Without a Cure
Never fitting in wasn’t what bothered me. I didn’t mind not getting along with everyone. I didn’t mind only having a few friends. I left high school because I was tired of how it made me feel.
Sometime in November of 2016, I came home from school crying. I looked at myself in the mirror, my reflection disheveled and my eyes red, and said, “I’m done. I’m doing homeschooling.” It was one of the best decisions I could have made for myself. I was tired of being ignored. I was tired of being put down for my beliefs. I was tired of fake people. But most of all, I was tired of crying every night.
Being a part of homeschooling was nice. I did assignments from my laptop at my own pace, but eventually I got bored of it. My mom found out about a test that I could take to graduate early. The California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE) is different from a GED. I studied for this test for months. I went in March 2017 to take the test. April 21st, 2017, at sixteen years old, I got my diploma in the mail, and that’s when it started.
The most bittersweet memory I can recall is opening my diploma, seeing my name, and feeling sick. I ran to the bathroom and threw up. I’d had the common stomach bug many times so I didn’t think much of it.
Most of this time I can only recall as a blur. For months beforehand, I found myself eating and eating yet somehow still losing weight. My parents and I assumed it had only been a growth spurt, that I would be okay. I threw up many times the day I got my diploma, so much that we began to worry.
I still assumed it was a stomach bug. The next day I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I was starving but I threw up everything I ate. I had to lie in bed. Walking made me nauseous.
Days of this went by. Eating light bread, vomiting. Eating crackers, vomiting. We contacted my doctor who also thought it was a stomach virus. Eventually my vomiting turned into more. It started at the other end. I had no food to digest, yet I was painfully defecating. The vomit and diarrhea turned orange. I had had nothing orange, yet it was the color of a ripe pumpkin. The doctor said it was just bile.
My eyes and head constantly throbbed from throwing up so much. I’d be lying in bed and suddenly have the urge. I would sprint to my bathroom and violently heave. Most times my mother would follow and hold back my hair. Because I had no food in me, many times I would dry heave until I cried. I remember gripping the counter next to me so I wouldn’t fall in headfirst. When I was finished, I would fall down, leaning against the wall, and just cry, cry until I couldn’t function. The best feeling then was a cold wash cloth for my face to wipe away the tears and vomit.
Never have I ever felt such a loss of hope like that week. Since I had left high school on bad terms, I didn’t have many friends. I tried to text people. I understood that they might be busy, but I wanted someone to talk to.
In my living room, my parents set up an air mattress so I wouldn’t be stuck in my dark bedroom. I watched true crime shows for hours and played with apps on my tablet until I dozed off. I don’t exactly remember the feeling of lying there. I just remember being so tired.
No one responded to my texts. I felt so alone. I had my parents, but no one else knew what condition I was in. I thought, If I die, will anyone even notice?
For a week straight I threw up and couldn’t eat. A black hole spun in my abdomen, sending nausea through my whole body. I didn’t know what to do. No matter what I ate, it came up.
The doctors finally had an appointment for me. I came in, weighing 110lbs. Previously I had been 135lbs. I’m 5’6” and I had been a walking skeleton. My pulse rang out at 140 beats per minute. I could feel my heart beat against my throat. My pulse just hammered against the skin. It was a strange feeling, to sit there and feel like I had run a marathon. I was constantly burning up. I felt like I was on fire all the time.
So. Many. Needles. They took fifteen vials of blood from me and I went home feeling no better than I had when I came in. I had to learn how to pee and defecate into a cup, something I’m sure not many people have had to learn. How uncomfortable it is to have everything your body is capable of producing stolen from you.
The doctors diagnosed me with liver cancer. Me: a sixteen year old girl who had been in perfect health not two months before, had liver cancer. I sat on the edge of my bed, crying into my hands. I had no one to talk to other than my parents, and they already knew the whole story.
I’ve seen in many forms of media: girl/boy gets cancer and all these friends come to visit them and try to make them feel better. The girl/boy dies and everyone is so affected. I had no one but my parents. I couldn’t even get a hey from my best friend, let alone anyone to visit me. I felt betrayed. I felt that no one would care if I died.
The reality is so cold and harsh. That feeling of being alone while you think you’re dying is one of the worst feelings. That ache in my chest hurt worse than any of the throwing up or needles ever did.
My mom questioned the doctors. She knew something was wrong. She told them about our family history. “Check her thyroid.” The doctors did so.
I have hyperthyroidism. This came as a shock to us all but at least it wasn’t cancer. More and more tests were requested. It was bloodwork every day, to every other day, to every week, and so on.
I sat on that air mattress, wondering if I’d ever get up again. Wondering if I’d fall asleep and just not wake up. I texted my best friend at the time. In response I got a text from him, telling me to do dirty things with my father. Of course, he said them in a more vile manner.
I was so hurt. Later he told me one of the people who bullied me in high school had his phone. I asked him how he could do that to me. How he could let them say those things to me when I thought I was dying. I told him that those texts could have been the last thing I ever heard from him. He didn’t care. I felt shunned. Like no one cared if I died. I wished for death sometimes. When I would sit on my bathroom floor after vomiting, I’d hope for it to happen. That I could just sleep forever and forget it all.
More doctor’s appointments and more vials of blood. Over and over again. After about a week I stopped throwing up. I thought I was better. I went down two houses to talk to my neighbors. After a while I felt tired. I walked home and collapsed. On my hands and knees I threw up in my front yard. Caesar salad isn’t a fun thing to pull out of your nose.
Finally the doctors had somewhat of an answer. I was diagnosed with Grave’s disease. What a horribly morbid name that is. We wondered what to do; if there was a cure. There is no cure. Solutions: medication or complete removal of the thyroid and hormone replacements for life.
I chose medication.
I started the medication, still too tired to do anything but lay in bed. I had dogs that I missed, but I had no energy for them. My parents took over taking care of them as I healed. I missed much of my six month old puppy’s progress and I lost two months of time with my best friend, my nine year old American Staffordshire terrier. That November he passed away. I lost two months of his last year on Earth and I regret it.
I had some energy, more than I had had in a long time. Something told me to let my mom take pictures of me. So I put on an old Halloween costume and posed in the front lawn. Looking back, I wonder if I subconsciously knew I was on the verge of dying.
Many things can cause Grave’s disease: stress; genetics; mononucleosis. I had all three gunning for me. They say it’s very common yet they know almost nothing about it. The immune system assumes the thyroid is a foreign object in the body and attacks it, making the thyroid overproduce hormones. You can imagine how that affects a teenage girl. The symptoms are all over the place: anxiety; hand tremors; sensitivity to heat; fast metabolism; anxiety; mood swings.
The medication had its side effects as well. The doctors gave me a very high dose. The joint pain was unbearable. I could barely walk. I hobbled around. I couldn’t get comfortable. I remember trying to sleep, having taken pain pills. I cried. My mom came in my room and I got up. I fell down. I just remember feeling like every bone in my body was broken. It was two a.m. and I was on the floor of my room bawling. My parents didn’t know what to do.
The doctors said I had lupus all of a sudden. My mom read the side effects of my medicine and learned that they were wrong, again. Under heavy fire from the doctors, my parents lowered the dosage of medicine they gave me, relieving my pain.
Anxiety. So much anxiety. I was sixteen, just gaining some weight back, and on an anxiety inducing medication to treat an anxiety inducing disease. We scheduled my first driving lesson, and I was ready to learn. The teacher came to my door and I cried. My whole body shook, but I got in that car and drove.
I have a photo. In it, you can only see the upper halves of our bodies, but I know what was happening. My dad is holding my hand. I am looking at the camera, the pale, bag of bones I was. I was standing on my skateboard. My dad was teaching me how to ollie. I see that picture on my wall every day and remember.
The doctors said that there is no way to cure Grave’s or even help it with a diet. My mother has done countless hours of research and found people have cured themselves with extreme diets. There are certain foods you can stay away from, but the largest contributor was plastic. You ingest particles of plastic when drinking from plastic bottles and eating from food cooked in plastic. My parents and I started drinking from glass bottles and I kept away from microwavable foods, and my thyroid numbers began lowering, which was huge.
The healing process took so long. I still had a very fast metabolism. Even a twenty minute drive had me running for the nearest bathroom. That fear and embarrassment is so horrible. Will I make it to a bathroom in time? Something I hope I never experience again.
The rest of life in those next few months is somewhat a blur. I just remember feeling like I slept a long time, then all of a sudden I had energy and had gained the weight back.
To this day I am still nervous about driving. It’s this primal fear that I have that I am slowly learning to get over. I drive the back roads of my neighborhood a lot for practice. It’s nice driving there but around other people I still panic. The Grave’s causes hand tremors and sometimes my whole body shakes, especially when I’m out in public alone.
November 2018 I was able to stop the medication, having been told I was in remission. That was a lie. Just recently I’ve started the medication again, in hopes to calm down the mood swings and fix myself. I’ve been going in for bloodwork every three months, which is not much considering at one point it was daily, and they’ve noticed my thyroid is acting up again. With Grave’s disease, I’ve noticed that my depression and anxiety has heavily worsened.
I hope that one day I’ll be normal, but as of now I need the pills to control it every now and then. Living with a chronic disease is difficult, but I have hope that one day I won’t need the pills.
This was written in February of 2020 for a magazine submission. It didn’t pass, so I decided to keep it for my further writings. As of November 2020, the time I write this, I have taken myself off of my medication and am learning to deal with the heavy symptoms of Grave’s disease.