Archive for category Drugs

Back Here Again

“I just don’t know how much pain I’m expected to endure,” I confided to my friend.

And so, I had to admit to myself that I’ve been living with more pain, more morning stiffness, more burning sensations in my joints waking me up at night than I was willing to tolerate.

Because the pain is scary. It makes me think of my X-rays when I first got diagnosed, showing the pain that I had ignored had turned into bone erosions – permanent damage.

And because the pain is exhausting. Emotionally and physically exhausting. Invading my thoughts throughout the day. Throbbing right wrist, stiff left pinky, swollen left ankle, burning right elbow — Oh, was I supposed to be paying attention in this meeting? Invading my sleep at night. Invading my optimism that I had this disease under control.

And then I had to admit it to my rheumatologist. And then I heard him asking if I wanted to get on Prednisone. No. Methotrexate? I’d rather not….. I like a drink. I like to know if I get pregnant I won’t have to abort the child. I like not feeling nauseous one day a week and shedding copious amounts of hair. What else is there?

So now, Plaquenil. A malaria medication, which is a DMARD used to treat lupus and rheumatoid disease (though the printed information the pharmacist gave me states “they don’t know why it works to treat these diseases” — encouraging, right?).

Following the appointment came a struggle. Reading the side effects, wondering if more drugs were the right course, determining to also try lifestyle and diet changes.

Wondering if this was somehow because of something I could have prevented. Something I did. Eating the wrong thing? Stressing about my breakup and work too much? What if I could meditate and eat more kale? And cut out nightshade vegetables and gluten and dairy and sugar and caffeine and never drink again and basically become a monk? Would this disease leave me alone then?

And then depression. And acceptance. And sadness.

Because I’m back here again. Wondering if this treatment will work. Remembering that this disease is labeled chronic and I’m probably stuck with it for the rest of my life. Trying to remember how to feel optimistic and hopeful.

And two pills a day. And one shot a week. And less gluten, dairy, sugar, nightshade veggies, caffeine and alcohol. And more acupuncture.

And maybe starting to feel better. Maybe remembering how to have hope.

Love to all of you dealing with the taxing ups and downs of autoimmune diseases. I would not wish this on anyone, but it does force you to slow down, to be aware of your body, to appreciate the moments that are pain free and the moments where you surprise yourself with what you can do and what you can bear.

If anyone has experience with Plaquenil – good or bad, I’d love to hear it!

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Eggs Over Easy

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So, this is how it was supposed to go! Two painless weeks of hormones and 9 mature eggs now in the freezer.

After my canceled round a couple of months ago, I was feeling pretty discouraged. I took a month “off” to prep my body for a second round.

Of course, “off” in the world of fertility meant a month of testosterone gel, progesterone, estrogen, and blood thinners. So, the month off was taxing, but it let my brain take a break and forget about eggs.

Then, day one of my cycle came. The ultrasound brought news of another cyst. Last round, the cyst had been a showstopper and I chose to spend money to have it drained so I could continue with the hormones.

This time, the cyst was small enough that they gave me a choice: wait another month for it to go away, have it drained (for yet another $600), or continue with the hormones and risk the cyst growing as well.

My nurse told me to listen to my gut, and my gut was telling me that it had been a waste of money draining it last time and obviously my body is prone to cysts, so waiting it out didn’t seem rational. I opted to begin the hormones: Menopur, Omnitrope, Gonal-F and Clomid, this time at higher doses than the last round.

And this time around, in spite of the extra shots each day, I found it relatively easy. Giving myself shots wasn’t as emotionally taxing as last round and my body wasn’t bruising anymore (in spite of still being on blood thinners).

I eagerly awaited for day 6 when I could find out how my eggs were growing and whether the cyst was messing everything up. Last time the news on day 6 was that I only had four eggs growing, but two were so far behind, only two would be mature by my retrieval date. This time, I had 11 good-looking possibilities and my cyst was growing slowly enough not to be a concern.

After that, it was continued hormones, daily morning ultrasounds and bloodwork, and daily afternoon calls from the nurse. To my surprise, everything was growing right on schedule. My body was responding well and things were looking good.

Finally, I got the news that it was time to take my trigger shot. The shot had to be taken at exactly 8:30pm so that surgery could take place exactly 36 hours later. It was my fist time giving myself an intramuscular shot (versus subcutaneous) and I was super nervous. To my surprise, it was relatively painless (though I was pretty sore afterward).

My partner drove me to surgery 36 hours later and that went smoothly. No pain during or after and I didn’t even get sick from the anesthesia! I am very happy that we got 9 mature eggs (so much better than the 2 from last round!).

Seriously, after all the complications my body has thrown me, I was shocked that things just went well.

One major bonus of this whole process: I’m still off of methotrexate and my RA symptoms are under control. I still take Enbrel (and I will never complain about one shot per week again!), but my rheumatologist and I are going to try to keep me off methotrexate. I’m so excited to be down to one RA drug!!

 

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RA & The Convoluted Path to Pregnancy

I’m finally sitting down to write a review of Arthritis, Pregnancy and the Path to Parenthood, by Suzie Edward May.

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Now this little book is only 183 well-spaced pages and I started reading it way back in October. So what the heck took me so long?

To understand that, a bit of backstory…

As a child, I was never very into dolls. I liked climbing trees and playing ‘kick the can’. I obsessed over animals more than babies.

When I was 8, I got a new baby sister. When my parents first put her in my arms I thought she looked like a sick alien. Luckily she grew into the cutest toddler ever.

I think what I’m saying is, I was never one of those girls who solely dreamed of motherhood. In fact, growing up, I didn’t give it much thought. I just knew that someday I would become a mom. It seemed obvious, but it was not something I obsessed over.

When I was diagnosed with RA, single and 29 years old, my mind immediately went to my hypothetical future children. Was I already too late? Would this disease prevent me from having kids? Would it prevent me from meeting a significant other?

Luckily, the answer to those questions was ‘no’. Although, it did get a bit more complicated.

I started dating my current partner pretty much right after my diagnosis (well, this isn’t entirely true, because we had actually been exes, broken up for several years). It is in fact probably my RA that brought us back together.

The diagnosis softened me and made me more vulnerable, made me want to seek the support of those I truly loved, those who didn’t judge me. The people who truly rose to the top of that list were my mom and my ex-boyfriend. Go figure.

Four years later, we’re still together and wondering how four years have already passed. We’re getting more serious about “us” and those big life questions – What type of living situation do we want? Where do we see ourselves in 10 years? How do we feel about building a family?

My answer to that family question was largely one of emotion. I told my partner that I really wanted to build a family, become a mom. That this is something I always imagined for myself. In fact, given my childhood attitudes and how little I’d actually thought about this, I was surprised at the severity of my emotional attachment to becoming a mom.

His response was built more on logic and fear. One of six kids, he agreed that family was something he always assumed he would have someday, but he was concerned. What would pregnancy and parenthood look like for me, given my RA? What did it mean to get off the drugs? How would the hormones of pregnancy change the trajectory of my disease?

We spoke for a long time and I promised I would dig into it and find more information. I also promised that if my health was truly at risk, we’d look at another path, like adoption.

Problem is, there’s not a ton of info out there about this topic. Suzie Edward May’s book became the sole title on my list of books on the subject.

The  book compiles many first person accounts of their path to parenthood with RA, including Suzie’s. It covers the challenge of getting off your RA meds to become pregnant. It covers the decision whether to stay off those drugs to breastfeed. It covers the possibility of a post-pregnancy flare.

It definitely made me feel less alone in my path. It made me feel scared and hopeful at the same time.

You won’t always succeed. There will be days and parts of days where you are fed up  and sick of pain. Sick of thinking creatively about pain, sick of not being able to do what you want to do, and sick of always having to consider your health. But remember – you have dealt with worse before. Have a cry and then pick yourself up and keep moving forward.

– Excerpt from Arthritis, Pregnancy and the Path to Parenthood, by Suzie Edward May

Suzie doesn’t sugarcoat the hard stuff. I appreciated that, but it drove home what my partner had been trying to tell me.

This isn’t going to be easy. There will be hard times. You have to really, really want this. And you have to be willing to accept Plan B if it’s not in the cards for us.

I’d finished the book, but I felt more lost than ever. I couldn’t yet compose my complicated emotions on the subject.

In fact, the questions I had that Suzie glosses over are perhaps the biggest ones of all. She assumes that you’re reading this because you need kids. You have that drive and you really want your own biological children. But how do you arrive at that first decision? How do you know that you’re ready to take on the challenge of pregnancy and parenthood and ADD to it with the complications of RA?

Then my annual exam in January brought with it some news: I have a low AMH. I know, WTH is that, right? 

AMH, or anti-mullerian hormone, is thought to be a good reflection of your remaining egg supply. And mine was quite low for a 32-year-old woman (according to my gynecologist, there is disagreement on what these numbers really mean and their importance).

Your AMH levels decline as you age. According to my doctor, the level decreases by approximately 0.5 each year after the age of about 25. So my low number is on a steady march to menopause.

The other thing that decreases over time is the quality of your eggs. This is why many doctors recommend having kids before age 35.

This led me to a fertility clinic where they told me some good news: my AMH may be low, but my egg quality is excellent.

So what does this all mean? Well, it basically left my partner and I doing some figuring. We both believe siblings are important and would love to try for two kids. Given my RA, my pregnancies would have some extra time built in, meaning a timeline that looks like this:

  • 3 months off methotrexate
  • 1-12 months trying to get pregnant and being off methotrexate
  • 9 months pregnant and off methotrexate and Enbrel
  • 1-12 months potentially breastfeeding and off methotrexate and Enbrel (this is optional, as formula is available exactly for these situations!)
  • get back on the drugs and recover
  • rinse and repeat

At this point, I had turned 33 and my biological clock was like the relentless tick-tock in the crocodile in Peter Pan.

If I got off methotrexate now and started the path to pregnancy, it would be more than a year before I actually have a baby. Meaning baby number 2 is well over two years away. Given my dropping AMH, baby number 2 might not be an option at all. And this is assuming we are ready to start trying right now, which we’re just not.

So my partner and I are moving forward on freezing my  eggs. This will give us an opportunity at baby number 2 (and number 1 if we run into difficulty), even if my AMH is non-existent. And future baby number 2 (and/or 1) will benefit from the “excellent” quality of my 33-year-old eggs.

This is not a decision we landed on lightly. There are no guarantees when it comes to egg freezing. It’s expensive and not even remotely covered by my insurance. I worried we were just creating another delay in our path to parenthood by not just going for it now. Along with those concerns, I still have to be off methotrexate for 2-3 months (at least 2 months before the freezing takes place), which was a pretty scary proposition.

I’m currently on week 5 off methotrexate and feeling empowered about my decision to freeze my eggs. The weeks have not been easy. My symptoms are definitely flaring. My days are stiff and even my knees, joints that have never been symptomatic for me before, are getting in on the action.

I was truly  hoping that I would get off the drug and feel great, realize it really wasn’t helping and be able to live a life free of this not-so-fun medication. The silver lining is that I know the methotrexate was doing its job, suppressing my symptoms.

This convoluted path to parenthood, the big decisions, none of it is easy. But I’m ready to share my thoughts and my journey. I believe it’s all going to be worth it, and that is the whole point of Suzie’s book.

…make sure you have a full understanding of the impact the process could have on your life, be prepared and have action plans and support in place to deal with situations that may arise. Be open to things not going as you may desire. The more you are open to these types of things the less mental stress you will go through if things don’t go to plan.

Mother of two with rheumatoid arthritis, Australia (excerpt from
Arthritis, Pregnancy and the Path to Parenthood, by Suzie Edward May

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Have You Tried Fish Oil?

I live in a city that embraces naturopaths, acupuncture and supplements. Anytime I tell anyone I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, they immediately follow with diet or supplement advice.

Fish oil cures that, right? MSM eliminates symptoms. Add turmeric!

This advice is not only coming from the uneducated. I’ve read books and studies recommending some supplements, including fish oil, from reputable sources.

When I was first diagnosed, I heeded this advice. It got to a point where I was taking a handful of pills morning and night.

Finally, my body had enough, which it communicated with a gag reflex I started getting just by seeing the vitamins in my hand. I’m currently listening to my body and taking just one supplement each day – alternating calcium/vitamin D with a hair, skin and nails formula (does wonders for my methotrexate-induced hair loss and weak nails!).

Last night, I finally got around to watching Frontline’s Supplements and Safety documentary.

It’s an important watch for anyone who adds supplements to their daily regimen.

I won’t pretend to be a doctor and offer medical advice. Some people get great results from supplements. Just please add them to your diet with caution and awareness that the industry is not regulated!

 

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Magical Thinking: The Lure of New Shoes, Sore Throat Elixirs & Marathons

Magical Thinking #1: I will find the perfect shoe

Let’s start with my favorite magical thinking first: somewhere out there, exists a perfect shoe for us RAers.

I know I’m lying to myself with this one, but the quest is never ending. I love shoes, so, even with the blisters and sore feet pads, it’s a pretty fun quest to be on.

I have two new shoes to test out in the upcoming months: Faux Fur-Lined Tom’s & Yoga Sling Sanuks. The box was waiting on my doorstep as I came home from work today and I seriously did a happy dance. Shoes! 🙂

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So far they’re both very comfortable. I’m bringing both on an upcoming trip, so I’ll let you know how they hold up.

Magical Thinking #2: I can gargle my sore throat away

Way less fun is my sore throat that refuses to subside. It started last Friday and has progressively gotten worse, not better. Despite heaps of vitamin C, garlic, immune boosters, salt water gargling, and my ACV elixir. I was on the fence about whether to skip my Enbrel and methotrexate this week, because both are immune suppressants. My RA symptoms have definitely been more active recently, so I begrudgingly skipped the drugs. Sure enough, today they’re flaring a bit again. So much ugh, only new shoes could cheer me up (see above, yay!).

The surprisingly not awful, throat-soothing, but in no way a cure, ACV elixir recipe:

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  • A generous splash of organic apple cider vinegar
  • A dash of cayenne pepper
  • A dash of ground giner
  • A heap of honey
  • A squeeze of lemon
  • Enough hot water to mix it up and make it palatable

Magical Thinking #3: I’m ready to start training for another marathon

It’s counter intuitive, I know. I’m sick, my RA symptoms are flaring, I just bought two new pairs of shoes and they have nothing to do with running…. But there’s something about being stuck on the couch that makes me brainstorm big goals. I’ve mapped out a 10k in May, a half marathon in July, and marathon in October.

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We’ll see. The timing may change and the races may change, but I’m motivated to push myself to train for something, despite (or maybe because of) the pain!

 

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Why Enbrel Support is Like Santa

You may recall my last post when I was reeling about United Healthcare’s decision to raise Enbrel from a tier 2 drug ($30 per month copay) to tier 4 ($250 per month). Right before Christmas.

Well, if United Healthcare is Scrooge, Enbrel is Santa.

After hearing the news about the drug costs going up, I sent an appeal to United. It was quickly denied. I then approached my doctor, who was hesitant to switch me to Humira, which had been newly deemed affordable by my fickle insurance. Apparently, going off a drug can make it lose it’s efficacy if you decide to get back on later. And since Enbrel’s working for me, my doc didn’t want to make the change.

Instead, my doctor recommended calling the Enbrel Support Group. I had gotten info on this when I first got on Enbrel, but because my co-pay was inexpensive, I didn’t take advantage of it.

Well, it turns out Enbrel Support has a program that will assist you in your copays. As the kind man on the other end of the phone told me (and, yes, he actually sounded like Santa): “We know Enbrel can be expensive. We want to help where we can.” I almost cried.

He signed me up for an Enbrel Support Card and told me they are starting a brand new reimbursement policy to circumvent UHC’s new stance on not taking “coupons” or support cards as payment. For the first six months, they’ll pay your full copay. After that, they cover all but $10 per month.

This all definitely seemed too good to be true. I didn’t really believe I’d ever be paid back when I refilled my prescription this week and forked over $250.

But now, sure enough, I received a check in the mail for the full amount. Thank you Enbrel Support!!

Seriously, if you’re in the position of struggling to pay your Enbrel copays, check them out: http://www.enbrel.com/ENBREL-support-card-program.jspx

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‘Tis the Season to be Screwed by Insurance

Ah, late December. A time of beautiful lights, giving, and the great health insurance scramble.

As co-founder of my company, I’m lucky enough to have a huge impact on choosing the health insurance we provide. One of the deciding factors for me is being able to get my Rheumatoid Arthritis drugs at a low co-pay. Through United Healthcare, it’s been $10 per month for methotrexate, $10 per month for folic acid, and $30 per month for Enbrel.

In other words, $50 a month for drugs. A reasonable-enough price to pay for my health. It is the number one reason we decided to keep our UHC plan for 2015.

So shock me, shock me, shock me (Any Empire Records fans? Read on, there’s a gif for you below.) when I get a letter saying that beginning January 1, 2015, Enbrel will be considered a “Tier 4” drug and will not be eligible for the Enbrel Assistance program. After some digging, I found out that this means it’s going up to $250 per month with no opportunity to enroll in any payment assistance programs Enbrel provides.

What? Merry Christmas to you too, United Healthcare.

Their advice? Try another drug.

That’s all good and fine. They’re willing to cover Humira or Cimzia, but I’m feeling pretty violated. I know violated may seem like a strong word for this situation, but that’s how it’s feeling. I’m being forced to put an unknown drug into my body because my healthcare has made an arbitrary change to their coverage. Enbrel is a known quantity for me. It’s effective in treating my RA, side effects are pretty minimal for me, and my body is used to it. Humira and Cimzia are not.

Not to mention, my rheumatologist claims that though the risk of switching is “probably pretty minimal”, there is a risk that I could lose the efficacy of Enbrel if I ever need it again. Joy!

So, have any of you RA folks made the change from Enbrel to Humira or Cimzia? How did it go? Are any of you on Humira or Cimzia? How did you like it?

Thanks for all your input and Happy Holidays to you all (in the non-grinchy, healthcare-trying-to-screw-you way, of course!)

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