Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Face of Liver Disease ~ Coping With Cirrhosis and Liver Disease

You know, when I added this segment to the blog, I didn't realize how difficult it would be. My main intention was to bring you all on my journey with liver disease and, hopefully, bring some insight and/or offer some tips and advice on living with it. But whenever I sit down, ready to write, I freeze.

This is something I've been dealing with for a very long time but never shared what I go through every day with anyone who isn't in close, daily contact with me. I know there are people out there who care, and I so appreciate it, but I really don't like being the center of attention or right in the spotlight. Plus, unlike others I know, I really didn't want to be bombarded with texts, messages and emails asking me how I am on a daily basis. I'm extremely protective of the privacy of me and my little family.

It is, however, gotten to the point where I can no longer hide my illness. So, I've decided that in fighting my fight, I can try to help others going through the same things with their fight.

One thing I did that I found helpful was research my condition to the maximum. Not only does this help to understand what is going on inside of me, but it also gives me a platform to be able to talk about my condition intelligently with others. I also interviewed liver specialists across Canada (obviously interviewing my own would be defying some doctor-patient rules) and they were very helpful. They each offered me the same advice in terms of how to cope on a daily basis with this disease. Yes, they are all basic things we've heard from a doctor from time-to-time but now I understand the importance of each point.

Here they are:

1) Stay In Motion: I'm not saying to take up jogging or train for Olympic competition. All it means is to keep your body moving without pushing too hard. Walk, take the dog to the park, do a few laps around the house, go up and down the stairs (use that railing!) even light household chores count. When I was in the hospital last year, I had a wonderful man come in every day to take me for a walk. I had lost the ability to walk, speak, use my hands and other everyday movements and his job was to re-teach me to walk (he was a physiotherapist). At first, he took me out in a wheelchair just to get out of my room for a bit. Then, after a few times, he parked somewhere to get me to stand. Then he encouraged me to take a few steps, then walk my wheelchair myself, then use a walker and then finally got me to shuffle around with no help, except his strong arm through mine. The scariest thing for me was he took me to a hallway with a flight of stairs and said, "Chynna, if you can scale this staircase I'll pass you on the physio part. I worked at it and, finally, did it! The point is when you stay in motion, you are doing something and you are showing the people around you that you're still fighting no matter how hard it is (or how dang high that staircase might seem).

2) Eat well: Now, look. You are talking to the french fry's biggest fan here, especially poutine. I mean, everyone out there sneaks in take out once in a while. As long as it truly is 'once in awhile', there's nothing wrong as long as you eat healthy most of the time (I can't eat any junk food, greasy food or anything like that). I am on a high protein, high-calorie low sodium diet, which pretty much eliminates all the exciting food I mentioned earlier. But, boy, do I ever feel lousy if I ever do try to sneak something 'bad' in there. Just cut down on the salt, creamy dressings/sauces, junk food and eat more greens, vitamin and iron packed foods, 'superfoods' like blueberries, quinoa and beans and fix them in ways that bring out flavor. This is a hard adjustment for many but well worth it.

3) Absolutely No Alcohol: Okay, this goes without having to say much. One specialist I spoke with said that there are things out there that give the suggested amounts as to the maximum of alcohol intake but, seriously. These suggested amounts do not account for a person's size, tolerance levels or even how the alcohol actually affects an individual. The best thing possible is to avoid alcohol at all costs; no amount is a 'safe' amount when you have liver disease, especially when cirrhosis is present.

4) No Smoking: This isn't as obvious but smoking restricts the blood vessels, which is why many people experience 'head rushes' when taking a drag. For those of us living with cirrhosis, this can be deadly as it is already restricting blood vessels in the liver. Quitting is the best option.

Aside from all of that, I offer the following tips: rest when you are tired, find a positive distraction, drink tons of water (not bubbly water...plain water), be sure to stay on top of your bloodwork, and stay in close contact with your specialists.

And, most importantly, fight as hard as you can.

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