About the Author
Ten years ago, at the age of 25, my life was just beginning. Anything seemed possible. I had recently moved to Denver from the small-ish Midwestern town where I had grown up. I was deeply in love… With the city, my boyfriend, our life. I couldn’t wait to find out what the future had in store. I wish I hadn’t been so eager, I wish I had taken more time to enjoy each of those days as they were probably the happiest I’ve ever been. I wish I could remember how that felt, who that girl was. I don’t know her anymore, but I envy her.
That year I was diagnosed with anti-GBM, a rare auto-immune kidney disease that causes your body to attack itself- in this case targeting the kidneys. I spent a month in the hospital and nine months on dialysis before a kidney transplant from my mom saved my life. I was alive but forever changed and forever tied to a litany of drugs to keep my body from rejecting the transplanted organ- each accompanied by their own fun game of “Side Effect Roulette.”
It took many years to start to feel comfortable in my own skin again. I lost many things along the way but gained a new perspective and in time I came to accept the cards I’d been dealt and even appreciate the lessons that came from playing the game.
In a cruel twist of fate, my world fell apart once again in 2013, in the form of another rare auto-immune disease. This one aimed directly at the one part of me I had somehow managed to salvage during the previous years: my brain. I was diagnosed with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a volatile medical condition causing a range of psychological and physical symptoms that will essentially chew you up – mind, body and soul – and spit you out (if you’re lucky) in pieces that barely resemble the person you once were. I spent three months in the hospital, three months in rehab, and another year recovering. In many ways I’m still recovering.
In the past year, I’ve begun taking my life back in bits and pieces with a perseverance bred from adversity. This blog is one of those pieces, as I’m finding that sharing my story is as much a part of the journey as the battles I fought to get here. At the end of the day, I do not resent the woman I’ve become… I respect her, I’m proud of her and I have hope for her.
Through all of this, I’ve been called a fighter, a warrior, a survivor. But aren’t we all? No one is immune to struggle; the struggle is part of being alive. I hope we all struggle just enough to know the value of survival. And I hope that in surviving, we find the courage to share our stories.
A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.Herm Albright
Follow When Pigs Take Flight
After surviving two extremely rare auto-immune illnesses in a seven-year time span, I decided to share my experiences in order to help others going through similarly difficult medical diagnoses.
My story was featured in a Discovery Life documentary show, Diagnose Me, in April 2015. My website/blog is currently listed as a resource on both the Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis Foundation and the global Encephalitis Society websites. Most recently my work has been published on The Mighty, an online resource for rare and chronic illnesses.
The Origin of When Pigs Take Flight
One day in late 2012, I was shopping at Pier One Imports. At the time they had an ad campaign encouraging customers to buy “what speaks to you.” I remember walking the store that day and coming across this tiny glass figurine of a flying pig. Instantly it made me smile as I reflected upon the rare autoimmune disease I had battled and survived just 6 years prior. I loved that the image of a flying pig demonstrated the rarity of what I’d been through, but did so in a sort of light, whimsical manner. I had dealt with so many heavy blows, it soothed me to find a symbol that represented the light-hearted place I envisioned my life going. So, yeah, it SPOKE to me. I bought it immediately and brought it to work to sit just under my computer, reminding me every day to see the bright side of any tough situation.
Several months later, when I returned to work after my 2nd battle with a rare autoimmune disease, I noticed the flying pig sitting there on my desk. Briefly, I wondered if it was mocking me. But then I nearly laughed aloud. In that moment, at least, I was undeterred by the irony of that simple and spontaneous purchase, and instead felt a wave of charmed delight settle over me. To me, it was a perfect representation of the attitude I wanted to encompass as I recovered and faced whatever rarity was thrown at me next.
The things that have led me to this point in my life are, generally, about as likely as seeing pigs…fly…But I am determined to make the best of my circumstances — through this blog and promoting awareness in any way I can. In my opinion, pigs shouldn’t merely fly, they should SOAR.