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Life Throws Us A Curveball - Keeping A Positive Perspective

Today’s Sunday Farm Update provides a personal look into the life and the power of positive perspective of Jim and Mary at Old World Garden Farms.

Every Sunday we write about what is happening at the farm and typically that would include what is happening in and around the garden, what projects we are working on, or what event that we are hosting or attending.  However, this week we wanted to share with you a more personal story on what we are going through and how we are moving forward with a positive perspective on life.  

My Story

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This is my story…..

This story will take you back to the beginning of summer and will be explained by Mary herself.

In preparation for a change in health insurance, I completed my annual well visit physical with my family physician. Because of a heart murmur that I had since I was a child and a higher than average pulse rate, it was decided that a precautionary visit to a cardiologist should be completed prior to the change in insurance coverage. 

The cardiologist visit went well with all tests coming out normal with one exception. When put in a high exercise mode, my blood pressure would jump up to a pre-hypertensive status.  Because of my desire to continue to exercise and be as physically active as possible, the cardiologist recommended a low dose of a calcium blocker medication in efforts to keep my blood pressure lower when I exerted excessive energy.

I asked if there was anything else that I could do rather than be put on medication, but he insisted that medication was the best route. In fact, he put me on a very common medication at the lowest dose possible.

That is where I made my mistake. I should have listened to my instincts to try holistic methods.

The Toxic Medication

I began the medication in early June. Within a few days I began to have severe heartburn. I have never had heartburn in my life, even when eating our extra spicy peppers from the garden. I would wake up for hours in the middle of the night, trying to fight off the pain. And for anyone that knows me, I have a high pain tolerance and I don’t let aches and ailments hold me back.

I let this go on for another week, thinking I would tough through it and it would get better. Jim convinced me to stop the medication as I was about to go to Ireland for vacation – a trip that I had waited many years to go on.  I agreed as I didn’t want the side effects to impact my dream vacation.

Upon my return, I started the medication again. The first week wasn’t too bad, so I continued to take it. By day 10, the heartburn was back and by day 15, I just didn’t feel like myself.  I was sluggish, but pushed through. The heartburn would come and go and with no pattern for the cause.

However, it was week 4 when I knew something had to change. Jim and I made a stop at the grocery store, and I was barely able to walk into the store because of the pain. In fact, I had to leave the store within minutes and walk outside, almost in tears. I am NEVER like that. It was at that time that we decided no more!!!

What Is That? 

That was on Friday, July 14th, and little did we know that the adventure was about to begin. As most of you know we spend a lot of time in the garden, and in the summer I typically wear my hair in a ponytail while outside. However, on Monday, July 17th we went out to dinner and I had my hair down. After a wonderful dinner on our drive home, I ran my fingers through the back of my hair and that is when I felt something unusual.

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The initial bald spot – A sizeable one!

I could feel scalp, no hair, no stubble, just a small patch of scalp. As we drove down the road, I parted my hair in the back and asked Jim “Do I have a bald spot?”  Trying not to panic and more importantly, trying not to let me panic, he held a straight face and his response was “A pretty sizeable one”.

Immediately when we got home, I pulled out a hand mirror and tried to see what was going on. Much to my surprise, I had a 1 ¾ inch x 2 ¼ inch bald spot on the back of my head. This wasn’t visible to anyone, as my surrounding hair easily covered the spot. However, we both knew that the only change that could have caused this was the addition of the medication that I had just stopped. My body had such a toxic reaction to it, and we just knew that this had to be a horrible side effect.

Back To The Doctor

A trip to the cardiologist was made that week and on Thursday, he was shocked to see the newly found bald spot. With all of his resources, only one reported bald spots as a very rare side effect. He continued to convince me that I should try a different type of medication and he prescribed something outside of that family of meds.

Reluctantly I tried it, and that lasted 4 days. I had horrible side effects, one which included numbness and tingling to the left facial nerve, and on day 4 I was done!  I went into the Nurse Practitioner that week and told her I had stopped the medication and I was not willing to try another. After looking at my test results and my age and activity level she seemed shocked that I was ever put on the medication in the first place. We both decided that by using holistic approaches there was no need for medication.

That Was Only The Beginning

Relieved that I was no longer on the trial medication, I believed that my troubles were behind me. Yes, I had a bald spot, but it could easily be covered and I was sure it was about to grow back.

Little did I know that was only the beginning.  After a quick trip back to the family doctor to address the facial numbness, he referred me to a dermatologist to address the bald spot.  On August 1st, I was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune disorder that attacks otherwise healthy individuals that has no known cause or cure. My immune system began attacking my hair follicles and caused the bald spot. He told me that it would eventually regrow and he tried to stimulate the growth by giving me several injections into my scalp and prescribed me a topical cream.

He also checked the rest of my scalp to make sure that there were not any more bald spots, and luckily there was not.

I went home and religiously applied the cream and took his recommended vitamin supplement to promote healthy hair and skin.

August – The Month of Frustrations

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My sink after brushing my hair. Frustrating!!!

The frustrations began almost immediately. As I applied the cream to the bald spot, the rest of my hair around the area seemed and looked greasy. It was no problem to apply it at home and while I was out working in the garden, but when it was time to go out in public, I had to be extra careful to make sure that my hair didn’t look unkept or unclean.

During that first week of August my hair seemed to be coming out more and more. I would clog the shower drain each and every time that I showered and my hairbrush needed cleaned out daily. My hair began falling into the food that I was making for my family and all over the back of my clothing and on my pillowcase.

The worst feeling came from the hair falling onto the back of my arms, making it feel like I was always walking through cobwebs or battling an attack of flies landing on my skin.

And There Is More…..
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The second bald spot found.

On August 10th, as I was blow drying my hair, I found a second spot, about the size of a dime, on the top of my scalp. Within a week, I had 10 more spots appear throughout my entire head. I was frustrated of the unknown – when was it going to end?

By the time of my follow-up appointment on August 29th, which was also my 47th birthday, I had to wear hats, as I could no longer cover up the bald spots with my hair in a ponytail. The Dermatologist was shocked, and told me to no longer use the cream and that injections weren’t a possibility any longer. He gave me a high dose of Prednisone in hopes to shock my immune system to quit attacking itself and gave me the news that most likely all of my hair would fall out. My condition progressed to Alopecia Areata Totalis. 

September – It’s All About Positive Perspective

I knew at that time that this was going to be a long process. I was concerned about how others would handle my new and crazy look. We had to attend some public events in the upcoming weeks and although I could wear a hat to cover up most of the bald spots, sometimes hats just aren’t socially appropriate.

The first event was the Farm To Table event at the beginning of September that we hosted at the farm. The weather was cool and drizzly, and I was able to wear a hat to the event with good cause and without much hesitation. We had a wonderful evening with wonderful people and complete strangers from all walks of life became friends by the end of the night. 

Then on September 16th we had a family wedding to attend. By this time, the progression of hair loss was around 75%.  A wig was in order for this formal event.  I bought a wig on Amazon, and although I pulled it off during the ceremony, by the end of the night, my head was sweating and it began to shift and slide backwards. I resorted to a head cover for the final hour of the reception.

Time To Take Action

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The bald spots continued but keeping a positive perspective. 

We knew that it was time to shave my head. I knew I would be more comfortable with ‘no’ hair, than with multiple bald spots in random places all over my head. I even made a joke with Jim about how my hair looked like the lead singer of Meatloaf.  We both laughed and knew it was best to shave the remaining hair off.

So the very next day, Jim and I shaved my head. The relief was immense. I no longer had the concern of hair falling out everywhere, there would be no more hair in Jim’s coffee cup or in our food and I wouldn’t have the horrible feeling of walking through cobwebs.

The first week of being bald has been eye opening. The weather has allowed me to go in public being completely bald, not needing a hat to keep my head warm. I sometimes forget that I don’t have hair until I get an unusual amount of smiles from complete strangers. I realize that most people would think that I have lost my hair from chemotherapy. I am very lucky that this is not the case, and for me, it’s only hair loss that will most likely eventually return.

The Positives….

My family has been amazing and supportive. Jim would always keep me calm and provided much needed hugs and “You Look Beautiful” comments at just the right moments. Our children have been just as supportive and provided me with the love and kind gestures as I shared each step of the journey with them. And our friends who knew what we were going through made me laugh and joke about who looks better bald and provided me with additional hats to get through the next several months.

For us, it has always been about how you approach life and the positive perspective you take on the circumstances it provides. We have always been the glass is half full type of people, and when life throws you a curveball you swing and hit it out of the park.

There are some advantages of being bald as well. For instance, I will save money on shampoo, conditioner and even on the electricity bill as I will no longer be using a hair dryer or styling tools in the near future. I can now get ready in 15 minutes and be out the door and don’t have to worry about covering my bald spots with a hat every time someone swings by the house.

I am also excited that I will need to learn a new skill of crocheting or knitting, as I know over the winter months I will need to keep my head warm with hats and toboggans. And when my hair does begin to grow back I will be able to try out new hairstyles that I once was too hesitant to try.

What You Can Do…..

I know my situation could be much worse. I know that a smile from a complete stranger can make you smile. My wish is that everyone would smile at each other every day. Although my situation is more visible than others, there are many people who have much worse struggles that they are going through that no one can see than me.  And that one smile or that one hello, for no reason at all, can make all the difference to someone who just might need a simple act of kindness or caring on a rough day.

So as we go through the next 6 months, my look may change several times but my positive perspective, smile, or a simple hello to a stranger, will never damper.

Keep Smiling,

Mary and Jim
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Life Throws Us An Unexpected Curveball – Keeping A Positive Perspective