Sunday, August 9, 2015


Nothing in life is guaranteed.  Cliche, yes, but there's a reason people say it so much: It's true.  I was reminded of that recently during a visit to my endocrinologist.

For the last four years, my doctor and I have focused on the goal of getting my thyroid hormone levels within their "normal" ranges.  At the height of my Graves' Disease complications in 2010-11, my levels were beyond abnormal.  After two years, my levels were consistently within normal ranges (I think my doctor was happier than I was—a moment I'll never forget).  As expected, the worst of the symptoms were subsiding.  We felt as though everything was finally under control, although the problems never disappeared.

Then, about six months ago, I noticed a slight discoloration on one of my cheeks.  It was strange but small, so I didn't give it much thought.  As the weeks went by, the discoloration become more widespread and noticeable.  While I hoped it was the unfortunate result of spending more time in the sun (like some type of strange sunburn), a part of me knew there was a different reason.

Turns out it was the lingering effects of Graves' Disease.  Despite everything being normal, I have developed vitiligo, another autoimmune disease.  According to the National Institutes of Health, vitiligo "is a disorder in which white patches of skin appear on different parts of the body.  This happens because the cells that make pigment (color) in the skin are destroyed."  For some reason, the immune system attacks those cells.  I don't know much more than that at this point.  My doctor initially didn't think there was much that could be done, but she later reversed course and recommended I see a dermatologist.  I hope that something can be done to reverse the pigmentation loss, or at the very least stop it, but I'm pretty sure it's irreversible.

This latest diagnosis was the last thing I needed.  As many people know, I'm already very self-conscious about my bulging eyes (thanks, Graves ophthalmopathy!).  As you may have guessed based on my last post, I've become self-conscious about my bumpy legs (thanks, Graves dermopathy!)  Now my face has discolored splotches, and that weighs heavily on me psychologically (thanks, vitiligo!).  I sadly feel as though my immune system is turning me into a freak show, and that's not easy for a single guy to accept in a superficial world.  Frankly all of it's embarrassing, unattractive, and unsightly.  I guess if there's any silver lining it's that I'm not working in television any longer.  That's pressure I don't need!  What I need instead is mental toughness.  Lord, help me!

Well, this got supremely personal.  I couldn't help it, and I hope you'll forgive my rants even though, in the grand scheme of things, my diagnoses are not fatal or physically debilitating like many other more well known diseases.  Nonetheless, the effects of Graves' Disease are real and ongoing.  Even when you think everything is under control.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

My Humps

A friend recently asked me what happened to my leg, and, without skipping a beat, I answered with the same explanation that I’ve used for years whenever someone asked.

“That’s a scar where I was burned when a pot of boiling water fell on my leg during a camping trip in middle school,” I said.

The scar is about the size of my hand on my right leg below the knee.  It’s smooth and plastic-like, and the center lacks pigmentation.  Usually a few follow-up questions come next, asking how it happened or how much it hurt.  I have answers ready for those questions, as well.  But this time was different.

“No, I mean your other leg,” he said, pointing.

My other leg?  I wasn't immediately sure what he meant by that.  Did I burn my right leg, too, and not realize it?  Was it bleeding?  I slowly looked down.

“Oh, that,” I answered.

What he saw was a hump (about the diameter of a half dollar) on my left shin, the largest of several on my leg, all of which are mysteriously related to Graves’ Disease.  These leg issues started approximately five years ago when I lived in Charlotte.  My burn scar, which used to be a depression in my leg, became raised.  That eventually went down, but then my lower shins became puffy and my ankles swelled to the size of softballs.  The condition is called pretibial myxedema, and doctors said the best treatment option was to get my thyroid hormone levels under control (and hope for the best).

My levels stabilized during the next couple of years, and the swelling went down, albeit much more slowly than it arrived.  But like rocks that appear when a swollen river recedes, so too did these humps.  The only difference is that these humps weren’t there before and shouldn’t be there now.  Worse yet, they themselves are not receding.

Doctors told me that pretibial myxedema occurs in a very small percentage of Graves’ patients, but they don’t know why.  The condition is so uncommon that I was one of only a handful of patients whom my dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic had ever seen with it in approximately 40 years of practice.  He asked for my permission in allowing the interns, residents, and consultants to see it, too.  I said yes, realizing that this may be one of the few times they would ever see it outside of a textbook.  The dermatologist then took a biopsy of one of the humps, and the gooey mucous that he removed was eerily reminiscent of a scene from the Gremlins.

Thankfully, the humps don’t hurt; they’re just unsightly.  Surgical removal is not an option because the mucous becomes intertwined with tissue that could be irreparably harmed by invasive digging and poking around (diggery pokery?).  The humps are fairly hard but become soft with massaging.  The problem is that a dull pain develops when I massage them too much.  I figure that has to do with the intertwining of sub-dermal tissue.

I hope the swelling eventually goes away completely.  But I fear that, like my puffy and protruding eyes, this is a condition that lasts a lifetime.  Anyhow, that is the story of what happened to my other leg.  (Bonus points if you can help me get this explanation to a one-sentence stock answer for whenever someone says, “No, your other leg”!)

Swelling on my lower left shin.  Brings a whole new meaning to leg humps. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Normal, Sweet Normal

Great news from my lab tests this past week: For the first time in more than two years, my thyroid hormone levels are within normal ranges! I think my endocrinologist was just as excited as I was. She says this development is critical to my recovery because if hormone levels are normal, then body functions have a significantly better chance of being normal. Of course, the latter is not a given; I'll still need to get plenty of sleep, eat properly, exercise regularly, and manage my stressful environments closely. But all indications are that my health is improving. The eye pain has decreased for the last year, and my leg/foot swelling is less than it once was (but shoes still have a tight fit). My endo thinks the increase of pitting in the edema is a sign that the swelling is retracting--fingers crossed the eye protrusion eventually will reduce, too. And to top it all off, my weight and blood pressure have both decreased since earlier this year. Let's hope the "new normal" makes itself at home for quite a while!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Dish on Domino's Gluten-Free

I finally ordered a Domino's pizza with a gluten-free crust tonight.

I'd been thinking about doing so ever since the company announced in early May that it was offering the option.  My three biggest reasons—scratch that—my only three reasons for hemming and hawing over actually placing an order were, in reverse order, the taste, the price, and the images ingrained in my brain of those two Domino's employees (from Tennessee?) who performed "unsanitary acts" on the food they prepared for delivery.

Portion of the Domino's box advertising the new gluten-free crust.

I was willing to stomach the taste, good or bad.  And the price, well, that's a double-edged sword but something that, in the end, I was willing to pay.  But that last reason...I just had to tell myself that there are some decent Domino's employees in this world.  Right?

The pizza arrived sliced in a nontraditional way, yielding nine pieces instead of eight slices.

The pizza came fairly quickly, well within the 30-minute time window I was promised.  Domino's only offers the gluten-free crust for its small, 10" pizzas.  Adding three toppings—pepperoni, mushrooms, and green peppers—the total came to $11.99 before the delivery charge, tax, and tip.  Perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise, then, that the first thing the driver said to me after greeting me was, "Boy, these gluten-free pizzas sure are expensive, huh?"  At least he's honest...

The gluten-free crust is crunchy, a little chewy, and lacks flavor.

You can see from the pictures above that the look of the crust is like that of a thin-crust pizza.  It's crispy like a thin-crust, too.  I think the gluten-free version, however, burns a little more quickly than a thin-crust.  And with that crispy initial bite come subsequent chewy bites.  That crunch and chew combination was something I hadn't really experienced before.

As for the actual taste, there wasn't much flavor.  It wasn't as bland as cardboard, nor was it quite like a "real" crust.  It kind of reminded me of the crust on those cheap $1 frozen pizzas at the grocery store (at least that's my assumption; I mean, how would I EVER know what those taste like...).  There were moments when it tasted sweet, but those were few and fleeting.  After a few bites, I kind of got used to it.  I would brush it off by saying, "But you don't eat pizza for the crust," except that's exactly why I ate this pizza.

All-in-all, it's worth a try if you're curious about the first major pizza chain offering a gluten-free crust.  Otherwise, save your money.  By the way, I should point out that even though the crust is a gluten-free crust, this product is nevertheless NOT recommended for people with Celiac Disease or strong gluten intolerances.  That's because the crust is handled in the same kitchens and using the same utensils as the regular crusts.  Thus, Domino's cannot guarantee that the crust actually will be free of gluten by the time it arrives at your door.  Still, for people with mild gluten sensitivities (I believe I fall in this category due to my Graves Disease) or beginning a gluten-free diet, this is a new option on the menu.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Greater Than Graves

I recently came across a pretty inspirational adventure.  A woman diagnosed with Graves Disease in 2010 decided to raise awareness of the disease by riding her bicycle.  So last year, she rode from Anchorage to San Francisco.  This year, three friends are continuing the ride by riding from Boston to San Francisco.

Check it out: Greater than Graves

As of today, they're somewhere near Erie, PA.  They left Boston on May 26, and they plan to reach San Fran by the end of July.  On the link above, you can check out where the riders are, their blog and pics along the way, and more info about the effort to raise awareness by raising money.  Contribute if you can.  We need to find answers to this incurable disease!

Here's to wishing the riders much safety and the campaign much success!

Friday, June 1, 2012

What a Difference a Year Makes

Today, June 1, was a quiet anniversary for me.  One year ago, I made one of the biggest moves in my young broadcasting career.  I quit.

The reason was simple: my body just couldn't take it anymore.  I was at the height of my Graves Disease. My eyes were puffy and watery.  My legs and feet were swollen to the size of footballs.  My metabolism was lethargic.  My energy was drained.  I needed to make a change, and after talking with my doctors and close loved ones, I knew leaving the stress of my job was step number one.

I was scared yet hopeful.  TV news was the only professional life I'd known for the previous decade.  I felt like stepping away was like taking a step back.  What good was all the hard work in becoming an anchor in market #23 if I was just going to give it up?

Turns out it was great.  The last year has been full of a level of happiness I hadn't seen or felt in a long time...since 2008, at least.  Since leaving the newsroom, I've made my health a priority.  I went to the Mayo Clinic in December, and they put me back on the right track.  With the help of my new endocrinologist in Richmond, I'm as close to normal as I've been since I was diagnosed (blood/hormone-wise).  My symptoms have stopped getting worse and, in some ways, have improved.  I'm eating better and exercising more.  And for those of you who don't know, I've decided to go back to school.

YOU are the best investment you can make, whether it's through happiness, health, education, or all of the above.  Like they say on the airplanes, when it comes time to use the oxygen mask, put yours on first before helping others.  It's not selfish.  What good are you if you can't give a friend your all?

I'd be remiss if I didn't say THANK YOU to my supportive family and friends who've been with me on this journey every step of the way.  I love each and every one of you.  Much appreciation and gratitude, too, to my former Charlotte employer–particularly Joe and Julie–for their understanding and kindness.

I'm in a wonderful place right now, and I know things will only get better.  Don't get me wrong — there are times when I miss reporting the news of the day.  But the best is yet to come, and I'm not looking back!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Going Gluten-free

So, here's the thing.  I think I'm going to try going on a gluten-free diet.  Well, maybe not entirely gluten-free.  I probably should start out with baby steps and gradually incorporate gluten-free foods into my diet.

Why, you may be asking?  The reason is that Graves Disease is an autoimmune disorder.  So is Celiac Disease, and those with Celiac must eat gluten-free foods in order to be healthy.  Admittedly this thinking is very elementary, and the logic may be tenuous at best.  After all, those with Celiac must go on a gluten-free diet is because, according to the National Institutes of Health, "Celiac [D]isease is a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy.  The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats."

Unfortunately for my Graves Disease, doctors don't know what I can do or eat to reverse the effects of the symptoms.  Maybe that's because there's nothing I can do or eat to reverse the effects of the symptoms, or maybe that's because doctors have yet to make the link scientifically.  For some reason, a small part of me thinks it's the latter.  Regardless, I figure it can't hurt to give this a try.

If nothing else, this "project" will make me more aware and conscious of the kinds of food I eat on a daily basis.  Thankfully the switch will be made easier by food companies making more gluten-free products and grocery stores devoting aisles to those gluten-free products.  Hopefully, too, that means the taste difference isn't quite so noticeable as it was three years ago, when a friend and former coworker of mine had to go on a gluten-free diet because of Celiac Disease.

Have you tried incorporating gluten-free foods into your life?  How challenging has it been, and what has made it so?  Or do you think there are other things I could be doing instead of worrying how much wheat to eat?  ( <-- poet and didn't even know it!)