanted to share this with you in case there is anyone else out there with similar experiences, or who might like to follow along while I go on this rollercoaster ride :)   I'd love to know if you have Graves' Disease and how you are treating it; or if you want to do the eating thing with me, that would be great too!  I'll aim to share any good recipes I find on the blog and keep you updated on how I'm progressing.  Don't be too hard on me though - I will have a newborn to look after, and sleep to find.

For now though, I have a week until this baby is due, and boy oh baby boy, am I going to enjoy myself until then.  And then, on Christmas day, I am going to totally smash that Christmas trifle, and all it's gluteny, dairy, sugary goodness, like it ain't been done before ;)

And then, I'll start that diet on Monday.



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