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When My Bones Dried Up

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In December of 2013, I was diagnosed with Very Severe Aplastic Anemia. I was just 19 years old at the time. What confuses me even to this day is that I had been healthy and active before this diagnosis. As a college student, I was very busy, but I also tried to eat healthily and went to the gym frequently. Subconsciously, I felt invincible.

It happened all at once and out of nowhere. One week I was enjoying my winter break, and the next week I was fighting for my life in the ICU, battling Pneumonia and the swine flu with an almost non-existent immune system.

My life completely flipped. I had never really been sick before – I couldn’t even remember the last time I had the flu. Suddenly, I had a rare illness. I became a patient in a large hospital. My hematologist explained to me that I needed a bone marrow transplant and discussed treatment options like chemotherapy and other medications.

Honestly, it took me a while to understand the severity of my condition. I was oblivious and hopeful. I remember daydreaming in the hospital, fully convinced that I would be all better within a couple of weeks and back to my normal life. But I soon realized that wasn’t the case.

After 1 month in the hospital, I went home to continue my recovery. Every day involved a ridiculous amount of medications. Twice a week, I visited the hospital for check-up appointments, as well as blood transfusions to keep my body going until it could produce enough blood on its own.

One of the hardest parts was abandoning all the things I had done before my diagnosis. I took a medical leave from school, my internship, and pretty much gave up everything else. Going anywhere left me at a high risk of infection because of my weak immune system. I spent most of my time at home or at the hospital. One-hundred percent of my focus went to my health.

I missed my normal life.

It even transformed the lives of the people around me. My mom quit her job so that she could take care of me, and my family did everything they could to make sure I stayed healthy. We were living in a different world.

As my condition slowly improved, I began going to appointments a little less frequently. But my progress became stagnant about 6 months into my treatment. So, the doctor decided that I should undergo a second round of chemotherapy to treat my condition.

Six more months passed. Not much progress. There weren’t really many options left, and I still hadn’t found a match for a bone marrow transplant. Personally, I wanted that to be the last resort. I understood the risk behind receiving a transplant, and I still had hope that my health could improve without it.

I forgot to mention that a few months after I was diagnosed, I began seeing an acupuncturist. He treated me twice a week, but mainly encouraged me to follow a certain diet. I avoided the foods that he told me to avoid while doing my medical treatments.

Anyway, the chemotherapy wasn’t really working. My medications were making me feel worse and worse as time went by. Something needed to change.

About 1.5 – 2 years after my diagnosis, I made a change. Without telling my hematologist, I actually started weaning myself off of my medications (careful to make sure it didn’t negatively affect me). Soon, I was taking almost no medication. I focused on living a healthy lifestyle, following the diet that my acupuncturist recommended, exercising, and praying that it would all work.

And it did.

Check-ups showed that I was improving at a faster rate—this wasn’t long after I had stopped taking my medications. After about 1 year of consistent improvement, I told my doctor that I had stopped taking my medications on my own. Thankfully, she was happy with the progress and told me to keep doing what I was doing.

Now, over 4 and ½ years later, things are looking great. I’ve graduated from university. I work full-time. My last appointment showed that my red blood cell count and white blood cell count are at a normal range, with my platelet count being a little low.

I’m lucky that this all happened while I’m still young. Yes, I know that sounds weird. But the fact that I was young meant my body had more strength to fight and recover. I’m sincerely thankful. No matter how difficult it has been, I live with much more gratefulness and vigor in life, and I feel ready to fight whatever comes ahead.

 

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Fitness/ Diet

My 26.21 Mile Accomplishment

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I never expected to run a complete marathon. Running a marathon may sound like something only elite athletes or future Olympians would do. It just didn’t seem plausible for me to run for hours straight, especially since I grew up like anyone else. I was involved in cross country in high school, went to class, work, and lived my daily routine normally.  But this year on March 18, 2018, I ran my first ever marathon. After I graduated college, I wanted to take on a new challenge and decided to get back into running. I thought to myself that I might as well “go-big or go-home.” Next thing I knew, I signed myself up for the LA Marathon.

While I did run cross-country in my senior year of high school in 2011, long-distance running was still new to me. Cross-country races are 5 kilometers, or about 3.1 miles, while a marathon is 26.2 miles long. Not only that, but I didn’t keep up with running after high school since I got into weightlifting. As some may know, weightlifting builds muscle, which contradicts the effects that long distance cardio has to break down muscle and build endurance.

Photo by Go to Ann Kathrin Bopp on Unsplash

Signing Up- May 12, 2017

The first thing I did to prepare for the marathon was to give myself ample time between when I signed up for the marathon and when it actually took place. I signed up for the LA Marathon on May 12, 2017. That gave me a little over 10 months to prepare. Yes, I could have just started my training early and signed up later on, but by signing up early, there was an added motivation because actually doing the marathon became “real”. It also helped that once you sign up and pay for the LA Marathon, there are no refunds, which means there was no backing out now!

When I signed up for the LA Marathon, I signed up for two other races as well: The Santa Monica Classic 10k (6.2 miles) on September 10th, 2017 and the Pasadena Half Marathon (13.1 miles) on January 21, 2018. This three-race series was known as the “Conqur La Challenge” that gave me a bundle deal and helped me pace my progress throughout my training cycle.

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

The First Milestone- September 10, 2017

Now, I was almost ready for a 6.1-mile race by September.  As time passed, these smaller run checkpoints ensured that my mileage was going up. I felt stronger and better with each practice run I made and noticed my time was improving, a critical factor when training for a race this long.

Besides my mileage going up over time, my running frequency also went up over time. I was still going to the gym and lifting weights in addition to my running as part of an experiment I was doing. I wanted to see if I could maintain my strength and minimize muscle loss while still building running endurance. Most people focus on bodybuilding or stamina, but balancing both at the same time was a challenge I wanted to overcome.

Photo by Chanan Greenblatt on Unsplash

The Second Milestone- January 21, 2018

Next came the half-marathon in January. I prepared for this by signing up with one of my closest friends. While we may not have trained together very often, we did go to all three races together. Knowing I was going through this marathon experience with a friend helped out a lot. I had someone to talk about training with and had support during the actual races. This was another great source of motivation and was very important to my training.

As the official marathon date approached closer and closer, I cut back the number of times I went to the gym to lift weights and increased the number of times I ran. Before beginning my marathon training, I was going to the gym 4-5 times a week and only running once a week. I slowly changed that to going to the gym 3-4 times a week and running two to three times a week.

Photo by Pietro Rampazzo on Unsplash

Marathon Day- March 18, 2018

As the marathon approached, I, unfortunately, had a minor setback. I hurt my knee after running some very steep hills a few weeks before the marathon. I realized I had neglected incline training but overcorrected by running too steep of an incline. While it was a tough decision, I decided to take some time off before the marathon to let my knee heal. Looking back, this was the right decision because I had already prepared a substantial amount up to this point. One extra week of running was not going to make a difference, but if I had chosen not to take some time off, I could have hurt my knee worse.

When the big day finally approached my knee had gotten better, but I was still a bit nervous about the grueling run I was about to partake in. However, I just remembered to have fun with it and before I knew it, I crossed the finish line and conquered the 26.2 miles!

“I crossed the finish line and conquered the 26.2 miles!”

Training for the LA Marathon and then actually running it were such great experiences and I hope to run another marathon sometime again in the future. I will take what worked from training for this marathon as well as what I learned (such as preventing injuries) to have a better experience next time around. Finishing a marathon helped me feel like I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to and it is a challenge I would want to conquer again. I hope that by sharing my experience in how I prepared for my first marathon, others can take something away or be inspired to run their first marathon soon.

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Depression

Even a Million Dollar NBA Player Has Personal Obstacles to Overcome

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We might see professional athletes as role models who are unstoppable, but they too have their own hurdles to get across. Cleveland Cavalier Kevin Love, an advocate for mental health, described his own experiences of how he balanced anxiety and basketball.

In the Player’s Tribune, Love admittedly said that “I didn’t want to look weak. Honestly, I just didn’t think I needed it.” Last November during a game against the Hawks, Love encountered a panic attack and abruptly had to step out midway. People mostly pay attention to physical health and wellness, especially for athletes, and not towards mental health. Growing up around the stigma that all men needed to be strong without discussing any feelings, Love always felt that he was forced to repress his grievances and hardships. By suppressing his thoughts for 21 years, it just made his mental health more complicated.

He emphasizes the importance of discussing out loud our inner feelings and confronting the fact that “I need help.” He wants everyone to know that “everyone is going through something we can’t see.”

“Everyone is going through something we can’t see.”

The primary concern regarding mental health illness is that it isn’t seen visibly. That is why it is difficult for some people to accept this illness without observing any tangible evidence.

A few months later after Love confessed his situation to the public, Carson Daly conducted a full interview with him on the Today Show. He finally decided to break the silence and opened his heart to the public about how he overcame the stigmas of mental illness. Even though it may be a never ending process filled with dark thoughts and a constant battle in your mind, he found much more support when he spoke openly about mental health to others. Now, Love goes to a therapist and is continuing to combat his internal fight every day. His social media fans are inspired by his actions and are fascinated by his admittance.

It’s not only Love who acknowledges mental illness as a prominent problem; it is a recurring trend where celebrities are opening up about their internal struggles to the public during interviews. Diminishing psychological health is understandable for people who are constantly under high pressure and stress from society. A few months ago, renowned people such as Janet Jackson and Ariana Grande opened up about their personal conflicts in the People’s article. We should respect that these public figures, role models, and celebrities are still human. As humans, we all have individual hardships to conquer; but together, everyone’s support can help bring awareness and care for mental diseases. As more people feel comfortable enough to come out from the dark to discuss their feelings openly, mental illness will soon demand a greater focus in society.

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Interviews and Stories

Life is a Journey: Treat it with Compassion

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When I began college, I chose to be pre-med with a major of HCSD (Human Communication Sciences and Disorders). I was in a 7 year medical program. After 3 years of undergraduate studies, I would get a B.S., and go to medical school. At 18 years of age, I had it all planned out. At the time, that’s what I thought.

Yet, I had a lot of learning to do. I had to learn that life happens and brings unexpected changes. We have to learn to adapt in order to succeed. In my second year of college, I began to rethink my future in medicine. Did I want to be in school for 7 years and then 3 or more years of residency? Did I want to incur a 6 figure debt, a.k.a. student loans? Would I be okay missing out on a lot of fun times with friends and family? The more I thought, the more confused I became. I went to my college counselor and she advised me to really think it through. After all, it was a life changing decision. My grades were fine and I wasn’t struggling in my classes. I told her the problem was I loved all my non-science classes more than the science classes. I was torn between pursuing graduate studies in Communication Disorders.

As the year came to end, I had to make a decision. I had to continue with the medical program or pursue my other goals. I tossed and turned for many nights. I finally made a decision: I decided to drop out of the program. Because I was self-withdrawing, I had to meet with the Dean of the medical school. He asked me many times, if I was absolutely sure, reminding me that only  a small percentage are accepted. The pressure was definitely on. However, I confirmed my withdrawal. I withdrew from the rest of my pre-med courses and completed my bachelor’s degree.

Subsequently, I started a master’s program in Learning Disabilities at another University. After a few months of basic courses, we observed specialists in elementary and middle schools.  Studying the books verses actually working in the field were two very different experiences. I admired the specialists in the schools. However, as I observed them I couldn’t help finding their job very challenging.  With more internships, the disparity grew stronger. I began to wonder if I could be as amazing as these educators were. It was a great responsibility and I didn’t know if I could live up to it. One of the internships I had was in the hospital observing seizure patients in the epilepsy unit. Every day, the neurologist would round with a group of medical students. When they stopped by my area, they always caught my attention. I enjoyed listening to them and observing them, although, at the time, I didn’t completely understand their medical jargon. For me, I didn’t want the month to end. It was so fascinating.  I made sure to volunteer in more clinical settings. Maybe, after all, I did want to become a doctor?

After months of denial, I realized medicine was my true calling. Yet, I had a few premed courses I needed to complete, the MCAT, and a wallet that was mostly empty. I became disappointed. After all, I had an easy path that I self-declined. Now, I had many hurdles to overcome.

I told myself I had to try. I told myself whatever the outcome, I had to be okay with it. I had 1.5 years left to my master’s degree and was committed by the fellowship. I couldn’t drop out or delay my studies, without incurring a huge financial debt.  During the day, I studied and researched for my master’s. In the evenings and summer break, I picked up the premed sciences courses I needed to complete. I went to the local library and checked out books on MCAT preparation. I worked as a mentor to save money for medical school applications. I kept faith. Finally, after many rejections, I received a few interviews. I was accepted to medical school.  

Fast forwarding to present day, medicine is rewarding but also challenging, as is every profession. On the days that are not so good, I remind myself of how I got here. I remind myself of all the hurdles and years of study.  For healthcare students and professionals at the beginning of their journey, I encourage you to keep a journal and write about all the experiences and people that motivated you to pursue your passion. I ask you to reflect on this throughout your journey, especially during the tough times.   For everyone, whether an established professional or aspiring to do so, reflect on your inspiration. Keep hope to overcome the hurdles. Embrace the changes positively. Life is all about perspective. Life happens. Changes happen. Adapting to change is the key. Only you hold the key to success. Healthcare is very rewarding and very challenging.  We can only offer compassion to others, if we are compassionate to ourselves.

 

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